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The Lazy Person's Guide to Better Credit

If you have a bad credit score, you probably feel like you have to do something to make it better. File a dispute, apply for new credit, or even hire someone to help you repair your credit. Sometimes that’s true. But other times the best thing you can do is … nothing.

Call it the “lazy person’s way to better credit.” Or the “zen” approach, if you prefer.

Here are seven ways that doing nothing can help improve your credit.

1. Stop Using Your Credit Cards

If you have balances on your credit cards that aren’t budging, tuck the cards away somewhere safe and stop using them. Continue to make your payments, and your balances will go down. How quickly depends on the size of your payment, of course. But if your balances have been hurting your credit scores, you should see improvement over time because your “debt usage ratio” — a comparison of your credit card balances to your credit limits — improves.

2. Don’t Apply for New Credit

When that friendly store clerk asks if you want to save 10% off your purchase by opening a store credit card, politely decline. No new applications for credit means new inquiries won’t hurt your credit scores, and you won’t see the typical dip associated with a new account either.

(That’s not to say you never want to get new credit if you are trying to rebuild your credit. If your bankruptcy discharge has just been completed and you have no open accounts, for example, you’ll probably want to get a credit card available to those with bad credit such as a secured credit card so you can start the rebuilding process. But if you already have plenty of cards, you don’t need to pile on more.)

3. Let Accounts Age

Like fine wine, age is your friend when it comes to your credit scores. Older accounts can help boost your scores, as most scoring models consider credit age, or more specifically, the age of your oldest account and the average age of all your accounts. Even negative information carries less weight over time. So sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

4. Let the Bad Stuff Go

After a certain point, negative information can no longer be reported. And if it’s not in your reports, it won’t affect your scores. Late payments and charge-offs, for example, can’t be reported more than seven years after they occurred, while collection accounts can’t be reported more than seven years plus 180 days from the original date of delinquency (the date you fell behind with the original creditor). As long as the dates on your credit reports are correct, you don’t have to lift a finger. Just monitor your credit and celebrate when those items are gone for good.

5. Leave Accounts Be

Have credit cards you don’t really use anymore? Rather than closing them out, just let them be. They are more likely to help your credit scores than hurt them. (Of course, if your issuer is charging you an annual fee and won’t waive it, or if you have a co-signer on the account who might go on a spending spree, it may be best to close the account.)

6. Hop on Someone Else’s Credit

Asking your spouse, partner or even your parent to add you onto one of their accounts as an authorized user may give your credit a boost. If the account they put you on has a perfect payment history and low balances, you’ll likely get “credit” so to speak when that account starts appearing on your credit reports. You never need touch the card to benefit from this strategy.

7. Put It on Autopilot

Put your bills on auto-pay and you shouldn’t have to worry about accidentally missing a payment — and winding up with a score-damaging late payment on your credit reports. It’s a super-easy way for the busy or do easily distracted among us to stay on track. Of course you will want to do a quick check-in each month to make sure your payments actually went through. But it will still be faster than it was before you set up auto-pay.

And while it may take a few minutes to get started if you set up and use a free credit score monitoring tool you can make sure your scores are on an overall upward trend. Don’t be shocked by small dips — they are not uncommon — but overall you want to make sure your scores are moving in a positive direction.

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