Fixing your credit can be easy or a lot of work, depending on which option you choose.
You may be wondering why anyone would want to pay to fix their credit if there’s a free way to do it. But like many things in finance, the free option isn’t always the easiest or most successful strategy. Think about managing mutual funds for a retirement account. You can do it on your own and avoid fees. But you may not have as much success as you would if you hired a broker. It will also take more of your time because you must put in the work yourself.
So, first, we’re going to explain how to fix your credit for free on your own, with some low-cost options that can help expedite the process. Even if you have limited funds and a tight budget, you can use this method to achieve the score you want. But then, we’ll also tell you how and why going with professional credit services more likely to get you where you want to be faster and with less hassle.
2 Steps to Fix Your Credit Score
No matter which method you choose, there are two basic steps to fixing your credit.
Credit repair is something you can complete in 30 days. Rebuilding credit takes a little longer. Depending on where you start and what score you want to achieve, this can take anywhere from three months to up to two years. But don’t worry – it usually only takes two years if you’re trying to go from bad to excellent. Just going for bad to fair or fair to good usually takes about six months to a year.
How to Fix Your Credit for Free
Step 1: Get your government-mandated free credit reports
Forget all the third-party sites that claim to give you a free report or charge you $1 to get started. By law, you can download your credit report directly from the credit bureaus once every twelve months. The government-run website is www.annualcreditreport.com.
All you need to do is answer a few security questions and you can access and download each report for free. Realize, you have three reports – one from each credit bureau. If you’ve never reviewed your reports, it’s a good idea to download all three to go through the process below.
Step 2: Review your reports to check for mistakes and errors
- Late payments you made on time
- Outdated account statuses
- Collection accounts that don’t belong to you
- Duplicate accounts, such as two listings for your mortgage
It’s important to note that not all negative information is a mistake. If you legitimately earned a penalty, there is little you can do to legally remove the negative item from your credit report. However, you can dispute any errors or mistakes to remove them from your report.
What percentage of consumer credit reports contain an error that would decrease a person’s credit score?
a) 1 in 3
b) 1 in 4
c) 1 in 5
d) 1 in 10
Roughly 25% of credit reports contain an error that would decrease that consumer’s credit score. One in 20 reports has an issue that would hurt the consumer’s credit by 25 points or more.
b) 1 in 4
Step 3: Dispute all the mistakes and errors you find
This is known as credit repair. You contact the credit bureau who issued the credit report and ask them to verify the incorrect item. If they can’t verify that the item is correct, by law they must remove it.
- To dispute errors, you can send letters or submit disputes through each bureau’s online portal.
- You tell them what the mistake is and provide copies of documentation that shows the error.
- They contact the original creditor to ask them to verify the information.
- If the creditor can’t verify the item within 30 days, the bureau must remove the item; they send a free copy of your credit report so you can verify the removal.
Just cleaning up mistaken information in your credit report can increase your score. This is especially true if you recently experienced a period of financial distress, where you had missed payments or collections.
Here’s a low-cost way to expedite the process and make it easier: Although you can submit disputes for free to the bureaus online, a better option may be to send letters. Some experts say you get better results when you write a formal letter and enclose documentation up front. If you send a letter, send it certified mail, return receipt requested. In 2018, USPS Certified Mail® letter with Return Receipt costs $6.70. Return receipt means you know exactly when the bureau received your letter. So, you have a definitive start to the 30-day clock for their response.
Step 4: Now take note of the negative stuff you can’t argue away
Essentially, you can wait out these penalties for your credit to recover. As long as you don’t make any new mistakes that cause new penalties, you score will increase gradually. Each time a penalty drops off, it gives you a bump. Then, as you wait for penalties to expire, you can play the system to your advantage using the tips below.
Step 5: Know how your score is calculated, so you can game the system
Here is how the average credit score formula breaks down:
- 30% payment history
- 30% credit utilization ratio
- 15% length of credit use
- 15% number of new credit applications
- 10% types of credit in use
Every payment you make on time counts as a positive mark on your credit. The more positive remarks you accumulate now, the more they can offset mistakes in the past. This makes paying your bills on time one of the best things you can do to build credit.
The other major factor is credit utilization. This is your current total credit card balance divided by your total available credit line. If you have a $10,000 combined credit limit and $2,500 in balances, your credit utilization ratio is 25%.
Paying off credit card debt in large chunks improves your credit score quickly. So, if you want to boost your credit, stop charging and pay off debt. The combination of on-time payments and lower debt can go a long way to fixing your credit.
A low-cost way to build credit quickly: If you consolidate credit card debt with a debt consolidation loan, your credit score should enjoy a big jump. That’s because of how credit utilization ratios are calculated. Since the ratio measures revolving debt on credit cards, your score should get a huge boost from consolidating with a personal loan. You convert revolving debt into installment debt. Thus, you drop your credit utilization ratio to zero.
A case study from a Debt.com employee
At Debt.com, we don’t just recommend debt solutions, we use them. We’re normal consumers just like you. We have debt, we do our best to maintain good credit, and sometimes we run into challenges. Here’s what happened to one employee’s credit when she used a debt consolidation loan.
Before consolidation, my TransUnion credit score was around 732 and my Equifax score was 708. Immediately after we consolidated my scores jumped to 793 and 756 respectively. Both my scores are now in the excellent range. Even better, my husband’s scores jumped from fair to good. His scores went from 688 and 683 to 728 and 725. We’re in a much better position now.
The Best Way to Fix Your Credit is to Go with the Pros
If money is a problem, then there’s nothing wrong with using the free method to fix your credit. You can get a credit score that lets you get better interest rates and makes it easier to finance major life goals. But if you have some money to spare, there are ways to fix your credit that increase your chances of success, while minimizing the time and hassle of achieving the score you want.
Step 1: Hire a professional credit repair company
Bringing in a professional credit repair service takes care of Steps 1-3 of the fixing your credit for the free method. They get your reports, review them and make disputes on your behalf. You basically just confirm what is and isn’t a mistake so they know what they need to dispute. Then you sit back and wait for the results.
Why the pros are better: Making credit disputes doesn’t guarantee an item will be removed. The success of a dispute often hinges on how it’s worded. The credit bureaus will only remove an item if the information can’t be verified. If you word the dispute the wrong way, then they may verify information even if you had a case to make. That means you want your cases to be made correctly.
Credit repair professionals know how to make disputes to get results. They know when to make disputes with the bureaus and when to deal directly with the creditor. They also have state-licensed attorneys on staff. A good credit repair company will have a proven record of items removed for clients.
Ready to hire a professional credit repair service so you can avoid the hassle of do-it-yourself? Debt.com will match you with an accredited credit repair company that gets results!
Step 2: Use credit monitoring to build credit strategically
This covers Steps 4 and 5 from the free method. The key difference is that you sign up for a paid credit monitoring service to track your credit score improvement efforts. A good credit monitoring tool will not only tell you your score, it will tell you why you have the score you have. This helps you get where you want to be faster and more effectively.
Why it’s easier to build credit with credit monitoring:
- You can check your credit score as often as you want – without hurting your credit score.
- It allows you to see how specific actions impact your score over time, so you can make better credit choices.
- You can monitor your credit reports to ensure negative items drop off when they’re supposed to drop off.
- It can tell you how you rank for each credit score factor we listed above, so you can take action accordingly.
- Good tools will recommend things you can do to improve your score.
- You’re immediately alerted to any negative information in your credit report, so you can review it immediately.
You don’t need a credit monitoring tool to build credit, but if you use credit monitoring it makes it easier. Otherwise:
- You must assume that the positive actions you take have the desired effect.
- You won’t know how much or how little certain actions improve your score.
- You’ll need to manually pull your credit reports to ensure negative items are removed at the appropriate times.
- You won’t get alerted about new negative information that could potentially damage your score.
Debt.com’s Identity Theft Protection Tool offers 3-bureau credit monitoring and VantageScore 3.0 credit score tracking.
Not Every Good Financial Deed Will Fix Your Credit Score
It’s important to note that your credit profile does not include absolutely everything about you. It doesn’t even include every aspect of your financial life. For example, your credit report will never list income or detail any of your expenses that aren’t debts. It lists employers, but won’t provide information if you’re self-employed or run a side business.
This narrowed focus on only debt means there are certain financial actions you can take that won’t positively impact your credit score, even when those actions are positive overall. These include:
- Paying bills that aren’t debts on time, such as utilities, mobile plans or streaming services
- Filing and paying taxes on time
- Getting a raise or earning extra income
- Paying off debt when you are only an authorized user
- Using prepaid credit cards or debit
- Paying for items in cash
Living a cash-only lifestyle is a great way to avoid debt, but it won’t do your credit score any favors. In fact, a lack of credit activity hurts your score. If you pay for everything in cash, you won’t have the credit score you need when you apply for financing.
For example, let’s say you swear off credit cards completely, don’t take out student loans and even pay for your car in cash. That’s all well and good for your finances until you want to buy a house. The average American doesn’t have the funds to be a cash-only homebuyer. So, when you apply for your mortgage you could be rejected for avoiding credit. Even if you get approved, you will likely pay a much higher interest rate because you don’t have good credit.
Pay-in-full is a strategic way to fix your credit fast!
If you don’t like holding onto debt, there are still ways you can fix your credit using strategic debt repayment. Let’s say you have enough money saved to purchase a new car. Instead of purchasing the vehicle with cash outright, look for an attractive dealership offer that offers good incentives. Normally, if you were paying the loan back over time, the dealership offer might not be the best deal. In many cases, you’re better off getting the loan through a bank or credit union.
However, in this case, you intend to pay off the loan quickly, so you can take advantage of the dealership incentives. Use some of the money you have saved up to make a large down payment. That way, if you don’t pay the loan back immediately, you’d enjoy low monthly payments. But once you get the loan, pay it off in the largest chunks possible.
Since you already have the money saved, you should be able to pay the loan off in full with a few installments. Just make sure you get a loan that doesn’t have any prepayment or early repayment penalties. Otherwise, you’ll face fees for paying off the loan faster than scheduled. But as long as you avoid those, you can get credit for paying off the loan and avoid debt problems.
Warning: Becoming an authorized user won’t fix your credit score!
One big misconception about building credit is that you can use someone else’s credit and become an authorized user. In theory, this allows you to get a card and a good interest rate using someone else’s good credit score. But authorized users do not get “credit” for using authorized credit card accounts. Payments only count towards the account holder’s credit history and not any authorized users.
So, don’t make the mistake of using an account authorized user and expect it to improve your credit. You only build a credit history on an account if you are a joint account holder or cosigner, but not an authorized user.
That being said, joint or cosigned accounts can be a good way to fix your credit without overpaying on interest charges. If you open an account with someone who has better credit, you can get a lower rate than you’d get on your own. Then, if you make all the payments on time you can both build a positive credit history. Just don’t miss any payments or you’ll damage the other person’s score, too!
How to Avoid Damaging Your Score While You Fix Your Credit
It’s no good to take two steps forward only to take a few steps back. So, you want to avoid actions that can damage your credit score while you work to fix your credit. This includes:
- Missing rent or mortgage payments by more than 30 days
- Missing loan and credit card payments by more than 30 days
- Allowing bills to go into collections, including things like utilities or medical bills
- Foreclosure, eviction or repossession
- Closing old accounts – especially if they are accounts in good standing!
- Opening too many credit new credit cards or loans within a 6-month period
Tip No. 1: Late is bad, but missed is much worse
When it comes to your credit score, a late payment won’t negatively impact your credit score immediately. Creditors and lenders only report payments that are late after 30 days. After 30 days, the payment is considered missed. That’s when the creditor contacts the credit bureau and it affects your credit history. Creditors report missed payments at 30, 60, 90 and 120 days. After that, they charge off your account and freeze it.
So, although you will face late pass and penalties if you pay a credit card or loan late, it won’t affect your credit as long as you catch up within 30 days.
Tip No. 2: Keep your accounts open and active
Closing old accounts can be bad for your credit. Part of your credit score calculation is your credit age. Creditors measure credit age based on how long you’ve had open accounts in good standing. If you close old accounts, you decrease your credit age. So, even though the account was closed in good faith, you can decrease your score unintentionally.
This can also happen if you just leave old accounts and don’t use them. After a certain amount of time – that varies by the creditor – a creditor will close an account due to inactivity. That means you don’t just need to keep your accounts open, you need to use them. If possible, find a small recurring expense, such as tolls or a small bill that you can pay with your older accounts. Then pay off the minute balance in-full every month to avoid debt.
Tip No 3: Too much new credit is bad for your credit
Your credit score is the number creditors use to assess your risk as a borrower. The low credit score means you are more of a credit risk. Thus, risky actions decrease your score. The reason opening too many accounts is bad for your score is because taking on too much new debt too quickly means you’re at a higher risk of default. Too many new payments put stress on your budget. So, if you’re applying for credit constantly, you could be hurting your score.
Try to space out loan and credit card applications by at least six months to avoid credit damage.
Debt.com’s Easy Reference Guide to Fixing Your Credit Score
|Good for Your Score||Bad for Your Score||Doesn’t Affect Your Score|
|Making all loan and credit card payments on time||Missing debt payments by 30 days||Paying bills that aren’t debts, whether you pay on time or late|
|Keeping credit card balances low||Using more than 30% of your total available credit limit||Getting a raise or losing your job|
|Paying off debt in-full||Opening too many new credit lines at once||Filing and paying taxes on time|
|Adding new accounts gradually to build your credit profile||Allowing bills or medical expenses to go to collections||Paying for items in cash|
|Keeping all your accounts open, active and in good standing||Closing old accounts that are in good standing||Using credit as an authorized user, even if the bill gets paid on time|
|Taking on good debts, such as a mortgage||Falling behind in child support or other court-ordered payments||Using prepaid credit cards or no credit check credit lines|
More Questions about How to Fix Your Credit
Q:Do you need to know your FICO score to fix your credit?
This is beneficial because it allows you to use a 3-bureau credit monitoring tool and get a score that’s similar to FICO. Otherwise, you might need to pay for 3-bureau monitoring and FICO scores tracking separately.
Q:Is there any way to fix your credit in 30 days?
For example, let’s say you only have one negative item in your credit report. It’s a late payment that you can verify was made on time. If you dispute that item with the credit bureaus and the confirm the information can’t be verified, it will be removed. This would potentially increase your credit score significantly because it’s the only blemish on your credit history. Thus, credit repair would have a significant positive impact on your credit.
By contrast, let’s say you have the same late payment that was made on time. However, you also have numerous other negative items, including collection accounts and a foreclosure. In this case, removing one negative item would have a significantly less positive impact than you’d enjoy in the first scenario.
Q:Is it possible to fix your credit and achieve a good score in 6 months?
- Paying off debt in-full
- Eliminating credit card balances
- Consolidating credit card debt with a personal loan
- Settling collection accounts using pay-for-delete
All these actions would have a significant positive impact on your credit and can be executed within six months. Even without these dramatic actions, however, just paying all your bills on time and avoiding any negative actions that damage your score would improve your score over six months.
What’s the best way to fix your credit in less than one year?
The best way to fix your credit within the next year is to use a combination of professional credit repair services and paid credit monitoring. Paid credit repair is generally more effective and delivers better results than do-it-yourself credit repair. Then, using a paid credit monitoring tool allows you to track changes in your score throughout the year to make sure you’re on track.
As we mention above for the 6-month credit fix, there are certain actions you can take that can provide a significant jump in your score. Eliminating debt, consolidating credit card debt with a loan or using re-aging or pay for delete to remove negative items can all deliver notable results. Then you can use credit monitoring to ensure these actions have the desired effect.
Article last modified on September 11, 2018. Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: How to Fix Your Credit for Free or for a Reasonable Price - AMP.