Want to Slam Dunk Your Credit Score?

Don’t let these seven fouls keep you from the financial finals

You just can’t afford a slump when it comes to credit. As with the NBA finals, tournaments are won with hard work and the same is true for a winning credit report: every point counts! Scoring a great credit rating won’t require fancy financial footing – just a solid grasp on basic skills and a clear heads-up on what to avoid at all costs. Plus, there’s no need to go it alone: Here’s some advice on what you’ll need to dodge for the home court advantage.

Don’t let your guard down.
Playing defense is an important part of winning the game, says Washington D.C.-based personal finance expert Ebong Aka, certified public accountant and former pro basketball player. “A good credit score is no different,” he says. “Pull your credit report at least once a year to ensure you don't have identity theft issues.”

Don’t get a delay-of-game penalty.
Your best winning strategy is paying your bills on time because late payments will surely cost you. “This is the single most important factor creditors look for,” stresses Mark Hoewing of InCharge.org, a non-profit debt solutions organization. “Missing just one payment on a credit card or car loan can be very harmful to your financial health. And if you miss an entire month’s worth of payments, it could mean big trouble.”

Don’t scrap your strategy.
It’s important to keep game plans that have worked in the past, says Hoewing. Toward that end, there’s no need to always close older accounts you have paid off. This way of thinking has been updated over the past few years. “The rule of thumb had been to automatically close every account that had a zero balance to improve your score,” explains Howing. But closing your account lowers the total amount of credit available to you. “You may actually be considered less creditworthy, so check it out before you act," he says. “Remember, the longer you’ve had the card, the longer you are establishing a credit history.”

Don’t overlook inaccuracies.
In the game of basketball, even good referees can make mistakes, and just like sharp coaches dispute these calls with the refs, Aka suggests you review your credit report to check for false or wrong information. “The credit bureaus provide a process for people to dispute inaccuracies on their reports.”

Don’t get on the ultimate injured reserve list.
That would be bankruptcy, something Hoewing says you should avoid at all costs, if possible. Those who file bankruptcy will find it very difficult to obtain new credit, he says. “When they do it is often at much higher rates than before they filed.” A bankruptcy will typically stay on a credit report for a very long time, up to 10 years,” says Hoewing.

Don’t sweat the “swoosh.”
Shooting for perfection? A credit score typically ranges from 300-850, says Freeman, and only a small percentage of Americans – less than 5 percent, actually – achieve a score in the 800s. There’s no need to stress about making the “swoosh,” or perfect shot. “Focus on paying down debt, paying your bills on time, and getting current on any late accounts. These actions will help increase your credit score,” Freeman says. “Don’t focus on getting a perfect credit score, focus on getting the best credit score you can.”