High balances, collections and judgments can prevent you from getting credit with a reasonable interest rate. You may also be denied when you need credit most. Luckily, your FICO score isn’t set in stone. There are a number of easy, free ways to repair your credit yourself with a few phone calls and an hour of your time. Once you take control of your finances, you’ll see results in one or two months. Here are a few credit repair strategies that you can use on your own.
1. Checking Your Credit Report
Visit the official AnnualCreditReport.com website to get a free copy of your consumer credit report. You have the option to check your records with the three major credit bureaus together or individually. By requesting one at a time, you can see the results of any changes or disputes. All lenders will look at this record before they offer you credit. This is one part of your credit rating. Banks will also check your FICO score. This number is not included in your credit report. Check to see if this benefit is offered by your credit card company. If it’s not available, you may have to request it separately.
2. Finding Errors
The Federal Trade Commission says that 20 percent of Americans have at least one error on their credit reports. Check each section of the document for mistakes and negative entries. Incorrect personal information or a misspelled name won’t affect your credit score, but it should be corrected. Fixing some errors about collections, judgments or accounts that you didn’t open could improve your score by 25 points or more.
3. Correcting Errors
If you notice a mistake on your credit report, you need to file a dispute. You can submit a complaint and upload documentation through the credit bureau website. Use a sample letter, or write your own. Explain what information appears on your credit report and why it is incorrect. For example, if your name is misspelled, send a copy of your Social Security card and driver’s license. If your balance is incorrect, include a copy of your statement. Send your request to each credit bureau and to the creditor that provided the information.
4. Removing Bad Records
Payment history represents 35 percent of your credit score, so late payments have a big impact on your ability to get new credit. Collections and bankruptcies will stay on your credit report for seven to 10 years if the information is accurate and the debt collector can show that you are responsible for it. Sometimes, delinquent accounts are resold several times. This can result in multiple collections for the same debt or records that reset the seven-year reporting limit. Correcting these errors could significantly improve your score.
5. Paying Down Debt
Credit use represents 30 percent of your score. You should keep your balances below 30 percent of your revolving account limits to maintain a good credit rating. If you’re struggling with high balances, chose a debt repayment strategy, or use an online payment planner. If you need help sticking to a budget, enroll in a debt management plan (DMP). A non-profit organization can lower your interest rate, reduce your balances and have late fees waived. If you earn enough to reasonably pay off your debt in several years, you may qualify for this program. If you cannot pay off your debt, contact an attorney or credit counselor for assistance.
6. Managing Credit
Establishing good habits is a sure way to repair your credit and to prevent debts from piling up again. Over time, any negative entries on your credit report will have less of an effect on your score, and they will eventually be removed. Emergencies, shopping sprees and economic downturns sometimes lead to unpaid bills and increased debt. It’s important to control unnecessary spending if you want to address the source of your credit problems. Set up a budget, and avoid putting new purchases on your credit cards unless you can pay the bill in full. Save for emergencies. If you’re having trouble paying your bills, find ways to lower your expenses.
The things that you do every month have the largest impact on your credit rating. By paying your bills on time and reducing your debt, you will consistently increase your credit score in the long run. These changes will give you a chance to enjoy the benefits of better credit.