How to Increase Your FICO Credit Score: A Comprehensive Guide for College Students

When you’re stepping out into adulthood, credit can seem complicated and maybe a little scary. However, getting a good grasp on credit will help you develop a strong sense of financial independence. The first step to navigating the world of credit is understanding your FICO credit score. A good FICO score isn’t just a number. It’s your gateway to securing student loans, renting your first apartment, or even landing that dream job.

Let’s delve into the significance of FICO scores and how to get started with a bright financial future.

Understanding FICO Scores

What Is a FICO Score?

A FICO score is a three-digit number that’s generated from information on your credit report. Think of it as a summary of your entire history with credit. When a lender or other financial professional needs to make a quick decision, they’ll use a FICO score to get a good idea of how good you are with credit.

FICO scores were created by the Fair Isaac Corporation as an attempt to represent your financial trustworthiness with a single number. Scores range from 300 to 850. The higher the score, the better. FICO is a favorite numeric value among lenders. While your FICO score does matter, remember it’s not the only credit score out there.

Factors Influencing FICO Scores

Your FICO score isn’t magic; it’s math. These are the factors that go into your score:

  • Payment history. Do you pay your bills on time?
  • Credit utilization. How much of your available credit are you using?
  • Length of credit history. How long have you been using credit?
  • New credit. Have you been applying for multiple new credit lines recently?
  • Credit mix. What types of credit do you have (credit cards, mortgages, student loans)?

In general, the better your payment history, the longer you’ve been using credit well, and the more variety in your types of credit, the higher your FICO Score.

Steps to Improve Your FICO Score

Let’s take a look at a few steps that can help you boost your FICO score.

Checking Your Credit Report

To know where to start with improving your FICO store, you need to know where you are right now. Accessing your credit report shows you where you’re starting from. Your credit report is a record of everything in your credit history, from credit cards to student loans. That information is then condensed into your FICO score.

Consider checking your credit report at least once a year to get an idea of your current credit use and to check that everything on there is accurate. Surprisingly, errors on credit reports are more common than you might think. These inaccuracies can range from minor details, like a misspelled name, to major issues, such as incorrect accounts that don’t belong to you. An incorrect credit report can unfairly affect your FICO score.

If you do spot an error, you can get it fixed. Start by contacting the credit bureau that you got the report from. Initiate a dispute with the credit bureau that issued the report. They can potentially fix it or guide you to the next person to contact.

Timely Bill Payments

Think of your payment history as a financial report card. Your report card shows your performance in school, and your payment history shows how well you use credit. Every late or missed payment negatively impacts your FICO score and affects how you’re able to use credit in the future.

So how can you make sure to pay your monthly bills on time? Use technology. Setting up automatic payments, helps you to submit your rent, utilities, tuition, and other payments on time. If you can’t set up autopay, consider setting up monthly reminders on your phone or calendar. The goal is to hit each payment, so you can show that you are consistently timely. That will substantially boost your FICO score.

Managing Debt Efficiently

Debt is when you owe money to someone or something. Your FICO score takes your debt management into account. Taking care of your debt is one way to help boost your score, but if that’s not possible, you can manage it effectively to help your score.

For example, you may not want to shuffle your debt around or close accounts with zero balances. That will actually reduce the amount of credit you have access to and potentially lower your score. Older accounts lengthen your credit history. So you may want to keep those open and manage debt another way.

One way to do that is credit utilization. Credit utilization, which might sound complex, is simply the ratio of your current credit card balances to your credit limits. For example, if you have a credit card with a $10,000 limit and you’ve used $2,000, your credit utilization is 20%.

A high credit utilization ratio can be a red flag for potential lenders. That can signal that you’re over-relying on credit. So here’s a good rule of thumb: try to keep your credit utilization below 30%. This ratio helps show that you know how to manage your debt and use credit well.

Responsible Credit Management

Ultimately, the best way to boost your FICO score is to use credit as responsibly as possible. While it may be tempting to open a few new credit accounts to get started, that excitement might slow you down in the long run. That’s because every time you apply for credit, the bureau will perform what’s called a hard inquiry into your credit history. When they do this, you’ll likely experience a temporary dip in your FICO score. So open accounts when needed and shoot for consistent use.

If you’re in the market for a loan, try to compare rates all within a short time frame. When you do that, you won’t have multiple dips in your score from hard inquiries. That’s because FICO scores consider multiple inquiries for the same type of product within a specific period (usually 14-45 days) as a single inquiry. This can help you be strategic about how you use your credit.

Remember that you can work to improve your FICO score, even if it’s low right now. Life is unpredictable, and financial setbacks happen. It’s part of growing up. Still, experiencing these challenges doesn’t mean you can’t ever use credit. With time, you can set goals to consistently make smart credit choices and build your score.

College Students and FICO Scores

When you’re getting ready to start college or in college, there are some unique considerations with your FICO score. One specific use you may have is with student loans. Here’s how that works.

The Role of Student Loans in Credit History

Student loans are an excellent way to pay for school. A college education opens so many doors, and loans help you reach that. When you’re applying for a loan, your FICO score matters. It’s part of the equation that helps you get a loan. Then when you repay, that will affect your future FICO score.

Student loans are a form of credit. When you repay them on time, student loans allow you to begin building a robust credit profile. Every timely payment is reported to the credit bureaus and reflects positively on your credit report. Over time, consistent repayments can significantly bolster your FICO score.

When you get started with a loan, make sure you understand the terms and conditions. Get familiar with your repayment schedule, interest rates, and any deferment options you might have. Sometimes a deference or forbearance can be helpful, but interest will continue to accumulate. Understanding how this works helps you use your credit well and keep your score high.

Building Credit as a College Student

When you go off to college, it can be difficult to know how to start building credit. Here are a few tips and ways to get started with credit to set a strong foundation:

  • Understand the basics. Take some time to understand all of the expectations for your credit responsibilities. That’s understanding how credit works, how to repay a loan or pay off a credit card, learning about credit utilization, and knowing about your scores and history. Learning about your FICO score is an excellent start!
  • Get a student credit card. One of the most accessible ways to start building credit is through student credit cards. These cards are specifically designed to help you get started. They come with lower credit limits and sometimes offer rewards or cashback you can use for things like groceries, gas, or dining. This card is important to use too. It helps you establish your credit history. Again, try to keep your credit utilization low. So if your card has a limit of $1,000, try not to carry a balance of more than $300.
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  • Remember the power and responsibility. While a credit card helps you make important payments, it’s important to remember that power comes with the responsibility of repaying. Every purchase made on the card needs to be repaid, and delaying or missing payments can negatively impact your FICO score. To avoid this, set up automatic payments or reminders.
  • Diversify your credit. The further along you are in college, pay attention to opportunities to diversify your credit options. A student credit card is a great start, but it’s only one form of credit. You might add a car loan or get a new credit card. As you do this, remember not to overextend and only borrow what you can repay.


Your FICO score is more than just a number. It affects important financial decisions. Managing your credit responsibly and keeping on top of payments can help you have the score you want.

At College Ave, we want to help you achieve your goals and successfully navigate the world of finances. So dive deeper into the world of finance with us and stay updated. Sign up for the latest College Ave news here.


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