Question: I am considering applying for a business loan. There is a lot of emphasis put on one’s credit score. Can you offer suggestions how to improve my score?

Answer: To begin, you should order a free copy of your credit history from www.annualcreditreport.com  Contrary to claims from other sources, the only place you can receive a free report is from the three credit reporting bureaus, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.

Each bureau is required to provide one copy per year. It’s a good idea to order a report from all three as they don’t always agree. It is not uncommon to find errors that can seriously affect your credit score. Be sure to check each entry for accuracy. If you detect an error, immediately notify them.

Your creditors routinely order a copy of your FICO credit score. The scores range from 350 to 850 and a score of at least 720 will ensure you a better chance of securing a loan at a competitive interest rate.

You may purchase a copy of your FICO score from Experian for a nominal fee. However, many banks and credit card issuers will provide them to you for free.

Tips for improving your credit score include the following:

  • Compile and prioritize a list of all known monthly expenses.
  • Avoid accumulating too many credit cards. Two or three cards are adequate.
  • Consolidate credit card and other debts where possible.
  • Never charge up to the maximum of your credit line. Stay below 50%.
  • Contact creditors and try to negotiate more favorable interest rates and payment terms.
  • Pay down debts with the highest interest rates first and make at least the minimum monthly payment on all others.
  • Be sure to always pay your bill before the due date. Nothing does more damage to your credit score than a late payment.

Remember that every time you open a new account, the creditor pulls a copy of your credit report. Resist the impulse to sign up for a store credit care because they promise a discount on your next purchase. Even if you close the account soon after it can adversely impact your credit score.

Debt management is not as difficult as it may seem, but it does require discipline. Once you have determined your monthly income and expenses, you must commit to live within your means. SCORE provides a free 12-month cash flow budget form that can be accessed at https://naples.score.org/resource/12-month-cash-flow-statement

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Gray Poehler is a volunteer with SCORE Naples. Business counseling on this and other business matters is available, without charge, from the Naples Chapter of SCORE. Call (239) 430-0081 or visit https://naples.score.org/mentors .The SCORE business office is located at 900 Goodlette Road North, in the Fifth Third branch bank building.