Improving a credit score can take time. It's important to understand why the score is lower than you want it to be in order to figure out how to improve it.
Negative items on your credit report, like past-due payments, will lower your credit score. Over time, though, these negative items will gradually have less and less impact on your credit score. And eventually, they usually drop off of your credit report altogether, at which point they will no longer be a factor in your credit score. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) specifies the amount of time information can be included in your credit report. Delinquencies generally can remain on your credit report for 7 years. Most public record items remain on your credit report for 7 years, although bankruptcies can remain for 10 years. Some information, like unpaid tax liens, could remain on your report indefinitely, if the credit bureau chooses to keep them. There can be certain exceptions to these time limits, but these are the general rules.
But you don't have to wait 7 or 10 years for your score to improve. There are many things you can be doing now to help it rise. Focus on paying your bills on time, pay down outstanding balances, and don't take on too much (or any) new debt. And be sure to check your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to see if there is any incorrect information on them, such as a statement that you were past due on an account when you always paid on time. Getting such errors fixed can boost your score.
Some people's scores are lower than they might otherwise be (or they might not have a credit score at all) because their credit history is short or limited, not because they failed to pay on time or had other negative information in their credit history. If you're in this situation, focus on building a good credit history over time. Making on-time payments for any credit accounts you do have will gradually help build your score.
It's likely to take some time to improve your score, but don't get discouraged. Every step you take to manage your credit accounts well - especially paying on time - is a step towards a higher credit score.
Updated: July 2017