Your credit score is your financial passport. It is needed to secure a line of credit, open a bank account, get a home or auto loan, and sometimes even to secure employment. But what do you do when your score is below a “fair” rating? Is there any way to repair your credit score on your own?
Of course! There are several simple steps you can take starting today to repair your credit score. We’ve collected some of the best advice from trusted professionals across the financial industry, and compiled the list here of the 15 best ways to repair your credit score.
1. Educate Yourself & Learn From Past Mistakes
The first and most important step to recovering from bankruptcy is learning from the mistakes that got you into the mess in the first place. Get acquainted with your credit reports, they’re free once a year. Look over your past history paying close attention to the growing amounts of debt over time and the increasing late payments that followed. It’s not hard to see how quickly things get out of hand. Next, learn how to manage your reports: monitor potential negative marks, getting errors removed, etc.
Related article: How To Make Clever Money Decisions by Improving Your Financial IQ
2. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to Get Your Free Credit Reports – Federal Trade Commission
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the FCRA with respect to credit reporting companies. Visit annualcreditreport.com to get your free credit reports yearly.
A credit report includes information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued or have filed for bankruptcy. Nationwide credit reporting companies sell the information in your report to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting a home. (Source: Federal Trade Commission)
Say that fight with your phone company over an unfair bill a few years ago resulted in a collections account. You can continue protesting that the charge was unjust, or you can try disputing the account with the credit bureaus as “not mine.” The older and smaller a collection account, the more likely the collection agency won’t bother to verify it when the credit bureau investigates your dispute.
Some consumers also have had luck disputing old items with a lender that has merged with another company, which can leave lender records a real mess.
3. Pay for a Deletion
When a debt goes unpaid for a long period of time, it’s typically sent to collections. Once it’s reported as a collection account, your score will take a hit and the negative information will stay on your credit report for seven years. If you’ve got some old collection accounts hanging around, you might be able to get them off your report a little early by paying up. Just make sure you get the collection agency to agree to the deletion in writing before you hand over the cash.
If you’ve only had one or two late payments, you could call up your creditor and ask if they’ll cut you some slack and delete the negative information. It’s best to ask for the removal as soon as possible after the information is reported to try and minimize the impact on your credit.
4. Make Double Payments
If you can afford to, make double payments on your auto loan, student loan, and credit cards. However, on the auto loan and student loans, make sure you are paying down the principal. Sometimes they will automatically just add the additional payment to the next month’s payment, rather than paying down what you owe vs. the interest rate.
5. Avoid Prepaid Cards
Stay away from prepaid debit and credit cards, as they charge fees and high interest rates. Offered by large companies such as Green Dot, Walmart, and NetSpend, they come emblazoned with the Visa or Mastercard logo – but don’t be fooled. You end up paying almost double for any purchases you charge with cards such as these. Furthermore, they don’t typically show up on your credit report, so there is no real benefit to using them.
6. Enjoy the Simple Things – Lexington Law
Credit repair requires a measure of sacrifice in the beginning. Changing your lifestyle to accommodate a working budget, debt reduction, and good habits is preferable to a life without direction. In the short term, learn to appreciate the simple things in life, such as:
- Sleep: Naps are common in college. If you’re broke and on a budget, why not enjoy a siesta?
- Free stuff: Who says fun should come with a price tag? Go online and look for free things to do in your community. If you live in a rural area, focus on home improvement projects or a personal hobby like reading. There are tons of free eBooks and local libraries to suit every literary taste.
- Spending time with friends: When the company’s good, you don’t need to spend money to enjoy yourself.
- The Internet: You’re paying for it, so why not explore it? We live in the information age. Pick a topic (suggestion: credit repair) and start digging.
Related article: 10 Tips to Stop Overpaying On Your Entertainment Needs
7. Contact a Credit Repair Professional
Credit repair companies can assist you with the process of checking your credit report regularly and providing assistance by contacting credit reporting agencies about any errors or corrections. In addition, they can provide assistance for planning for repair.
A credit repair professional is on your side and works with you when it comes to credit repair. Their objective is to help you obtain your financial goals.
How can you find a reputable credit repair company? The first step if to find out if they are honest with you about the services they provide. The more willing they are to plan and talk to you about your credit, the more likely they’ll be there to help you with future questions.
It is also a good idea to get recommendations from others. Testimonials from other clients can give real life examples of what the credit repair company can do for you.
In all, if you feel comfortable with whom you are working, ask them about a plan and a proposed amount of time in which your credit can be repaired. If it sounds reasonable and you are happy with the way it is presented, then the chances are the credit repair company is a good fit for you.
We’ve got some excellent suggestions for credit pros on our Credit Repair reviews section, with Score Cure on top.
8. Don’t Apply for New Credit
Finally, resist the temptation to open a new credit card, even when a store offers a discount on your purchase for doing so. Each time you apply for credit is listed on your credit report as a “hard inquiry” and if you have too many within two years, your credit score will suffer.
Once you’ve fixed errors on your credit report, begun budgeting and paying off debts, be patient. It will take months or even a couple of years for your credit score to improve, but if you plan on buying a new home, it’s well worth it.
9. Avoid Closing Credit Cards That You’ve Had a Long Time
Since this can negatively impact the third factor: the length of your credit history. If you have a card with an annual fee, request to switch the card to one without a fee instead.
You may wonder when a good time to close old accounts is, if ever. We’ve got an article for that.
10. Have Credit Cards, But Manage Them Responsibly
In general, having credit cards and installment loans (and paying timely payments) will rebuild your credit score. Someone with no credit cards, for example, tends to be higher risk than someone who has managed credit cards responsibly.
11. Pay Off Your Credit Card Balance
This is the easiest way to improve your credit score quickly. One of the major factors of your credit score is how you are using your credit. A big factor of that is your credit utilization ratio. This ratio compares your overall credit limit with the amount of credit you are currently using. Say you have an overall $10,000 credit limit and are carrying a balance of $5,000 total across your credit cards, then your credit utilization ratio would be 50 percent. Most credit experts advice to keep your credit utilization ratio below 30 percent, but if you can get it to zero, it will help dramatically raise your credit score.
If you can’t pay off your entire balance, even paying off a little can help. The lower your credit utilization ratio, the more available credit you have and the better you look to outside lenders. Even paying of 10 or 20 percent of your overall balance can help.
12. Pay Your Bills on Time
Paying your bills on time is the most important contributor to a good credit score. Even if the debt you owe is a small amount, it is crucial that you make payments on time. In addition, you should:
- Minimize outstanding debt
- Avoid overextending yourself
- Refrain from applying for credit needlessly
Applications for credit show up as inquiries on your credit report, indicating to lenders that you may be taking on new debt. It may be to your advantage to use the credit you already have to prove your ongoing ability to manage credit responsibly.
13. Automate Good Behavior
What it takes to have a good credit report and score is doing the right things consistently and over long periods of time. Some of the things you need to do can be done automatically—like paying your bills on time. Use your bank’s auto-pay feature and enlist the help of apps like Mint to help you remember when your bills are due so you can make sure to have money in your account to cover them.
However, if the underlying problem is overspending and you don’t have money, brainstorm solutions. Create a budget that doesn’t deprive you, but still allows you to meet all your financial obligations. Or, look at taking on a second job to help meet your financial goals.
14. Pay the Balances Due on Any Collection or Charged-off Accounts
Paying what you owe will not immediately make a significant improvement in your credit score, but anyone considering granting you a loan or new credit will want to see that you did pay what you owed, even if it was late. Finally, pay down balances on your open credit card accounts to between 30 percent and 50 percent of your credit limit. Better yet, pay them off in full, and pay them in full each month thereafter. Low balances relative to your limit will add points to your score.
Jennifer Leonhardi was born and raised on Catalina Island, giving her a unique small town perspective and focus on community. With a degree in Sociology, she now primarily enjoys writing, largely based on her own experiences, on topics such as financial assistance programs, issues concerning the home and family, and socioeconomic trends.