If you see these signs appearing on the credit horizon, you could be close to a higher credit score.

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If you’re working on improving your credit, it can feel like it’s taking forever to bump your credit score up to a higher-scoring category. However, as long as you keep paying credit cards and loans on time and keep revolving debt amounts low, your score will likely improve over time.

But how long will it take to improve, and how can you know if you’re almost there or at least have the potential to work your way up the credit score ladder?

Below are five signs better credit could be within your reach.

1. Negative accounts are dropping off your credit report

The great thing about negative payment history – which accounts for around 35% of your credit score –  is that the information isn’t a life sentence. After seven years, past due payments and nonpayment accounts automatically drop from your credit report, which typically raises your score slightly at first and significantly as more accounts fall off the report.

So, if those old past-due and defaulted accounts are nearing their seven-year expiration dates, better credit is well within your reach – as long as you keep making all payments on time to maintain a positive payment history. To find out where you stand, order a free copy of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Find out: 12 Good Reasons to Repair Your Credit

2. Your credit score has already increased

Even if you’re still in the “fair” category of credit scores and inching your way toward the “good” range with an eye on “exceptional,” if your score is gradually but steadily increasing, you’re already on the path to a higher credit score and better credit.

At this point, continue making timely payments and keep your total revolving credit low and your credit score can be securely in that higher category before you know it.

Find out: How to Improve Your Credit Score Step-by-Step

3. You’ve received credit counseling

If you are receiving credit counseling or have completed a credit counseling course, that won’t directly improve your credit score. However, those budgeting and money management skills learned during credit counseling can help you pay credit cards and other bills on time, and positive payment history will improve your score.

However, keep in mind that credit counseling is a lot like signing up for a gym membership. Unless you do the work by applying your new money management skills, you won’t achieve the desired results.

4. You’ve completed a debt repayment plan

If you had a lot of debt and fell behind on payments but got caught up with a debt repayment plan through a nonprofit credit counseling agency or reputable debt relief program, your credit probably won’t improve instantly, since past due payments take seven years to drop off your credit report.

However, even if a good credit score isn’t within your immediate reach, you’re still well on your way to better credit. As long as you keep making timely payments on current accounts or loans and keep your total revolving debt amount low, your credit score will steadily improve.

5. Better credit card offers arrive in the mail

Did credit card offers stop arriving in the mail as your credit score dropped due to late payments?

Maybe the offers stopped coming because you maxed out your credit cards, which created a high credit utilization rate – your ratio of revolving debt to available credit – and lowered your credit score. Or, maybe you still receive pre-approved offers, but only on cards with high-interest rates.

However, if you’ve been working on lowering your credit utilization rate and some of those late payment accounts dropped off, credit card companies take notice, and those offers will once again appear in your mailbox. If you previously had poor credit and haven’t been able to get a credit card until now, applying for one of these offers could be a good way to improve your credit even more.

Be careful, though. The last thing you need when trying to improve your credit is a bunch of new debt and the risk of late payments that comes with it. With the new card, make only one or two purchases each month and then pay off the statement balance to keep your credit report payment history on track.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

Published by Debt.com, LLC