How can I fix my credit? Start by figuring out what's broken
You know you have bad credit and you know you need to do something to fix it... but you don't know where to start. Does this sound familiar? If it does, then you're among millions of Americans who are in the same situation. Credit problems can seem overwhelming, and if you're asking yourself, "How can I fix my credit?" the answer lies in taking a systematic approach to credit repair. The first step is finding out exactly where you stand and why you have bad credit.
Know your credit
If you've recently applied for credit and were denied, you probably learned what your credit score was in the process. Knowing exactly how low your score is helpful, but you won't know the reason for your low score -- or how you can start to address it -- until you have copies of your current credit reports in hand.
Luckily, ordering a copy of your credit report is easy. You are legally entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each credit bureau every year, and you can go online for instant access at www.annualcreditreport.com. You'll need to provide some basic information to confirm your identity, and then you'll be able to view your credit report and any negative items listed on it. The information that appears on each report can be very different, so it's not sufficient to get a report from only one bureau.
You'll have to pay to access your actual credit score, but knowing that exact number (which can vary greatly depending on what credit bureau is reporting it) is not as important as having a list of all of the negative items that led to your score. This list of items will become your "to-do" list for credit repair.
So, what are you looking for when you scan your credit report? It should be pretty obvious. Anything that's labeled "derogatory" isn't good, but in the credit world there's bad, fairly bad and really bad when it comes to negative items.
Bad: late payments
If you've made late payments you're certainly aware of it, and you probably know that not getting your bills in on time doesn't do your credit any favors. The later the payment, the greater the damage, and the more late payments you have, the bigger the impact. A bunch of late payments at one time will be a red flag to creditors that you could be in a financial tailspin. On the other hand, the impact of late payments lessens over time, and a couple of late payments from a few years back won't drastically affect your score.
Fairly Bad: charge offs and collections accounts
If a charge off appears on your credit report, this means that even though you still owe the debt, your creditors have given up on ever getting payment from you. In other words, they have written off the debt and may have sold it for pennies on the dollar to a collection agency. Thus, the same amount representing one debt might appear both as a charge off listing and a collections item. These are definitely bad for your credit and should be on the top of your list for credit repair.
Really Bad: foreclosure, repossession and bankruptcy
All of these are devastating in terms of the impact on your life. If you've experienced any of these events, you may still be recovering both emotionally and financially. The bad news is that foreclosure, repossession and bankruptcy will continue to haunt you for years after the actual event. Any of these items on your credit report will have a disastrous effect on your credit score, and can remain for 7-10 years if they're not removed. In the meantime, you probably have difficulty securing any credit, and if you can, the interest rate will likely be astronomical.
Now that you're able to interpret your credit score and know the culprits behind your bad credit, you're probably feeling even more overwhelmed than when you started... but you can't fix your bad credit until you know what's standing between you and a better credit score. Now that you know exactly what's causing your bad credit, and have completed Step One(Figure Out What's Broken) here's Step Two: Fix Credit Score. You have several options when it comes to credit repair:
Wait, and wait some more
Your credit score will eventually repair itself as negative items age and, one by one, fall off your credit report. This could take up to 10 years, however, and in the meantime getting credit could be difficult or impossible depending on how low your credit score is. This is not the best option for most people, especially if they'll need credit in the near future.
Be on your best credit behavior
This approach is also time-consuming, but is a little more proactive than the first option. There are several things you can do to help your credit score improve faster. You might be able to negotiate debt settlement directly with creditors and arrange to have negative items removed in exchange for an agreed-upon payment... but dealing with creditors requires skill and patience. You could also apply for a secured credit card if you're not eligible for an unsecured account. If you make all your payments on time and meet all other debt obligations, you can slowly build renewed creditworthiness. This can, however, be a very tedious process and involves much of the waiting strategy mentioned above.
Dispute questionable negative items
As a consumer you have rights guaranteed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and this provides you with a powerful credit repair tool. If you have inaccurate items on your credit report, the credit bureau (consumer reporting company) and the creditor (information provider) are legally obligated to correct any incorrect or incomplete entries that appear on your credit reports. And this goes well beyond negative items that are obviously inaccurate such as someone else's bankruptcy being reported under your name. You also have the right to dispute any negative items on your credit reports that you feel may be untimely, misleading, incomplete, ambiguous, unverifiable, biased or unclear.
Using this credit repair tactic, you can dispute the questionable negative information in your credit reports and credit bureaus are legally obligated to investigate and verify these items within 30 days of your request. If they can't verify this information, they'll have to remove or correct these items.
Credit bureau disputes are an effective, legal way to repair your credit, but can be ineffective if not undertaken with a solid knowledge of the legal framework for credit repair. Lexington Law's team of legal professionals have the experience and track record that could help you, like thousands of their clients, successfully dispute the questionable negative items on your credit reports.