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This article was last updated Jan 15, 2013, but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.
If you're reading this article, you're trying to rebuild your credit from a difficult time. Most people experienced some decline in their credit scores after the economic downfall of 2008, and perhaps you're finally at a point to fix yours. As easy as it is to get bad credit, it's not-so-easy to rebuild. Nevertheless, you can get your credit score to the "fair" or "good" state in a matter of months if you take the right steps. Here are some great tips to help you repair your credit and improve your credit score.
Start Paying Your Debts Off
This is an obvious step to take, but it is one that will make the biggest difference in your credit score. Remember when you first built your credit and you saw a 100 point leap in a couple months? That's because you were adding positive payments to your credit history. You may have a lot of defaults and past-due bills on your credit now, but you can make those fade away by paying them now. Do this consistently, and you'll see big improvements.
Something you may want to try is the Snowball Method, which involves paying off the smallest bills first and working your way up to the big accounts. This will encourage you to keep up with your new payment history because you will be chipping away at your debt. You'll feel accomplished because you can actually see a difference, and you will feel less stress from fewer debt collectors. You could also try debt consolidation, which will move all the money you owe to one account. Just assess your options and see what works for you.
Stop Applying for Credit Cards and Loans
It's fine to look for a loan to cover all the rest of your debts, but you shouldn't put in 10+ applications to make that happen. Every time someone pulls your credit, the action shows up on your credit report. If you have a whole bunch of people looking at your credit back to back, your credit score is going to drop. There are multiple theories about just how many points X number of pulls drops your credit score, so you just need to realize that a drop can and will occur. Avoid applying for assistance until you absolutely need it.
Note that if you've ever been denied a loan because of "excessive inquiries," this is what that was referring to. Some banks will see this as a sign of desperation, and they will essentially deny your loan because everyone else has. Is that fair to you? No. Does it happen? All the time.
Get Health and Car Insurance…NOW
This isn't about credit repair as much as it is about debt prevention. Medical bills are among the leading causes of bankruptcy in this country, and they are easy to rack up without insurance. You could go from being debt free to owing more than your house is worth just because of one medical emergency. If you are in a car accident without appropriate insurance, the cost of your repairs could be in the thousands. By law, you must have liability insurance at the very least, but that will only protect the other party if you are at fault. Comprehensive and collision will protect your vehicle in an accident, no matter whose fault it is.
If you financed your car for its full retail value, you may also want to invest in GAP insurance. This will cover the remaining balance of your loan if your car is totaled in the wreck. All of this is going to cost you more money per month, but it could potentially save you thousands and a set of bad marks on your credit.
Invest in a Prepaid Debit Card
You do not need good credit to get a secured credit card because you put forth the money for the balance. Rather than a credit card company trusting you to pay them back, they simply give you a card to control your money with. The transactions on your secured card will still show up on your credit report, allowing you to improve your score with your own money. You can use this just like you would cash, but you'll have the added bonus of getting better credit.
Setup Payment Reminders or Autodrafts
If you have trouble making your payments on time, you can either setup a reminder service or an autodraft to help you out. A reminder service will text, call, or email you when your bills are due so you know to pay them. An autodraft will remove money from your checking account without your involvement. If you get paid sporadically throughout the month, an autodraft probably won't work well for you. It can easily overdraw your account, sometimes hours before a paycheck clears.
Ask about Settlement Options
If you owe large bills or you have bills that have been sitting for a while, you might be able to talk to your debt collectors about settlement options. For instance, your $75,000 in medical bills may be eligible for a $30,000 settlement, leaving you with significantly less money to pay. You will have to put down a large portion of the settlement to keep it in place, and some companies may even ask you to setup an autodraft for the monthly payments in the future. As long as you can keep up with your payment plan, you can dramatically cut down your debts this way.
If you make payments on past due accounts and avoid picking up new debts for a while, you can slowly see an improvement in your credit score. Yes, this will take time, but you will soon be back to the stress-free state you used to be in. What are you waiting for? Start making plans right away!
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.
*The content in this article is accurate at the publishing date, and may be subject to changes per the card issuer.