Q: I have subpar credit. Will getting a credit card improve it?

A: It could, but the increase you experience probably won’t be a big one and it probably won’t happen overnight.

According to John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for SmartCredit.com, while credit scores are highly affected by the “bad stuff” that appears on your credit report, such as bankruptcies, delinquent bills or foreclosure, they are also influenced by the “good stuff” that appears on them.

This means that, all things being equal, someone with one or two blemishes on their credit report who also has a credit card with a solid payment history is likely to have a higher credit score than someone with the same blemishes, but not line of credit to their name.

“The model sees that you can manage credit responsibly,” Tom Quinn, consumer credit expert for Credit.com, says, explaining that the system will reward you for it.

But the payoff may be a long time coming, since you’ll first need to demonstrate that you can use the card correctly. Even with that in hand, your credit score will be more affected by the bad factors aging off of your credit report (which can take up to ten years) than it will by the good credit you have added to it.

Ulzheimer says that there is also a chance that adding a line of credit to your arsenal can also boost your score by balancing out your credit utilization ratio, but again, this increase is not going to be dramatic and it will only work if you were to open a credit card account and then not use it.

Of course, as Quinn points out, people with bad credit won’t have the easiest time obtaining a credit card in the first place, and any card they get is likely to have high interest rates or extra fees associated with it, so it’s very important that they avoid carrying a high balance and pay their monthly bills on time. 

Whether or not you open a new card account, you can take steps to improve your credit. Learn about five of them in MainStreet’s breakdown of the most effective ways to boost your credit score!

Want to know what affects your credit score? Email your questions to editors@mainstreet.com.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.