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If your application for a loan or credit card was declined because your credit scores are too low, you may be looking for a way to rapidly repair your credit so you have a better chance of getting approved next time. The truth is, there's no quick fix when it comes to repairing your credit. You can, however, take actions to improve your credit and make sure your credit report holds only accurate information—on your own, and for free. Here's how.
What Is Credit Repair?
A quick Google search for "credit repair" may convince you there's a company out there that can help you repair your credit in no time. Despite what you may hear about credit repair companies that supposedly make negative information on your credit report magically disappear, they can't do anything you couldn't do for free yourself to clean up your credit file.
In addition, credit repair scams are rampant, targeting distressed consumers who are lured in by false promises and who often end up worse off than they were before.
Credit repair companies charge consumers to review their credit reports and dispute negative information that appears there. Often, you'll pay several fees, such as an ongoing monthly fee or a fee each time information is removed from one of your credit reports.
Over time, working with a credit repair company could wind up costing you hundreds or thousands of dollars for actions you can take on your own for free. And keep in mind, credit repair companies cannot remove accurate, legitimate information from your credit report.
How to Repair Your Credit Yourself
Learning what impacts your credit scores and what's allowed on your credit report are important first steps to repairing your own credit.
Learn What Affects Your Scores
While there are many credit scoring models, similar factors can impact all your scores. In order of importance, these are:
- Payment history: This includes whether you've paid your bills on time, defaulted on accounts or had accounts sent to collections. Public records, such as bankruptcies, also fall under the payment history category. A long history of on-time payments is best for your scores.
- Credit usage: If you're currently using a large portion of your available credit limits, that could hurt your scores. Having low credit usage, or credit utilization rate, is best.
- Credit mix: Experience managing different types of credit accounts, such as installment loans (including mortgages, car loans and student loans) and revolving credit accounts (including credit cards and credit lines), is usually better for your scores than having experience with only one type of account.
- Age of accounts: Managing credit over a long period can help improve your scores. The age of your oldest account and the average age of all your accounts can affect your scores.
- Recent applications: Credit applications can lead to hard inquiries, which may temporarily knock your credit scores down a few points. Multiple hard inquiries can increase the impact, although there's leeway for consumers who are rate shopping for certain types of loans.
Knowing these factors can help you focus your efforts on paying your bills on time, not using too much available credit and only applying for new credit when you really need it as you try to improve your scores.
When you're trying to repair your credit, usually you're also looking for derogatory marks (in other words, negative information) that are negatively impacting your scores. This can include:
- Late payments
- High balances
- Defaulted accounts
- Collections accounts
Once you spot a derogatory mark, you'll need to determine whether it's information you should dispute or it's accurate and belongs on your report. Credit bureaus such as Experian monitor reports closely to ensure information is deleted within the time frames specified by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. You should, however, dispute any information you believe is inaccurate.
Follow These Three Steps
Once you've got a grasp of how credit scoring and reporting work, here are three steps you can take to repair your credit.
- Check your credit reports. You can request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three bureaus once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also review your Experian credit report for free at any time by creating an account. Additionally, Experian offers a free FICO® Score* based on your credit report, which you can use to monitor changes in your score.
- Dispute negative information that you believe shouldn't be on your report. You can file the dispute online, by mail or over the phone.
- Review your credit reports regularly for signs of fraud or incorrect information. Continue to monitor your credit reports to make sure there are no signs of identity theft resulting in inaccurate information and that no new errors appear.
When you're working to repair your credit, keep in mind that disputed items only need to be removed or updated if they are:
- Inaccurate. This includes accounts that aren't yours or late payment marks when you paid the bill on time.
- Untimely. Accounts or information that should have been removed from your credit reports because of their age.
After you file a dispute, the credit bureau must forward it, along with any documentation you provide, to the source of the information. The source, usually a lender, must then review your dispute and either verify, update or delete the item you're disputing.
How to Get More Help With Your Credit and Debt
If you're looking for help with your credit or are having trouble managing your bills, you could reach out to a nonprofit credit counseling organization. These companies offer guidance on a wide range of financial issues, and you may be able to start with a low-cost or free initial consultation.
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) can connect you with reputable partner agencies that meet the NFCC's standards and requirements. Depending on where you live, you could meet with a trained counselor in person, or arrange an online or phone meeting.
The counselor can offer guidance on your personal finances and show you steps you can take to improve your credit. If you're struggling to afford your bills, the counselor may be able to negotiate lower monthly payments with your creditors and set you up with a debt management plan. While this could negatively affect your credit scores in the short term, the plan can help your credit over time as you get better control of your debts.
How to Build and Maintain Good Credit
While removing negative information from your credit history could increase your credit scores, it's only half the battle. You'll also want to build and maintain positive information on your credit reports. You can do that by:
- Making on-time payments
- Setting up automatic payments to avoid accidentally missing a payment
- Knowing and trying to lower your credit utilization rate
- Paying down debt
- Only applying for credit when you need it
In addition to repairing, building and maintaining your credit, you may also be able to improve your FICO® Score based on your Experian credit report with Experian Boost™† . By connecting the bank account(s) you use to pay your utility and telecom bills, you can add positive payment information to your credit reports. The service is free, and you choose which information to add to your credit file.
Repairing and improving your credit can take time and effort, but working hard to keep your credit in good shape can help you reach your financial goals.