3 of the Best Credit Score Tips

By Selena Maranjian Markets Fool.com

Credit scores can wield a lot of influence in your life. They can lead to good or bad interest rates offered by lenders when you want to buy a home or finance a car. You may not realize that they matter even beyond the financial realm.

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For example, accordingto a 2016 Bankrate.com survey, 38% of respondents would reconsider dating someone with a low credit score. The credit concern is more pronounced among women, 43% of whom reported that a credit score would have an impact on their interest in dating someone. Only 32% of men felt that way.

Image source: Getty Images.

Clearly, it's rather worthwhile to have a solid credit score. Here are three important tips that can help you be smart about it.

Tip No. 1: Know the power of your credit score

First off, it's good to understand what good or bad credit is, and just how powerful your credit score can be when you want to borrow money. Basic (non-industry-specific) FICO scores, which are used by about 90% of top lenders, range from 300 to 850. Here's how the folks at FICO rate the scores:

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FICO Score Range

Rating

Likelihood of Borrower Becoming Delinquent

800 and higher

Exceptional

1%

740-799

Very Good

2%

670-739

Good

8%

580-669

Fair

28%

579 and lower

Poor

61%

Source: MyFICO.com.

The table below reflects the power of your credit score when it comes time to borrow, showing recent interest rates for someone borrowing $200,000 via a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage:

FICO Score

APR

Monthly Payment

Total Interest Paid

760-850

3.827%

$935

$136,597

700-759

4.049%

$960

$145,776

680-699

4.226%

$981

$153,186

660-679

4.44%

$1,006

$162,251

640-659

4.87%

$1,058

$180,811

620-639

5.416%

$1,125

$205,022

Source: MyFICO.com,as of early April 2017.

The difference between the highest and lowest interest rate range in the table above is $190 per month (which is $2,280 per year) in mortgage payments -- and more than $68,000 in total interest paid! Having a high credit score can save you tens of thousands of dollars -- and perhaps even get you a date.

Image source: Getty Images.

Tip No. 2: Improve your credit score

If your credit score is high, congratulations! Your primary credit-score-related task now is simply to keep it high. If your score isn't what you want it to be, though, take heart: There are ways to boost it.

First, though, it's helpful to understand just what goes into the score. Here's howFICO constructs its scores:

  • 35%: Payment history
  • 30%: How much you owe
  • 15%: Length of credit history
  • 10%: New credit
  • 10%: Other factors such as your credit mix

Clearly, the most important factor is paying those bills on time. That makes sense, since a credit score is all about your creditworthiness -- how risky it is to lend money to you. If you have a poor bill-paying record, you won't find lenders offering you the best interest rates. They'll see you as having a decent chance of defaulting on your loan, and they'll need to compensate for your riskiness.

Credit-rating agencies will be looking at not only how many times you paid a bill late, but also how long you took to pay each one, and whether any unpaid bills ended up in the hands of collection agencies. If you get back to paying every bill on time, the agencies will notice and your score will eventually start rising.

Another way to improve your credit score is to check your credit report for errors and have any fixed. (You can get free copies of your credit reports once a year from each of the main credit-reporting agencies.) You might also benefit by keeping your balances low and paying off a lot of debt in order to lower your debt-to-available-credit ratio.Mortgage lenders like to see you owing only about 10% to 30% of the sum of all your credit limits, because it suggests that you have your debt under control and can afford to take on some more debt via the mortgage you're seeking.

Image source: Getty Images.

Tip No. 3: Monitor your credit score

Of course, it's hard to evaluate your credit score and know if you're improving it if you don't know what it is. It used to be harder to find out what your score was, but now there are ways to access it online. Many credit cards and websites offer free access to your credit score.

Per the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, some of the sites will fund the access through advertising sold on their websites, while others will want you to sign up for a credit monitoring service. Such services aren't free, though there may be a free initial trial period. You could also find and consult a non-profit credit counselor, who will be able to show you your credit score and discuss what it means.

It's hard to beat the convenience of having a credit card that offers free ongoing access to your score, though. The card you use might offer it, and if not, here are a few contenders to consider:

  • Barclaycard Ring Mastercard: This card has a nice range of features,including no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees (making it very convenient for travelers), and no balance transfer fees. It also won't let a late payment trigger a "penalty APR." That's something many cards do, hiking your interest rate -- often to 25% or more -- if you're late making a payment. (Read our full review ofBarclaycard Ring Mastercardto learn more.)
  • Chase Slate: This card also doesn't chargean annual fee or impose a penalty APR. It also offers Blueprint financial planning tools to its cardholders to help them with debt-reduction strategies. (Read our full review ofChase Slate to learn more.)
  • Discover it -- Cashback Match: This card offers freeFICO scores on your statements, online, and/or in the Discover Mobile app -- and it includes not just your latest score, but past ones, too, so that you can see whether your score is going up or down. The cardalso offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent over three months in categories that you activate (such as restaurants, gas stations, home-improvement stores, or Amazon.com). It charges no annual fee or foreign transaction fee, and imposes no penalty APR. (Read our full review ofDiscover it Card to learn more.)

Get your credit score as high as you can and keep it there, and you may be able to save tens of thousands of dollars -- perhaps while keeping the interest of a love interest.

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Selena Maranjian owns shares of Amazon and JPMorgan Chase. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.