9 Ways to Make the Credit Repair a bit Shorter
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Having a bad credit score is not a fun thing but it doesn’t have to be a forever thing. We specialize in helping those with poor credit scores to rebuild, repair, and restore their credit. Doing this provides new opportunities for financing that may not have been possible before.
When your credit score begins to take a hit, it can feel as if it is something that you will never come back from. But just know that even the worst of credit scores can be fixed. It may not happen overnight but it is possible.
Unfortunately, some people do not have the patience to see a credit score repair through. They want instant gratification and to make overnight changes, which is simply not possible when it comes to repairing a credit score.
Even if you pay off credit card balances in a single afternoon, it may be some time before you see it reflected on your report. This is because your debtors will only report to the credit bureaus once a month and it may not make the newest report.
In any event, rebuilding your credit doesn’t have to be a slog. There are ways that you can trim some time off of the rebuild process and get your credit score into a standing that you can be proud of and that will work for you.
How Long Does It Take to Improve Your Credit Score?
Believe it or not, you can actually improve your credit score in a couple of weeks. Granted, it will likely take a little bit longer for the truly awful scores out there but there are major changes that could happen in a couple of weeks.
For instance, you could have successfully disputed any errors that may have occurred on your report, paid down credit cards or paid them off entirely, or paid off any accounts that may have been in collections.
These steps remove negative information that would have been on your credit report and replace it with positive information. Both of those changes result in a benefit for your credit score overall.
It should go without saying that paying your bills on time will help as well but keep in mind that one on-time payment won’t do a whole lot; it is the consistency of paying your bills on time where the biggest impacts can be seen on your credit score.
Still, credit improvement can either be small or big depending on how you go about it. You can generally expect to see a few points increase in just a short period of time. But any major change to your credit score will come over months or even years.
How long it will take generally depends on three things:
- Where You Start. If you are starting with no credit score, you can actually build one up in about a month. For damaged credit, however, it can take far longer to really see an improvement. Someone who has damaged credit may only be able to get approved for secured credit cards, which are meant to improve to fair credit. Within 12 to 18 months, you will see enough improvement to move on to an unsecured credit card. This, of course, depends on how much information there is in your credit report to begin with.
- Monthly Habits. It should go without saying but your credit scores are based on what is in your credit report. The idea behind improving your score is to add as much positive information to your report as you can each month. This is typically done in two ways: paying your bills on time and keeping credit utilization at a level that is healthy.
- Know What “Improvement” Means to You. Technically, a couple of points is an improvement. Know what kind of change you want to make. It will help to not only put that into perspective but give you a realistic idea at how long making those changes will take.
Steps to Improving Your Credit Scores
The first place to start is by checking out your scores online. Generally speaking, your FICO credit score is a good indication of where your credit standing is even though there are three different bureaus that provide reports.
If you don’t know what your score is, you don’t know how much improvement there is to be made. Moreover, you won’t know where the specific areas for improvement are. Looking at your report lets you know what your credit utilization is, how your payment history looks, how much debt you have, and so on.
It helps to sign up for credit reporting apps too. These will not only tell you all of the information listed above, but will tell you which factors are having the greatest impact on your scores. Obviously, if you make a change to something that has a 30% impact as opposed to a 10% impact, the potential change on your report can be far greater.
It is also important to remember that these changes will not happen overnight. Sure, it is possible to make serious changes in just a few months but you won’t be able to make over a decimated credit score overnight. Keeping that in mind will provide realistic expectations and allow you to focus on making improvements instead of wondering why things aren’t completely fixed in a single day.
Going back a bit, there are credit score factors that are more important than some of the others. The two most important factors are your credit utilization ratios and your payment history. Depending on the scoring model, they can represent as much as 70% of your credit score. To say that those are hugely important is putting it lightly.
Still, there are steps that you can take to improve your credit report. While your report reflects how much of your credit you are using, it also shows patterns over time to give a lender a better indication of how you are about paying your bills over a longer period of time.
1. Make Sure to Get Credit for Making Cell Phone and Utility Payments on Time
Think about it for a second: if you have a bad credit score, you may have difficulty getting a cell phone or a utility hookup without money down up front. So, shouldn’t it also work the other way around?
You can actually improve your credit score by having those payments factored in. There are programs out there that can search through your bank records automatically, pulling those on-time payments to your utilities and cell phone company.
With these products, you verify the data and confirm that you want it added to your credit report. Doing this can bump your score up by a couple of points, even up into the double digits. You need credit to get those things so paying those bills on time should provide a boost for your credit score too.
Just keep in mind that this won’t repair truly bad credit. That bump in points won’t hurt and can mean the difference between going from “poor” credit to “fair”, which is the next tier up after “poor”. That change in credit tier can have a positive impact when applying for loans or credit cards at any time.
Still, this is one of the smaller steps to give your credit scores a small boost while getting credit for something that you didn’t even know you could get credit for. When it comes to credit scores, any little bit can help, especially when you are attempting to repair or restore your credit.
One last thing to keep in mind: with the newness of these products, there is a chance that they may not recognize your bank. Don’t assume that you will automatically get a boost on your scores because if these programs can’t detect your bank, they can’t see your positive payments. It isn’t the biggest deal in the world but it can be disappointing to not get that instant nudge in the right direction on your credit score.
2. Be on Time When Paying Your Bills
This is one of those factors that can’t be changed quickly. This is because lenders are looking to see how likely you are to pay your bills over a period of time. So one positive payment will not do a whole lot to positively impact your credit score. It’s a good start but it is just a start.
Lenders look at your payment history because your past payment performance gives them a reliable indication of how you will be paying bills in the future. The longer your positive payment history and the fewer negative marks you have against your report, the better it will look in the eyes of lenders when you apply for financing of some sort.
The best way to positively impact your payment history, which is the largest individual factor on your credit report and can account for 35% depending on the reporting bureau that you are referencing, is to pay your bills on time as they are agreed to each month.
Paying your bills late or settling an account for less than what the original amount stipulated can all lead to negative impacts on your credit report. There is only one way to establish a positive payment history and that is to pay your bills on time every time.
And make sure that you are paying all of your bills on time. Yes, your credit cards and your loans are essential because they will absolutely report when you have been paying and when you have not been paying on time.
But make sure that you pay your utilities, phone bill, rent, and any other bills on time because you don’t know who may end up reporting those delinquencies to your credit bureau. Being safe and ensuring that your payments are on time is the best way to ensure that there are no issues that arise on your credit report.
Thankfully, there are a lot of different things that you can use to ensure that your payments are made on time and many of them are free so there is no excuse for missing a payment or being even a day late on one.
Many smartphones come with a calendar app, for instance. You can schedule your payment date and set it to occur each month. This way, you get a reminder every time that your bill is due. Even better, you can set several reminders for one day so that you can keep as many reminders as you need.
Automatic payments are another great idea. This may not be doable for those who are on tighter budgets and depend on timing when it comes to paying their bills but automatic payments can be extremely helpful.
When you set up those automatic payments, they will automatically deduct from your bank each month. This means that you never have to think about when something is due because it will draft from your bank when it needs to do so.
There are also several budget apps out there that will outline all of your bills and denote when they are due. There are so many tools out there that missing a payment is not something that you should ever have to face unless you simply can’t afford to pay that bill (which presents a whole other set of problems).
These budget apps have an added benefit in that they help you to understand what you are spending, what you have coming in, and where you can make changes. Your budget is likely the biggest key to paying down those debts. Without it, you will be guessing what you can afford and likely run into more issues.
Establishing your budget gets honorary mention because it allows you to prioritize debt each month and know what you can afford to pay towards that debt. Perhaps you assumed that you could only pay the minimum on your balances. With a budget, you may realize that you can pay double the minimum and get your debt paid down much sooner.
Even if you are already behind on payments, don’t let them go. Try to bring them up to current as soon as you possibly can. And yes, any delinquent payments will stay on your report for seven years. But keep in mind that the impact will lessen over time. The older your late payment is, the less effect it will have when compared to new late or missed payments.
A final thing considering accounts that are past due. Never let them go. Even if you can’t pay them off in full at that moment, give your creditors a call. Explain your situation and ask them if there are more reasonable payment amounts that can be made. The worst case is that nothing has changed. In the best case, however, you may have a more reasonable monthly payment that allows you to make them on time as they are meant to be.
3. Pay Off Your Debt and/or Try to Keep Your Balances Low for Revolving Credit
A quick aside: there are different types of credit. A static form of credit is one that will stay the same for a long period of time. These are auto loans, a mortgage, and student loans. But credit cards, meanwhile, are a form of what is known as “revolving” credit.
The term is such because the amount that you have in terms of a balance or a limit can change depending on a number of factors. And these revolving credit accounts are the ones where you can make the greatest impact in the shortest amount of time and also make a tremendous impact on your overall credit score.
This all ties into what is known as your credit utilization ratio. This is, in the simplest terms, the amount of your open credit that you are making use of. Keep in mind that this applies to lines of credit and not loans such as mortgages, auto loans, and student loans.
A healthy credit utilization ratio is about 30%. So, for example, if you have $10,000 in available credit, you would want to keep your total utilization down to about $3000. Also keep in mind that your credit utilization is across all of your accounts.
So, if you have three credit cards — one at a $5000 limit, one at a $3000 limit, and one at a $2000 limit — you could max out the $2000 card and as long as you had less than $1000 balance between the other two cards, you would come in under your 30% credit utilization limit.
An easy way to figure out what your average credit utilization is would be to take a look at all of your credit card statements from over the last year. Add the balances together from each of the statements and divide that total by 12. That will be what your average monthly credit usage is.
Going back to the 30% utilization: this is what lenders like to see because it gives them an indication that you are not heavily dependent on your credit for daily life. Those with higher utilization can give lenders the idea that they are more dependent on their credit and therefore more likely to wind up falling behind because they are financially overextended.
That 30% mark is also not a hard and fast line. If you hit 31%, for example, your credit score will not plummet. It works on a sliding scale in that the higher your credit utilization percentage, the less points that you get for your credit score. When you are under the 30% limit, you get more points towards your score.
You can positively impact your credit utilization ratio by keeping your debt low to nonexistent and doing the same with your credit card balances. In an ideal situation, you wouldn’t carry a balance on your cards over to the next month. You would and should be able to pay off your balance each month to keep your total credit balance at zero.
This isn’t necessarily realistic for everyone, however. But it should be stated that paying the minimum is the last thing that you should be doing unless it is all that you can afford. Paying the minimum means that it will take you much longer to pay off your balance.
If you have the means to do so, pay more than your minimum every month. Ideally, you should be able to pay at least double. Doing this allows you to pay down your balance at an accelerated rate, minimizing the amount of money that you will spend on interest rates.
You can also become an authorized user on the account of another person so long as they are a responsible credit user. These are good practices to take to ensure that your credit history remains strong and the largest impacting factor on your credit remains in good order.
4. Don’t Apply for Too Many Things
You might think that opening new accounts in order to have a better overall credit mix will help your score. Here’s the thing: it won’t. The only impact that unnecessarily opening new credit accounts will have is to drag your score down.
The first reason this happens is because of hard inquiries. These are situations where a potential lender takes a look into your credit history. One or two over time is not going to do much harm to your credit score. But when you have several in a short period of time, it can reflect poorly on your overall score.
The second reason is that having additional lines of credit can provide temptation to spend. Having that extra available credit can give you the excuse that you need to make an unnecessary purchase, to overspend, and to accumulate debt.
When you do the latter, there are more accounts that you need to pay down. Taking on any more debt than is necessary is unwise and just leads to trouble. Only open accounts that you need to, such as for an auto loan, a mortgage, or necessary credit cards.
Anything more than that and you will be doing more harm than good to your credit report and put yourself in a position where more long-term damage will be done. And that defeats the purpose of trying to improve your credit scores.
5. Keep Unused Credit Cards
There is a common misconception floating out there. This misconception is that when you have paid down or paid off your credit cards, you should close them. It cannot be emphasized enough that you should not do this.
The caveat to this is if the card is costing you annual fees. This may be something to consider if your card does charge you annual fees so look into those before you make any kind of decision on whether or not you want to close your cards.
But there are two negative impacts on your overall credit report that closing unused credit cards can incur. The first is that it has an impact on your overall credit history length. Part of your credit score entails the length of time you have had credit and those accounts.
When you are just starting out, there is nothing that you can really do to impact this portion of your report other than keeping those accounts for a while. But if you have had an account open for a few years and then just close it, that takes a toll on your overall credit history length.
The second is that you could wind up bringing your credit utilization ratio up. Even though you have paid off that card, closing that card doesn’t bring down the amount of money that you still owe for other cards that you still have open.
By closing out your account, you remove the available credit on that account. This brings your utilization ratio up, sometimes substantially so. By raising your credit utilization in a major way, you could be dragging your credit score down with it.
6. Check for Accuracy on All of Your Reports
The reason that credit reports exist is two-fold. The first is so that potential lenders can look into your payment history to find out your level of trustworthiness when it comes to paying your bills in a timely manner.
The second reason is so that you can keep track of any potential inaccuracies that will occur. And because the human element is involved, errors will occur. Missing these errors can result in serious consequences if they are left to persist.
Let’s say that a delinquency has been reported to your account but you can point to your billing statements, account portal, and bank statements to show that you have been making your payments on time.
By letting that delinquency go, you could have late payments that show up on your account. And they will stay around for seven years before falling off. If you don’t check your credit score, you will never know when things such as this take place and will just take the drop in credit score when you don’t have to.
There are apps and tools out there now that will show you expanded versions of your credit report. They will show you any reported delinquencies, what your on-time payment history is, what your credit utilization ratio is, and so much more.
Don’t ignore your credit score because there are inaccuracies that can come back to haunt you. And it’s easier to dispute those inaccuracies than it is to rebuild damaged credit, especially credit that wasn’t even really damaged in the first place.
7. Use the Snowball Method
There is a method of paying down debt that has been proven effective. This is known as the Snowball Method. Keep in mind, however, that there are two sides of the Snowball Method and it is up to you to choose which one that you want to go with.
The idea is the same, though: pick a debt and pay it off. There are some that will tell you to start with the one that has the highest interest rates. Others will tell you to start with the one that has the lowest balance. The difference will mean a few hundred dollars in interest at the most so it is up to you which route you want to go.
In any event, this method is about focusing on a single debt and putting all of your efforts into paying that off. Choose a credit card or a loan and pay more than the minimum to get it paid off. If you can afford to do so all at once, even better. But even if you can make more than the minimum, you can pay it down at a much more accelerated rate.
When you have paid off that debt, the idea is to move down the line. What makes this effective is that you apply the payment from the first debt (let’s say it was $50 per month) to the next debt. So if you were paying $50 for your lowest balance and $75 for your next lowest, you would want to pay $125 towards the latter until you pay that off.
Continue down this path in order to pay your debt down at a much faster rate. Depending on how much you owe on your accounts, this can cut months and even years off of your bills. And being able to eliminate those monthly bills can have a tremendously positive impact on your budget.
Additionally, this will have a tremendous impact on your positive payment history. You will be paying down debt at a tremendous rate and show on your payment history that you are making on-time payments when they are meant to be paid.
Don’t underestimate the impact that this method can have when it comes to paying down debts. You can seriously turn around your debt and credit situation by implementing these methods.
8. Consider Secured Credit Cards
When you have really bad credit, there may not be a whole lot of options available to you to get your credit back in good standing. This is under the assumption that you do not have significant funds available to pay off the balances that you have outstanding.
Not only that, applying for credit cards can become extremely difficult without heavy introductory fees or insane interest rates that will result in thousands of dollars in extra money paid. But there is a solution that can help you get started.
Secured credit cards are in place for people who have bad credit or need to start over following a major event such as a bankruptcy. Secured credit cards are the type of credit card where you need to deposit money into a checking account.
By doing this, you secure a line of credit that the lender has extended to you. This ensures that you don’t put charges on your card that you will never pay or max out your cards and simply decide to not pay those either.
Payments will come directly from the account that has been set up so you literally can’t miss a payment. And since you can’t actually miss a payment, all of your payments will be on time. This will help improve your score over time.
It bears repeating, though: your credit history can only be manipulated so much in a short period of time. This is meant to establish your reliability when it comes to paying bills over a period of time. Establishing a good streak of payment history is great but don’t expect to see a score in the 500s shoot up into the 700s just because of a couple of on-time payments.
These types of credit cards do require a significant up-front payment to open. So, unless you have just come out of a bankruptcy or your score is in the low 500s, it might not be worth it to open up a secured card.
Weigh all of your options first to see which one is the best for you financially. Stretching yourself too thin paying for a secured credit card can put you into compromising situations in other areas of your life and that defeats the purpose of trying to make a responsible move by opening a secured credit card.
9. Pay Off Outstanding Collections
One of the biggest detriments to a credit score is a collections account. This is where an account has been closed and passed on to a debt collector. It can be for just about anything, too: unpaid cell phone, medical bills, and closed-out credit card accounts.
These collections can be a serious red mark regardless of the amount that is on those collections accounts. These give lenders the indication that you do not pay your bills, simply letting them get to the hands of debt collectors.
If you have an open collections account, the first thing that you need to do is contact your creditors right away. Find out what the payoff balance is and, if you can’t afford that, talk to them about payment options. The goal here is to begin paying off those credit accounts that leave such negative marks on your overall credit score.
When you do manage to pay off your credit accounts, it can be a great way to raise your credit score in short order. Following up is key: when you have paid off your account, check your credit report. Make sure that the negative hit that was on your credit report has been removed.
To take it a step further, make sure that you get proof of that payment in writing. It is better to have proof and not need it than to need proof and not have it. Either way, get rid of those collection accounts if you want to make a major impact on improving your credit score.
The key is to not ignore your collections. Even if you have an otherwise good payment history and credit utilization, accounts that are in collections can have a serious impact on the rest of your credit score. Don’t let those collections drag down the rest of your score.
Your credit report is a complicated thing if you let it be. There are factors to consider and a lot of things to keep an eye on but the premise is simple: pay your bills on time and keep your credit utilization low. After that, the rest should fall into place.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you should never, ever ignore your credit report. Even a small inaccuracy could result in a decrease in score and, depending on where you are with your score, could mean the difference between a quality interest rate and one that costs you thousands over the life of your financing.
It is also important to remember that while having a bad credit score is not a good thing, you can fix even the worst of credit scores. It may take a little longer for the worst accounts but you can implement the steps above to put a serious dent in that time frame.
Financial security and responsibility cannot be achieved without a good credit score or a lot of cash. And since most of us don’t have a plethora of cash available at a moment’s notice, there will be a necessary need for credit.
Don’t cost yourself more money than you need to by having a bad credit score. Work on your payment history. Bring down your overall credit utilization. Keep accounts open even if you have paid them off. Open a secured credit card if you need to get started.
The key here is to do something to improve your report. Don’t just sit there and wish that things had happened differently because you can’t change the past. Positively impact the future by making the right changes to your spending and credit habits and you can make a real change in your credit score.
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