Getting your credit back on track is easier than you think. Here’s how to get started.

4 minute read

Are you tired of getting rejected when you apply for a credit card or loan? Having poor credit may feel like a life sentence, but you’re the one holding the key to improving your credit score, and raising that crucial number is easier than you think.

Credit repair” may sound like a task best left to a credit repair company. However, a credit repair company can’t do anything to improve your credit that you can’t do yourself. Fixing your credit isn’t complicated, and you don’t have to be a financial whiz or make a ton of money to improve your credit.

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1. Find out your credit score

Find out your credit score

The first step to repairing your credit is knowing where you stand, specifically with your credit scores. Potential lenders and creditors typically check with major credit bureaus Experian, TransUnion or Equifax to learn your credit score and determine your creditworthiness. They may also check your FICO Score or VantageScore.

Depending on the credit scoring model used, you probably have a few different credit scores. For example, FICO credit score levels are: exceptional (800+); very good (740-799); good (670-739); fair (580-669) and poor (579 or below).

To find out your credit scores, request a free copy of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com.

2. Review your credit report

Once you obtain a free copy of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, examine it to determine the areas of your credit and payment history hurting your credit score. Also check for errors such as wrong name or address, accounts you don’t recognize or signs of identity theft or fraud.

Are there late payment marks that you don’t deserve or negative information older than seven years that should have been removed? You may be able to dispute or remove inaccurate or outdated information to raise your score.

3. Dispute or correct errors

If you find an error on your credit report, contact both the credit reporting company and the company that provided the information to have it removed, says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

For example, you can dispute an error with Experian, TransUnion or Equifax online, by phone or by mail. You can find templates of credit dispute letters and more information at the CFPB site.

4. Start making payments on time

Start making payments on time

Payment history comprises around 35% of your credit score. However, even if you have late payments on your credit report, time is on your side. That’s because negative information drops off your credit report after seven years, except when you file bankruptcy, which remains on your report for up to ten years from the filing date.

Raising your credit score may take a few years, or even sooner with older accounts that drop off. However, if you keep paying on time, along with staying on top of other factors affecting your credit, your payment history – along with your credit score – should improve eventually.

5. Lower your credit utilization rate

Lower your credit utilization rate

Your credit utilization ratio is the amount of available credit you’re using and affects roughly 30% of your credit score. For example, if your total credit available from all credit accounts is $6,000 and you owe $3,000, your credit utilization would be 50%.

“Lenders like to see credit utilization under 30% – under 10% is even better,” according to Experian. You can improve your credit score by paying down – or even better, paying off – credit card and loan balances to lower your credit utilization rate.

6. Seek credit counseling

Seek credit counseling

You don’t need to hire a credit repair company to improve your credit, but you may want to seek advice from a free or nominal-fee nonprofit credit counseling agency. These agencies don’t claim they can fix all your problems or reduce your debt like many for-profit agencies who charge fees for questionable results.

A credit counselor can help you review your credit report, create a budget and debt management plan and manage money better so that once your credit improves, you don’t backslide.

7. Gradually rebuild your credit

Gradually rebuild your credit

Time will pass whether you repair your credit or not, so the sooner you take steps to improve your credit, the closer you will be to your goal of having good or excellent credit. If you have debt, pay it off and then start building a positive payment history, even if you must get a secured credit card that you charge a small amount on and then pay in full each month.

Once you start paying attention to your credit and making a few changes, you may find that your credit score improves even sooner than expected.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

Published by Debt.com, LLC