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To clean up your credit, the most important step is to scour your credit reports and ensure all the information there is correct. While most credit reports are accurate, it's still critical for you to be aware of the information your report contains.
You won't be able to remove negative information in your credit reports that's accurate. But deleting accounts you didn't open or disputing a late payment you believe was paid on time, for example, could help protect your credit score.
Here's how to clean up your credit so you'll have a clearer path to your financial goals.
What Does Cleaning Up Your Credit Report Mean?
When you clean up your credit, you get it in the strongest shape possible so lenders view you as a trustworthy potential borrower.
Each credit reporting agency—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—has its own process you can use to dispute information you believe appears erroneously. This could include personal information or accounts that do not belong to you.
How to Clean Up Your Credit Report Yourself
To clean up your credit, start by reviewing your credit reports. You can get yours for free once every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also access your free Experian credit report directly on Experian's website.
Look through all three of your credit reports thoroughly. That means checking to ensure your name is spelled correctly and all your account details are up to date.
If you see any information you believe to be in error, you can begin the dispute process. At Experian, here's how:
- Go to the online dispute center. (It's also possible to initiate a dispute by phone or by mail.) Once there, you can click on the "Start a new dispute online" button to begin the process. Potentially negative items on your Experian credit report that you may want to take special care to review will be flagged. You can also navigate through to each credit account on your report and initiate disputes from there.
- If you find an item you'd like to dispute, you'll be asked to choose from a drop-down menu of reasons why, then leave a comment with details about your situation. You may also be asked to upload supporting documents.
- Experian will confirm that your dispute has been submitted, and you'll receive alerts about the status of your dispute. When necessary, Experian will contact the source of the disputed information, such as a lender, to review their records. While a few factors can affect how long the dispute process takes, most disputes are completed within 30 days.
- Experian will let you know when your dispute results are available. You can expect one of three outcomes: Your information will be modified, deleted or remain unchanged if it was found to be correct.
Your credit scores could be affected by your dispute's resolution. If, for instance, an erroneously reported late payment comes off your report, your credit scores could improve. But many factors affect your scores, and depending on the circumstances, you may not see an immediate, meaningful change.
The Bottom Line
While errors in credit reports are uncommon, one of your first steps in cleaning up your credit should be to verify everything in your credit report is accurate. But there are many other ways you can work to generate good credit.
Take steps to protect your personal information to reduce the risk of identity theft. Also, since the most important factor affecting your credit scores is payment history, automate your bills so you don't miss them. Nearly as important is your credit utilization, or the amount of debt you have relative to your total credit limit. It should be as close to zero as possible, but experts suggest using no more than 30% of your available credit at any time, and no more than 6% for the best scores.
Once you've disputed any errors you come across, put into practice smart credit-building strategies. You'll feel confident knowing you're doing what you can to keep your credit report secure.