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Get free credit help with our credit relief guide and learn how to fix your credit score on your own without incurring added costs.
Here’s a simple, all-important fact about credit in the U.S.: Nothing in credit lasts forever, so you can always recover to achieve a better score.
People often think that bad credit is a curse that will follow them forever. But the truth is that you can solve most consumer credit problems within six months to a year. Even better? You don’t need professional credit help to do it. You can complete the repair process and rebuild your score without incurring any additional costs to make it happen.
Here’s a quick overview of how do-it-yourself free credit help works:
- Obtain your credit reports for free
- Review your reports to identify errors
- Dispute those errors to clean up your profile
- Take the right steps to fix your score
- Avoid actions that slow down or stop your progress
Use the free instructions below to get started.
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Step 1: Obtain your reports for free
The first step to fix your credit is to get a copy of your credit report. Every consumer actually has three reports in total – one from each of the three main credit bureaus in the U.S.
By law, you can download your reports for free once every twelve months through annualcreditreport.com. That’s the government-run website where you can get your reports with really no strings attached. Just answer a few security questions and you can access your reports from all three bureaus.
If you want to fix your credit score following a period of financial distress, you should download all your reports. In other cases, such as an annual checkup after you achieve the score you want, one report may be fine. For now, though, make sure to grab them all.
Step 2: Review your reports for errors
Fact: 1 in 20 credit reports contains an error that would decrease a consumer’s credit score by 25 points or more.
Credit report errors often contribute to a lower score, particularly following a period of financial hardship. There may be issues like mistakes in your payment history or outdated account statuses that could impact your score.
So, you want to read through each copy of your credit report carefully to identify mistakes or errors. Look for:
- Missed payments that you made on time
- Duplicate accounts, which throw off your debt-to-income ratio
- Outdated account statuses, such as charge-offs
- Collection accounts that are either paid or not really your debts
Any of these types of errors can contribute to a lower score. Simply asking the credit bureaus to correct these mistakes can help you achieve the score you want.
Step 3: Dispute the mistakes to repair your credit
As much of a bad rap as the credit repair gets for scamming, the process is 100% legit and legal. Per the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are legally permitted to ask the bureaus to correct mistakes in your report. That’s all credit repair is.
To complete the repair process on your own, follow these steps:
- Decide how you want to dispute the mistakes you identified
- Each bureau has an online portal you can use to make disputes for free. This option is less hassle and it’s free.
- You can send disputes via registered mail, return receipt requested. This incurs some costs, but some experts say mailed disputes may be more effective.
- Detail each dispute clearly and concisely. Make sure to include your name, the account and the specific issue that you wish to have verified.
- The credit bureaus have 30 days to verify the information. They’ll check with the original credit or lender to provide verification; they may also ask you to provide documentation – always send them copies and keep your originals.
- If they can’t verify the item, they must remove it from your report. Once the bureau removes the item, they should provide another free report so you can confirm it’s gone.
That’s all the credit repair does. So, you can do all of that on your own and avoid paying a company fees to do it for you.
Step 4: Take steps to fix your score
Even after you remove all the mistakes, there may still be some negative items that remain in your report. Negative information that’s correct generally can’t be removed; you have to wait for the penalties to expire. In most cases, negative items drop off naturally after seven years.
However, you probably don’t wait to wait that long for your credit to recover. The good news is that the “weight” of negative items on your credit score decreases over time. In addition, you can offset past negative information with positive actions now.
There are two main factors that make up your credit score:
- Payment history
- Credit utilization ratio
Payment history accounts for 35% of your score and utilization accounts for 30%. Together, those factors make up almost two-thirds of the scoring calculation. So, if you diligently make payments on time and fix your credit utilization, you can achieve a better score.
Credit utilization refers to the amount of debt you currently carry relative to your total available credit. For example, if you have three credit cards each with a $3,000 limit, then your total available credit is $9,000. If you currently hold $3,000 in debt on those accounts, then your utilization ratio is 30%.
Lower utilization always equals a higher score. That means the more debt you pay off and credit lines you keep open in good standing, the higher your score. So, by making monthly payments that are larger than the minimum requirement each month, you can fix your credit quickly.
Step 5: Avoid any actions that would hurt your score
The key to building credit is that you don’t want to take any action that incurs a negative item now. It’s easy to offset negative items in the past with positive actions now. If you incur a negative item now, it will be bad for your score.
That means you should be extremely vigilant to avoid actions which would result in more negative items in your report:
- Don’t miss any payments by more than 30 days
- Stay on top of things like out-of-pocket medical bills to avoid new collection accounts
- Never run up your account balances to their credit limit
- Avoid opening multiple new accounts within a six-month period
- Don’t close your oldest accounts
- Stay away from alternative financial services (AFS), such as payday loans
Although the two factors mentioned above account for 65% of your score calculation, there’s still another 35% left over. The remaining factors include the number of new accounts opened, length of credit history and types of credit. That’s why you want to avoid opening too many new accounts at once. Closing old accounts can also decrease your score since you shorten the length of your history. And lenders also consider types of credit that you use, so you want to avoid “bad debt,” such as payday loans.
How long does it take to fix my credit score?
If you take these steps and avoid new negative items, your score should improve in six months to one year. How fast your score improves depends on where you started and how many negative items still linger in your report. But in most cases, this process allows you to at least recover to a fair credit score within a year.
And it’s important to note that using a paid service will generally result in the same timeline. If you hire a professional credit repair service, the process still takes over 30 days for each dispute. And there’s nothing a professional credit help service can do to increase your score faster. They’ll tell you to do exactly the steps we listed above.
Any attempt to game the system to get a better score faster is usually illegal or at least inadvisable. For instance, opening a new credit file with a different Social Security Number is fraud. Obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to get a new profile as a business is also illegal. If a company tells you to do this, it’s a scam! Report them immediately to the FTC.
Article last modified on September 14, 2022. Published by Debt.com, LLC