Bad credit can keep you from getting a mortgage, a credit card, and even a job. If your credit report has even one mistake in it, your credit score will suffer as a result.
But there’s good news. Even if you’ve dug yourself into a serious credit hole, you can still right your wrongs. With a good credit score, you will qualify for better rates on loans and your insurance premiums may even be lower, saving you thousands of dollars a year. A good credit score may also help when you’re job hunting, since potential employers can request your credit records.
Here are some things to consider that will improve your finances–and your credit score:
1. Check for mistakes.
By law, you can get your credit report free once a year from each of the major consumer credit reporting agencies — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — at AnnualCreditReport.com. Although you can get your credit report for free, you’ll have to pay a small amount to receive your credit score.
2. A trick to keep up to date on your credit report.
To keep better tabs on your credit, request one free report from a different agency every four months instead of ordering one from all three agencies at the same time. If you see anything inaccurate, you must contact the credit reporting agency immediately to correct the error.
3. Know the score.
Your credit score is a three-digit number that reflects whether you’re a good credit risk. The scale generally runs from 300 to 850–the higher, the better. A late payment or notice that your account has been sent to a collection agency can subtract 35 to 100 points from your credit score. The magic number for credit scores is 770. If you have that or higher with all three bureaus, you’re as good as gold.
4. Pay your bills on time.
This is the single most important thing you can do to improve your score. One third of your credit score is derived from how consistently you pay your bills on time. If you are disorganized, consider setting up automatic payments so you don’t miss the due date.
Excessive debt can account for another third of your credit score. Too much debt will lower your credit score and reduce your buying power.
5. Use credit cards responsibly.
The type and age of your credit accounts contributes the final one third to your credit score. If credit card use has put you in dire financial straits, consider cutting up problem cards once you’ve paid off the balances. But don’t close the accounts — accounts that stay open a long time help build good credit. Keep at least one card active after your debt is under control. Using that card responsibly can help you rebuild a solid credit record.
6. The solution.
A bad credit history usually doesn’t happen overnight, so it probably can’t be fixed overnight. But credit can be restored and it’s worth almost any investment of time and expense to fix it.
There are many credit repair services that make all sorts of outlandish claims, from fixing your credit score to eliminating debt outright. Some of them are nothing but scams, like the credit repair service that charges you monthly. What is their incentive to fix your credit report quickly if they are charging you monthly?
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