NEW YORK (MainStreet)Having a healthy credit score may be the most important thing you can do financially since repairing damages can take time.
[Read: Can Your Facebook Posts Ruin Your Credit Score?]
Your credit score is examined by various lenders when you try to obtain debt from a credit card company or purchase a house or car. Most lenders use the FICO score to assess your credit, the amount of money you can borrow and the amount of interest you will pay.
Have a strong and high FICO score means you can receive the lowest interest rates on loans and obtain higher quality credit cards.
"Lenders want to see a credit history and to determine if you are a responsible borrower," said John McDonough, president and CEO of the Studemont Group based in The Woodlands, Tex. "People should definitely have credit scores in the 600 to 700 range to be considered a low risk borrower and get better interest rates. You want to show that you have a proven history of meeting obligations."
Repairing your credit history can be accomplished over time, but expect 12 months in most cases before you see improvement, said Vicky Stringer, senior account executive and certified credit consultant in Mobile, Ala. for CIC Mortgage Credit, Inc.
One thing every consumer should do is to obtain his credit report once a year to check for any discrepancies or mistakes such as late payments which are listed incorrectly, said Stringer. You can obtain a free one at www.annualcreditreport.com. The website also allows you to file disputes for free.
Avoid paying for a credit score, because those reports offer a consumer version of scoring which usually weigh some fields differently than a mortgage lender's version of scoring does, easily elevating your score to be 100 points higher, she said.
Another tip to raising your credit score easily is to pay down your revolving debts such as credit cards. Always maintain a balance that is below 50% of your limit and never max them out, said McDonough.
"FICO tracks how high your debt is relative to your credit limit," he said. "FICO scores track a high water mark, and it always shows it even if you pay it down."
Consumers can try to negotiate with their credit lender to increase the limit, which will help your debt to income ratio, McDonough said.
Making timely payments is important and a large contributing factor to increasing your credit score. Consider enrolling in automatic payment to prevent late payments from occurring,
Missing payments or being late even 30 days can have a detrimental effect to your score and can cause you to lose 100 points overnight, said Stringer.
"Paying down revolving debts is one of the fastest ways to increasing your credit score," she said.
One key factor is to not pay off the balance entirely so your credit card demonstrates a low amount of debt and recent activity such as a history of making payments on time, Stringer said.
[Read: How Not Driving Can Hurt Millennials' Credit Scores ]
Consumers should never close out credit cards simply to raise their scores. Keep them open even if there is not a balance so that you have a good debt to income ratio, she said. Even closed accounts appear on your credit report and show your previous payment history.
Avoid opening several new credit cards such as department store or big box store cards that you don't need or are just obtaining to get a small discount from a purchase. This strategy can actually lower your credit score. This also increases your likelihood of missing a payment. Each time you obtain a credit card, it affects your score.
Getting a credit limit of $5,000 or more can help your score, said McDonough. Most lenders use that figure as a benchmark for consumers with good credit.
If you have experienced challenges or hardships in the past, you can re-establish your credit slowly by obtaining an unsecured credit card, said Stringer. Banks such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America offer credit cards where you can deposit your money. After 12 to 24 months, the bank will change the card to a secured credit card, which will increase your credit score.
a href="http://www.mainstreet.com/article/moneyinvesting/savings/7-sites-help-you-save-big-medical-bills" data-add-tracking="true" target="blank">Medical bills can also affect your credit score. However, in most cases, the consumer can speak to the collection agency to remove the claim if pay it immediately. Expect 12 months before your credit will improve.
If your debt has gone to a collection agency, paying it off does not improve your credit score, said Stringer. If you have debt from five years ago and pay it off now, it appears as new activity on your report, she said.
Stringer advises consumers not to pay it unless they are obtaining a mortgage. If you are purchasing a house, pay your collection debt during your closing.
[Read: Are Americans Afraid of Their Credit Scores? ]
While utility bills such as water, gas or electricity or cable and cell phone bills do not appear on your credit report, they also do not help your score. However, if they are not paid, they will go to a collection agency and will appear on your credit report.
The most important thing to note is that your credit score is not determined by the amount of your salary and savings. Your FICO score shows a history of your debt and payment patterns, she said.
[Read: Top 10 Travel Sites ]
"Your income does not factor into your score," Stringer said. "It's your pay pattern and your credit usage. Money doesn't factor. Make sure you are disciplined when using your credit."
--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet