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7 Ways to Improve Your Credit Score Fast

We'd feel terrific if we managed to have a perfect credit score, but getting a perfect 850 is pretty much unattainable. A score of 760 is the golden standard of "excellent" credit, but sometimes even that seems like just a dream.

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Raising your credit score isn't about waiting around idly for the credit bureaus to think you've got a longer and more impressive credit history. If you want to find out your credit score, you can do it for free at Credit Karma (www.creditkarma.com).

Whether you're trying to raise your score or maintain your top-notch report, here are ways to see an immediate change in that magic number.

1. Bulk Up Your Thin File.

Luckily for consumers with little to no credit history, VantageScore (see Resources, below) has been leading the way by placing the most emphasis on the most recent 24 months of a consumer's credit history. So, even if you haven't been using credit for ages, your credit-building actions will now have a deeper impact on your score. Some other things that will help to bulk up a thin credit history are secured credit cards (see Resources, below), personal loans, auto loans, and a mortgage.

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2. Before You Do Anything Like Adding A New Credit Card, Do This.

This is the ultimate tried-and-true credit score booster. Unloading debt increases your score by reducing your overall debt and lowering your credit utilization rate (for credit cards, at least). Before you add a new credit card, increase your credit limit, or juggle balance transfers (see Resources, below), focus on paying off your debt. Your credit score will thank you immediately.

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3. Find A Diamond in the Rough Credit.

Right now, a lot of credit card issuers are increasing the number of preapproved offers they mail out. One of the ways that your score is calculated is by how much credit you use compared to the total credit line you could use (called "credit utilization rate"). Opening a new card will often have a positive impact on your credit score because it increases your total available credit. Sift through cards to find one with favorable terms, a low interest rate, and no annual fee. Remember that each credit card application results in a hard inquiry that temporarily lowers your credit score for four to eight weeks, so be selective about applying to cards with high approval rates for your credit score range. Check out Credit Karma's recommendations (see Resources, below) based on credit score range and card type.

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4. Extend Your Credit Limit.

If the idea of managing another credit card gives you a headache, ask your current credit card issuer for a credit line increase on your existing card. Like getting a new card, this will lower the percentage of credit you're using compared to how much you could use (just don't increase your spending to match). Issuers are more likely to grant increases to good customers, so choose the card with which you've had the cleanest and longest history. Then just call up and ask, reminding the rep that you've been a dedicated customer for a long time. Note that requesting a credit line increase also requires a hard credit inquiry, so steel yourself for a temporary hit to your score.

5. Make It Automatic.

Credit Karma told us: "Just one late payment can damage your credit score 20 points or more, so take preemptive measures." Set up automatic payments on installment loans that charge the same amount each time, and create calendar reminders for your credit card bills. (While you're at it, check out our suggestions for how to manage that calendar.)

6. Actually Use Your Credit Card.

As long as you never spend more than you have and pay your bills in full every month, LearnVest actually recommends paying with a credit card. In addition to providing perks like insurance, rewards, and the ability to dispute charges, this is also a powerful tool in building credit. The key is moderation: Using too much credit or maxing out your card hurts your score, but regular, responsible use actually helps it.

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7. Clean Up Your Credit Report.

According to some statistics, as much as 80 percent of consumer credit reports have an error or inaccuracy that can cost 5 to 50 credit points. Check your credit report for errors. Once the mistakes are wiped from your history, your credit score will show the effect within a month.

It's impossible to predict exactly how much these tips will raise your score, because every credit history is different. That said, we expect that you'll soon be raising your glass to a much higher score.

Originally published on LearnVest.com; republished with permission.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.