How quickly will my credit score update after paying off debt?

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Financial consumers who pay off debt deserve praise. They also deserve to know when their credit scores will reflect those payments. (iStock)

Americans are taking a hard line on debt in 2021, with many households making debt reduction a priority.

According to a December 2020 study from Fidelity Investments:

  • 44% of Americans vowed to save more money in 2021
  • 43% said they were going to aggressively pay down household debt
  • 54% said they wanted to lead a debt-free life

The link between debt reduction and credit scores

Increasingly, Americans who pay down debt are asking a simple question – "When will I see my credit score rise after I pay down debt?"

"There is nothing worse than actively trying to improve your credit score, and we've all been there," said Chris Panteli, founder of Life Upswing, a U.K.-based financial news and advice platform. "It’s frustrating not knowing if all that hard work has actually had an effect."

If fingers need to be pointed at delayed credit scoring cycles, then point them at the credit card companies, banks, retailers and other lenders who provide the credit to consumers in the first place.

"Any change in your credit score after you have paid off debt is dependent on the reporting of the creditor," Panteli said. "Although they normally do so on a rolling basis, creditors aren't actually obligated to report anything to the credit bureaus."

Not sure where you fit on the credit score spectrum? Then you should start using a credit monitoring service to track changes to your credit score. Credible can get you set up with a free service today.

Checking schedules

The credit scoring cycle schedules at major creditors vary, experts say.

"Each credit card issuer has different rules about how they report your debt and on what cadence," said Matthew Lally, chief curator at the GiftYak, an online gifting platform and a former marketing analyst. "Some use your statement balance on date of closing, while others report your balance whenever it's been paid in full ('off cycle'). Your score will update from the bureaus once they receive this data, but it’s not an exact science."

Lally breaks down the credit scoring reporting cycles at several major financial institutions as follows:

1. American Express will report your statement balance on your statement closing date

"Occasionally the statement will ‘cut’ two or three days earlier than your closing date," Lally said. "Consequently, if you have a big purchase on the last day of your statement, you might eat up most of your credit utilization and lower your credit score."

2. Chase will also report your statement balance on the closing date

"However, if you call Chase they will also do ‘off cycle’ reporting," Lally added. "If your big purchase meant a 50% credit utilization, pay that bill in full and call Chase. They will contact the reporting agencies and it will report your new 0% utilization, which will improve your credit score."

3. US Bank is one major institution that reports your credit utilization on the 1st of every month

"No matter what your statement closing date is, your balance as of each month will get sent to the reporting agencies for credit utilization," Lally added.

Don't have a card with one of these institutions or are you looking for something different? If you're unsatisfied with the type of credit card you have, you can visit the Credible marketplace to view other credit card options.

Tips on improving your credit score

With diligence and some patience, financial consumers can keep their momentum going as they pay down debt. In doing so, their credit scores will grow higher and faster, especially by making these credit improvement moves.

1. Take a holistic view to credit and be proactive

Many consumers can reach a 700-score within months. 

"Just be methodical, detailed and consistent," said Monica Eaton-Cardone, co-founder of Chargebacks911, a fintech consumer services company in Clearwater, Fla. "That means paying your bills, settling old debts with creditors or agencies, many of which are prepared to negotiate, and fixing credit score errors. Those are the low-hanging fruits in the credit score market."

2. Prioritize installment loans

If you don't have an installment loan (auto loan, mortgage, or other) on your credit report, you should, Lally said. "Credit score formulas love to see diversity in your credit score. If you can keep this loan at low utilization rate (10% or below) that can significantly improve your score."

If you already have a mortgage or personal loan and want to see if you can get a lower interest rate, visit a marketplace like Credible where you can view your prequalified rates without affecting your credit score.

3. Above all else, pay your bills on time

Without question, the most important credit-scoring acceleration tip is to pay your debts on time.

"This factor alone accounts for 35% of the FICO score," said Rob Berger, founder at Allcards.com in Fairfax County, Va. "Doing so keeps credit utilization below 30%, and preferably below 10%. Paying bills on time should also be coupled with avoiding new credit unless it’s necessary. Repeated credit inquiries will weigh on your score."

"Beyond that, be patient – you can’t rush the length of your credit history," Berger said.

Improve your credit score through Credible’s partner product Experian Boost, which allows you to choose and verify any payment history you’d like to add to your credit file.

Have a finance-related question, but don't know who to ask? Email The Credible Money Expert at moneyexpert@credible.com and your question might be answered by Credible in our Money Expert column.

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