If you have bad credit right now, you probably already know it’s no way to live. These days, bad credit doesn’t just influence your ability to get approved for credit cards and loans. It also affects your insurance rate, whether you get approved for an apartment lease, and can even prevent you from getting a job. So if you have bad credit, fixing sooner rather than later is key.
1. Start by checking your credit.
You won’t know what’s causing your bad credit until you check your credit history. Your credit report is the document that holds your credit history and your credit score is the number that evaluates your credit history.
You can check your federally-mandated free credit report by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com, the only truly free source to get all three of your credit reports. Credit scores typically must be purchased through credit bureaus or myFICO.com, though you can sign up for the free trial and cancel within a few days to avoid the charge. Once you have these two items, you can tell just how bad your credit score is.
2. Dispute errors on your credit report.
Because mistakes can and do happen, you should review your credit report for accuracy. Any errors can be removed by letting the credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – know about the error. Dispute errors with the credit bureau that provided that report online or by writing to the credit bureaus.
3. Pay off past due accounts.
Any account that’s not current and paid as agreed, is affecting your credit score. Late payments have a big impact on your credit score. Getting caught up on your payments won’t remove them from your credit report, but it will keep them from hurting your credit score further. Late credit card payments and debt collections are two types of past due accounts you should take care of.
4. Get new credit.
You’ll have a hard time improving your credit score as long as the negative information on your credit report outweighs the positive information. You can add new positive accounts be opening new credit cards as you can afford them. If you have trouble getting approved for a credit card, consider a secured credit card which is a type of card that requires you to make a security deposit in the amount of your credit limit. In all other ways, the secured credit card is just like a regular credit card.
5. Pay your bills on time.
Timely debt payments are key to building a better credit score. Not only should you pay your credit cards and loans on time, you should pay all your bills on time. Any account that goes past due long enough can reported to a collection agency and added to your credit report. Collections hurt your credit score less as they get older so any new collections will hurt the progress you’ve made with your credit score.
The good news is that negative information can only stay on your credit report for seven years (or 10 years for bankruptcy). Additionally, negative information doesn’t have as much of an impact on your credit score as it gets older. Continue to pay your bills on time and correct any credit-damaging habits and your credit score will improve over time.