dave-mittlemanIf you’re like thousands of other Americans right now, your credit score probably isn’t as high as you would like it to be. However, there are some ways that you can improve your score, and yes, some of them are painful. Okay, a lot of them are painful, but if you want to improve your chances of getting approved for a mortgage, car loan, or even another credit card, then it’s worth it to seriously consider the steps you can take to clean up your credit.

    Pay more than the minimum—if possible always make a payment above the minimum. Even if it’s just five dollars over the minimum, it’s that much more that’s going towards the principal balance you owe, and not to the interest that you accrue from carrying a balance. Credit bureaus not only look at the amount of debt you have, but also the amount of time it takes to pay off the balance.

    Work out a plan—most people don’t realize, but if you’re struggling to make you payments from month-to-month, many lenders are more than willing to negotiate a payment plan or even a settlement amount with you. For lenders, it is much cheaper to work with a consumer rather than hiring a collection agency or possibly getting nothing if a consumer has their debt cleared in a bankruptcy proceeding. If you do get a lender to forgive a portion of your debt, make sure that the credit bureaus are aware of it since less debt means a higher credit score.

    Switch from credit to debit cards—when most consumers use a debit card, they are a little tighter with how much they’re willing to spend. For some reason, when you know that the money is coming directly out of your bank account, it’s less tempting to go on a spending spree. Although debit card purchases don’t usually figure into your credit score, by disciplining yourself and settling your debts on the spot, you will have a better score by default.

    Cut up store credit cards—“would you like to save 15% of your total today by opening a store credit card?” No you would not—having multiple store credit cards opened lowers your credit score. Plus, it’s a lot easier to rack up a lot of debt without really noticing it if you’re charging $50 on 10 different cards rather than charging $500 on one credit card. Then you’re also stuck paying all those minimum payments.

    Add comments to your credit report—often, when you look at your credit report you will find mistakes. For example, your report may not reflect the fact that you’ve paid off a loan. However, you might also want to add a comment to your report if there was a specific and serious reason why you weren’t able to pay on an account, like a temporary disability, for example. Contact the credit bureaus to add or correct information, but have the proper documentation ready to prove your case. While adding comments won’t necessarily improve your credit score, it may help lenders make the decision to loan you money.

    Remember, credit card debt isn’t the end of the world but it is important. While it may take time and patience, by taking these five steps you will be on your way to a brighter financial future.