Prospective homebuyers can easily get obsessed with their credit score. And if it’s one that’s less than perfect, it can be a challenge to build it back up before the next major purchase, such as a house or car.

Credit score provider VantageScore Solutions recommends taking these actions to help improve your score but be advised, the results aren’t instant.

If you’re in the market for a house, it’s best to start changing habits and repairing your credit months, or even a year, before you apply for a mortgage.

1. Pay your bills on time

Paying your bills on time impacts your credit score the most. VantageScore’s spokesman Jeff Richardson says making payments on time is not just a good credit habit to have, but it also helps keep your utilization, or how much of your credit you’re using, low.

2. Apply for credit only when you need it

Applying for and opening multiple accounts in a short period of time can negatively affect your credit and decrease your score. Each application is an inquiry on your credit and the small drop in points adds up if you’re submitting multiple applications.   

3. Keep your utilization low

Keeping your balances at or below 30% of the limit on any credit account is an indicator of good credit health. Richardson recommends that if you are planning on shopping for a mortgage you do want to make sure your utilization is as low as possible.

4. Reduce your total debt

While it’s not bad to owe some money, it’s not a good idea to owe too much. Vantage advises to consider paying down some of your outstanding loans or debt to bring your total debt (and utilization) down.

5. Maintain a steady credit history

Building your payment history for different accounts over a long period of time (think credit cards, car payments, and mortgage payments) can show lenders a pattern of good credit behavior.

It’s important to remember that there are many types of credit scores. Look beyond the number and focus on practicing good credit health that will increase your score.

“It’s not managing your finances around the score,” Richardson said. “Don’t try to reverse engineer a credit score. Just practice good habits, check your score and monitor for identity theft.”

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