How can you fix your credit with negative items like bankruptcy and foreclosure holding you back? Just follow these tips!
Serious financial distress can have a lasting impact on your credit. Chapter 7 bankruptcy penalties on your credit report stick around for 10 years. Foreclosure, Chapter 13 bankruptcy and collection accounts remain for 7 years. And if your financial distress led to tax debt, unpaid tax liens can haunt you up to 15 years. But no one wants to wait that long to rebuild their credit. Are you just supposed to put your life on hold?
Absolutely not! Instead, you can take steps to start fixing your credit as soon as you regain financial stability. Once you’re out of the woods with debt, it’s time to focus on taking the right steps to fix your credit fast so you can get new financing and get your life moving again.
#1: Ask for re-aging
If you haven’t yet taken care of all your delinquent accounts, it’s the perfect opportunity to negotiate with your creditors to re-age your accounts. Anytime an account becomes delinquent, the creditor or lender reports that status to the credit bureaus. Then it becomes a negative credit report item that lasts for seven years from the date it was incurred.
Essentially, you contact each creditor where you have a delinquent account. You arrange a repayment schedule so you can catch up on the payments. In exchange, you ask them to re-age the account to remove any negative statuses or late payments. You remove all those delinquent payments in your credit report, which can significantly boost your score.
It’s important to note that when you enroll in a debt management program, many creditors will automatically re-age your accounts once you’ve made three program payments on time. That’s according to the credit experts at Credit.com.
It’s important to note that this is positive re-aging. Negative re-aging is related to debt collection. Basically, if a debt collector gets you to admit that a debt is yours and you legitimately owe it, they can reset the statute of limitations on the debt collection clock. This is actually is illegal and violates your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. If it happens to you, you should contact a collection harassment agency to fight back!
#2: Repair your credit
After a period of financial distress, you may have a wide range of negative items in your credit report. These each contribute to reducing your credit score. Many of these penalties may be legitimate, and unless you can re-age, you probably can’t have them removed.
However, not all negative items are correct. Studies show mistakes happen on credit reporting much more often than consumers would like. These errors drag down your score farther than it needs to go. So, instead of recovering from a 600 FICO, you may be all the way down to 500.
Credit repair allows you to dispute these errors to have them removed. There are a few ways to do this:
- You can hire a company to review your reports and make disputes on your behalf.
- You can purchase credit repair software that guides you through the process.
- You can fix your credit entirely for free by finding a free guide online and following it.
Every successful dispute you make will remove a negative item from your credit report that’s hurting your score. This allows you to start improving your score within the next 30 days. That’s the time the credit bureaus have to verify information or they must remove it.
#3: Make payments on time
Payment history accounts for over one third of your credit score. So, while it may sound too simple to be true, the best thing you can do for your credit is to make payments on time. Every payment you make on time on any debt creates a positive item in your payment history. These payments stack up and offset missed payments that created negative items in the past.
It’s crucial to note that the “weight” of negative items decreases over time. Even though item remains in your report for a number of years, it doesn’t maintain the same negative punch. Basically, a payment missed last month affects your credit more than one missed six years ago.
So, making as many on-time payments as possible is the best strategy for fixing your credit faster.
#4: Keep credit card debt minimized
People often think that carrying credit card balances over from month to month is good for your credit. It’s not. There is not a single credit benefit you gain from holding onto debt. In fact, you’d be better off zeroing out those balances.
If you start using credit cards again after you recover from financial distress, aim to pay your balances off in-full every month. This allows you to build positive payment history while maintain a 0% credit utilization ratio.
Credit utilization is the second most important factor in credit score calculations – it’s 30% of your score. It measures the amount of debt you currently hold relative to your total available credit limit. So, if you have $500 in balances and a $5,000 total credit limit, your utilization ratio is 10%. Any ratio higher than 10% starts to drag down your score. That means, maintaining zero balances overall is good for your credit. It also allows you to use credit cards without incurring any interest charges!
#5: Don’t close old accounts
If you have old accounts that have been open for years, make every effort you can to keep them open. “Credit age” is the length of your credit history – how long you’ve used credit. It’s the third most important, accounting for 15% of your score. If your oldest accounts close, it decreases your credit age. That’s bad for your score.
If possible, work with your creditors to keep these accounts open and keep them in good standing. This will maximize your credit age and prevent sudden decreases in your score that you didn’t expect.
#6: Open small credit lines you can afford to pay back
Remember how we recommended to build a positive payment history? This builds into that. The more credit lines you have open and in good standing, the faster you can fix your credit. With that in mind, you want small, reasonable debts that you can comfortably afford to pay back without struggling.
There are several different ways you can get new credit to supplement that accounts you kept open:
- Apply for a secured credit card that gives you a fresh, clean credit line to repay in exchange for a small cash deposit.
- Take out a small personal loan, using the funds for things like home renovation projects or even investing.
- Purchase big-ticket items you need, such as new furniture or electronics, with in-store credit lines.
Make sure that you don’t open too many new accounts at once! Too many credit applications within a six-month period can hurt your score. However, you can open a few small credit lines at a time, pay them off, then open more. This gives you an ongoing way to build payment history as quickly as possible without risking big debt problems.
#7: Never, ever try to game the system!
If a credit repair company tells you they have a super-secret way to instantly fix your credit, run. And report them to the FTC. It’s a scam.
The only way to instantly fix your credit to escape even legitimate items is to create a new credit identity. These fraudulent credit repair companies will charge you exorbitant fees to help you set up a new credit profile under a different Social Security number. Then they take your money and disappear. Everything seems fine until the feds show up at your door because you committed criminally-liable identity fraud. You can actually go to jail or face serious fines for taking this bad advice.
How long can you be sent to jail for using a fraudulent Social Security number?
a) Up to 1 year without parole
b) Up to 2 years without parole
c) Up to 5 years without parole
d) Up to 10 years without parole
Tip: If convicted of Social Security fraud, you can also face fines of up to $250,000.
c) Up to 5 years without parole
The other version of this scam is to help you set up a new credit profile as a business. You get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to create a fraudulent commercial credit profile. This is still identity fraud and it’s still illegal.
Fixing your credit legally isn’t immediate, but it can be fast
The other six tips above will help you fix your credit as fast as possible. It won’t be instantaneous, but everything we tell you to do is legal and proven to work. You’ll see improvement through credit repair within 30 days of when you start making disputes. Rebuilding usually takes about six months to one year to see significant improvement in your score.