I was at a barbecue the other day when a long-time friend mentioned that he started a diet the day before. That’s when I noticed that he didn’t have a plate in front of him. Keto? Atkins? South Beach? Mediterranean? He explained that it was a 14-day fast. “Seriously?!” Yup, he was going to eat nothing but vitamins and drink only water for the next 13 days. “Why?” He admitted that he simply didn’t have the willpower to stick with a reasonable diet for the months it would take him to lose 20 pounds. He had turned to drastic matters.
For most (and my friend), a short-term diet can get results quickly but can be difficult to stick with in the long term. Changes don’t happen overnight. Improving your credit is a lot like losing weight. They both take time, effort, commitment to your goal, and possible changes to your lifestyle (to achieve long-term success). But, it’s not as scary as it sounds. With the steps outlined below, making positive changes to your credit may be easier than you think.
Knowledge is power
The first step is to know where you stand today. Just like stepping on a scale to check your starting weight, you should get a current copy of your credit report and your credit score. Most banks and credit card companies provide this information at no cost to their accountholders so check with them to make sure you aren’t missing out on a valuable resource. Or, you can take advantage of Credit Score Plus to regularly check your TransUnion VantageScore and monitor your credit (service offered free from RISE).
Know where you want to go
Just like with losing weight, you should define what you want to accomplish. Do you hope to buy a house or finance a car soon? Do you want to refinance debt to a lower rate? Depending on your goal, there may be a specific credit score target you need to reach to get there. A credit score of 700 or higher is typically considered “prime” credit and can help you access better rates and terms with lenders.
Keep in mind there’s no right or wrong answer – it’s about picking the goal that works best for you.
Set a reasonable timeline
With your goal now set, the next step is to determine the timeline to reach that goal. Just like it’s not reasonable to lose 30 pounds in 4 weeks, it’s unlikely that you’ll see a 60-point increase in your credit score in one month. Improving your credit score takes time, and the time it takes varies based on each person’s unique situation.
A quick trick to get a reasonable timeline is to take your desired credit score increase and divide it by 10. The answer will give you an estimate of how many months it may take you to reach your goal. For example, a credit score increase goal of 40 points (divided by 10) could take you roughly 4 months to achieve. Obviously, this time frame could vary depending on your actions and current credit report. Either way, you should think of improving your credit score (and losing weight) like a marathon, not a sprint.
Now that you have an established goal and timeline, it’s time to take action. When it comes to losing weight, this means eating better and exercising more. When it comes to credit improvement, this means taking steps to change your credit behavior. But first, you need to plan out those steps in advance. What changes are you going to make to your spending each month? Will you set aside more money to pay down existing debt? Do you plan to limit credit card usage to avoid large balances? Think about how the changes you make will affect you and your family. Be realistic and as specific as possible.
Lean on loved ones
Speaking of family, it helps to involve friends and loved ones in your journey to better credit health. Share what you’re doing and why so the people in your life can help keep you accountable as you take the steps you’ve laid out. And if the changes you’re making impact your immediate family (such as fewer vacations, less dining out (this works for weight loss too), keeping a vehicle for longer, etc.), have a conversation with them about the plan, how they can support the family’s goals, and what reaching the goal means for everyone in the long run.
They will support you. They want you to succeed. Get them involved.
Celebrate your successes
Track your progress regularly. Unlike weight loss where it’s recommended to weigh in once per week, it’s best to check your credit score only once a month. Most lenders only report to the bureaus once a month so it’s unlikely you’ll see any meaningful change by checking it more often.
When things go well, celebrate your progress. Pat yourself on the back, bask in the praise of a loved-one, and take a mental victory lap. And when things don’t go well, just remember there will be hiccups along the way. You might miss a step or milestone, but don’t give up! You can adjust your timeline as needed without sacrificing the hard work you’ve already put into it. Any progress is better than no progress.
Stick with it
I don’t know if my friend will be able to stick with his 14-day fast, but I’ll support his efforts either way. Losing weight can be tough just like improving your credit. But if you stick with your plan, acknowledge your achievements as you reach them (no matter how big or small), and get support from family and friends, you’ll eventually finish your credit marathon!