How to Improve Your Credit Score -- Despite the Pandemic

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It's possible to work on building credit -- even when the economy is in shambles.

The coronavirus pandemic isn't just a health crisis; it's an economic one too. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs over the past six months, and many more have lost some of their income. At times like these, it's really important to have a solid credit score. That way, you're more likely to get approved to borrow money should the need arise.

But what if it could use some work? You might think that it's impossible to boost your credit, given the circumstances. Just remember that your credit score is not connected to your income. And these tricks could help your credit score, even when the economy's in an unquestionable mess.

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1. Pay all your bills on time -- or get permission to delay them

Of the different factors that impact your credit score, your payment history is the most important. So if you want your score to improve, it's essential that you pay all your bills on time. But what if you've lost income and can't swing your bills right now? If that's the case, get permission to defer those payments you can't cover. Deferring some bills may also help you keep current on the others.

For example, if you own a home and can't make your mortgage payments, you can ask your lender to put your loan into forbearance. It could excuse you from making payments for up to 360 days. You'll need to make good on those payments eventually, but you won't be reported as delinquent if you don't pay right now.

2. Don't apply for too many new loans or credit cards at once

If you can see hard times on the horizon, you may be tempted to apply for a loan or open some new credit cards to buy yourself some flexibility. Don't do it. If you apply for too many new credit accounts at once, it can hurt your score. And if that number isn't all that great to begin with, you'll risk getting stuck with higher interest rates than necessary.

Instead, be judicious about the credit accounts you apply for. You may, for example, want to apply for a single personal loan to get through the next few months. And once you're approved, you can continue to build your credit. Or, if you own a home, a home equity loan could be a cost-effective bet.

3. Check your credit report for errors

You never know whether there's a mistake on your credit report that's dragging your score down. Imagine there's a delinquent debt on your account that you never knew existed, from a bill you can prove you paid in full years ago. If so, it pays to dispute that error, because your credit score could rise as soon as it's corrected.

During the pandemic, weekly credit reports are available for free from all three major credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Now you don't have to go crazy and review those reports every week, but it is a good idea to check in once a month. Furthermore, once you dispute a mistake on one of your credit reports, be sure to follow up and make sure it's actually corrected. Bureaus generally have 30 days to investigate any dispute you file and remove items that are inaccurate.

You might assume it would be difficult to improve your credit score when so many people are hurting financially. But actually, a few strategic moves can help that number increase in any economic climate. And that's a good thing to have in your arsenal as you navigate the pandemic as best as you can.

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