Tips for Maximizing Your Credit Score When It Counts Most

It takes deliberate steps to boost your credit score before a major purchase.

SmarterBank allows you to chip away at student loan debt while you shop.
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[See How to Avoid a "Hard Pull" on Your Credit Report and Still Borrow Money.]

5. Make timely payments. Pay your bills on time to demonstrate your creditworthiness. According to Weston, "a single skipped payment can knock 110 points off your score." Also be vigilant about any bills that might wind up in collections. Weston says that medical bills in particular may slip through the cracks due to complicated insurance and hospital billing systems, so consumers may not know about the bill until they see it on their credit report.

"If you've gone to the hospital and haven't gotten a bill, call and ask about it," suggests Weston. "If you're calling the billing department of your medical provider and your insurance company, it's unlikely it will go to collections."

6. Stay in your current job if you can. Switching jobs right before you apply for a mortgage or refinance could be a red flag for lenders. "If you're currently employed and your plan is to change jobs, stick with your current employer," says Harzog. "Don't make any major lifestyle changes until you get approved. You want to look as stable and as risk-free as possible."

7. Don't stress over less than perfection. Olympic athletes strive for gold, but of course, silver and bronze are also impressive. Once you reach a certain level, increasing your credit score doesn't improve your interest rate. "If you're in the market for a mortgage and you're over 740, you're going to get the best rate," says Weston. "With other kinds of loans, you might need a 760 or above. There's no point in having a score of 850 or even a score over 800. You don't get any bonus points for being super high."