Building good credit doesn't happen quickly

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

Ask a question.
Question for the expert

Dear To Her Credit,
I have been working on my credit since April. I have two credit cards that I pay, on time. I keep the balances low. I have a car note that I pay on time, along with a school loan payment. How long will it take before I really see a drastic change to my credit? -- Corry

Answer for the expert

Dear Corry,
Three or four months are not very long in the life of a credit history! It sounds like you're doing great, but you're going to have to be patient.

You should be able to see a difference in your score in that amount of time. One variable, however, is how often your creditors report to the credit bureaus. Some creditors report every month, or even more often, while others may report every few months. Chances are, your credit card companies report every billing cycle.

You can ask your creditors how often they report to the credit bureaus. If you're in a hurry to see improvements in your score, for example, if you're about to buy a house, you might even ask your lender to request a "rapid rescore" service. Your lender generally pays an extra fee to have your credit score manually updated. It may raise your score in days, rather than in weeks or months.

If you have negative information on your report from before you started working on your credit in April, and the information is correct, you'll just have to be patient as you wait for the bad history to move further and further away in your rear-view mirror. When people have a long history of having trouble paying their bills, they can't expect potential creditors to be suddenly impressed by three or four months of on-time bill paying. There's only one way to build trust, and that's by doing what you say you will do, over and over again.

One thing in your favor is that you have a good mix of credit. Ten percent of your score is based on credit mix. A car note, along with your student loan and a couple of credit cards, should be a good mix. You're also doing well keeping your balances low. The lower you keep them, the better.

Have you checked your credit recently (you can pull your FICO credit score for about $20 at and your credit reports for free once a year from It may be doing drastically better already. If it's only improving gradually, give it some time. As long as your credit score is headed in the right direction, you're taking good care of your credit.

See related: FICO's 5 factors: The components of a FICO credit score 

Meet's reader Q&A experts

Does a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday,'s Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.

Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.

Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.

Updated: 01-19-2019