If you’ve taken stock of your credit score and realized you’ve got some work to do, then the best thing you can do is get organized and stick to a plan.
Rebuilding your credit isn’t too complicated but it can take time, so it’s important to follow the proper steps to avoid being stuck with bad credit any longer than necessary.
Get Familiar with Your Credit Reports
The first thing you need to do is find out what you need to fix. The only way you can improve your credit score is to get your credit reports. You are entitled to a free credit report from all three major credit reporting agencies once per year. Since your FICO credit score is based off of the information in these reports, this should be your first step in rebuilding your credit.
Go to the websites for Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, and follow the steps to obtain your free copy from each. If it hasn’t been more than a year since the last time you requested your credit report, then you’ll need to pay about $10 to get what you need.
Once you have your credit reports in hand, you’ll see a ton of information about your financial history. This includes everything from credit card activity, student loans, debts in collection and third party inquiries into your credit history. You’ll also see things like your credit limits, how long your accounts have been opened and a lot of personal information like former addresses and employment history.
Find and Fix Errors
Now that you have your reports, you need to look for mistakes. Many people think the information in their credit reports is written in stone, but that is not the case. Most credit reports contain some inaccurate information, but it’s up to you to find it and contest it. This could be anything from incorrect personal information, incorrect payment history or even accounts that aren’t even yours due to identity theft – all of which could be harming your credit score.
When you find errors in your reports, you should follow the procedure for disputing information with each of the major credit reporting agencies. Experian, TransUnion and Equifax all have their own procedures for getting incorrect information removed, so be sure you follow the steps as required for their dispute resolution process.
Other Issues Keeping Your Credit Score Low
Once you have corrected the errors, there is a good chance you’ll still have some work to do. These are the things that may take some time, but the first step is to identify the areas that you need to improve. Look for things like late payments, maxed out credit cards or applying for too much credit in a short period of time. Other things that may not jump out at you, but are just as important are things like average account age or only one type of credit account.
Make a Plan and Track Your Progress
Your biggest ally is time. If you’ve got a poor record of making your payments on time, the only way to fix this is to start making your payments on time, every time. As the months roll on and your poor payment history gets further away, you’ll begin to see improvements in your credit score. If you’re just disorganized and forgetful, it could be as easy as setting up automatic bill payments with your bank and email or calendar reminders.
If you have too much debt, the only solution is to get your credit utilization rate below 20-30%. This is the number representing your total debt divided by your available credit. The lower this number, the better – so keep a close eye on it and don’t max out your credit cards!
In the end though, the best thing you can do to improve your credit score is to monitor it closely. There is nothing more effective than seeing it improve over time as you correct things on your report. Different financial institutions use different scoring systems, but if you follow these steps you’ll improve your credit score before you know it.