best credit score Today is an exciting day for me. After almost 10 years of blogging about my credit improvement journey, I have finally achieved what I believe is a nearly perfect FICO credit score: 836.

My credit repair journey started when I had a credit score in the 530’s. I was unable to even get approved for a credit card, let alone a mortgage loan. This was the point when I said enough is enough and set out to learn everything there is to know about improving credit scores.

Many of you have a very good credit score in the 700’s and low 800’s, but might not know how to fine tune your credit in such a way as to get a perfect score. This post will explain in detail how to tweak the scoring system to achieve the maximum FICO score. The truth is, you don’t need a perfect credit score in order to be approved for a loan, so this post might only be useful to the perfectionists out there. Either way, it’s a fun exercise.

The first thing to keep in mind is that obtaining a perfect credit score takes time. It’s rather easy to remove negative items from your credit report and get a good score, but a perfect score is another story. Now, assuming that you don’t have any negative entries on your credit report like late payments or collections, let’s get into the more advanced stuff you’ll need to put into place. Keep in mind that all of the steps outlined below are based on my personal experience, not crap I’ve read on the internet.

1. Have at Least Three Credit Cards but Only Use One

This first step comes completely from my own experience after experimenting with different techniques. I’ve found that to optimize your credit score, it works best to have no more and no less than three major credit cards. These cards should have long, good payment history, and low utilization (more on this in step 3).

In addition, I’ve found that it’s best to only use one of these cards on a regular basis and simply keep the other two cards with a zero balance. It’s not that you can’t ever use the other two cards, but generally I like to keep their balances at zero. This technique will maximize your credit score.

2. Have a Least One Gas or Store Credit Card

For the longest time I resisted getting a store card, such as a Macy’s store card, because I simply didn’t see much of a point in doing so. However, if there is one store you shop at often these store cards do have some nice perks, such as store coupons and reward points.

What I didn’t realize is that for whatever reason it seems that having a store credit card in addition to major credit cards positively impacts your FICO score. I haven’t been able to find much information regarding why this is, but what I can say is that once I got a Macy’s store card and it was reported for one year, my score jumped 20 points.

My recommendation regarding store credit cards is that you pick one that you’ll actually benefit from using. In other words, if you always buy your clothes at Macy’s, it generally makes more sense to use their card rather than a major credit card and receive the membership benefits.

3. Frequently Use Your Credit Card but Never Max It Out

Personally, I’m not the type of person who buys everything on my credit card. I do use one of my credit cards often, however. I’ve found that frequent use of a credit card is needed in order to get the highest FICO score possible. The caveat is that you should never max out this card. In fact, I recommend you pay it down (or off) every month, and never get even close to the credit limit.

As a general rule, you should try to keep your credit utilization under 25%. In other words, if you have a credit card with a total credit limit of $1,000, never rack up more than $250 worth of charges on the card. This is why it’s also important to have a credit card with a high limit. For example, my main credit card has a credit limit of $30,000, and I never get even close to 25% utilization. If you don’t have a card with a high enough limit to keep you comfortably under 25% utilization, give the creditor a call and request that they up the credit limit.

4. You Need a Mortgage Loan

You definitely don’t need a mortgage loan to have good credit. However, if you want to max out your credit score, having a mortgage loan with good payment history is a must. Since a mortgage loan is usually a relatively large loan and more difficult to obtain than other installment type loans, such as an auto loan, it shows creditors that you have been responsible enough with your credit to get the mortgage.

FICO recommends that you have a mix of different accounts, so along with credit cards and installment loans, a mortgage loan is the last piece of the pie in order to have a well-rounded credit portfolio. I also want to note that I didn’t start seeing my credit score go up because of the mortgage loan until about a year later, so it definitely takes some time.

You obviously shouldn’t take out a mortgage just to get a perfect credit score. However, mortgage loan is generally considered to be “good” debt, in that interest rates are relatively low and you’re financing something that usually goes up in value. If you don’t already have a mortgage, be sure to fix up your credit report before applying for a mortgage.

5. Significantly Pay Down All Installment Loans

I was surprised by this one, because I always assumed it didn’t matter how much of the loan you had left to repay in regards to your credit score. However, I noticed that once I paid off my auto loans and student loans, my credit score jumped more than 20 points.

The key here is that you pay off as much of the loan as possible, if not all of it. The closer the remaining balance is to zero, the more it will benefit your credit score. For a little bit of perspective, I paid off a $30,000 auto loan, another $20,000 auto loan, and student loans totaling $11,000. Almost immediately after I did this, my credit score improved.

6. Don’t Apply for Loans or Credit Cards for at Least a Year

Once you’ve paid down your installment loans, I suggest you stop applying for loans and credit cards all together. By this point, you should have a few credit cards in your wallet, a couple of paid off cars, and a mortgage. When you’re in this position, there is really no need to apply for more credit.

By not applying for credit, you won’t get any hard inquires on your credit report and this does wonders for your credit score. If you need to apply for credit, just keep in mind that it will set you back about a year. Again, you should be in a situation by this point where you don’t need anymore credit.

7. Wait, Wait, Then Wait Some More

Lastly, you simply have to continue to establish positive credit history. That is, keep making your payments on time and make sure you don’t get any negative entries like collections. The older your accounts are the better your credit score will be. For example, my oldest credit card is 15 years old, and my average credit card is 8 years old.

Perhaps waiting is the most difficult, but you really shouldn’t be in a hurry. Once you’ve reached this point, you don’t need much credit anymore, so your score isn’t as important. At this point it all sort of becomes a game to see how high you can go.