The key to debt consolidation is to avoid taking on new debt. If you borrow money, pay off your credit cards and then charge them back up again, you’re in worse shape than ever. If there is any chance that you might do this, or if you find yourself doing it after you obtain the consolidation loan, stop using the cards and just close the accounts. Your credit score will suffer, but your finances will thrive. Your score will come back up over time, and by then you’ll have learned valuable lessons about racking up too much debt.
If you’re unable to pay all of your bills on time, “cushion the blow to your credit score by defaulting on just one account. There is a component in the FICO score called 'prevalence,'" says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com. "That means having five collections is worse than having one." He recommends that you “let the account with the highest monthly payment fall behind to free up more money every month to pay your other debt obligations.”
Much like an Olympian in training, data is essential to tracking your credit-improvement progress. You need to know how things are progressing, where there’s still room for improvement, and when it’s time to trade up for a credit card with better terms. That’s where WalletHub’s free daily credit-score updates come in handy. You won’t find free daily scores anywhere else, and you don’t want to live in the past when you’re running from bad credit.
A third of your overall credit score is based on the credit utilization ratio across all of your cards. Because of the way credit scoring works, it's better to carry a $1,000 balance on a card with a $5,000 limit (20% credit utilization) than to carry a $500 balance on a card with a $1,000 limit (50% credit utilization). That's why, in discussing payment pecking order, we recommended paying off the cards closest to being maxed out. That's also why you shouldn't terminate accounts. It'll increase the percentage of total available credit that you’re using – and that will reduce your score.
Credit repair can take some time. The process of disputing reporting errors with the credit bureaus is almost always a drawn out business, often requiring repeated efforts. And the task of rebuilding credit can take several months before new accounts are reporting and seasoned enough to create the credit repair benefit desired. On the other hand, there are some actions you can take to accelerate your credit repair progress dramatically.
With poor credit, you may not be able to get approved for new credit products like credit cards. Although you may still be able to take out an auto loan or a mortgage, you’ll pay a much higher interest rate because of your low credit score. Compared to a borrower with good credit, someone with poor credit can pay $50,000 more in interest on a mortgage. Over an entire lifetime, you could end up paying over $200,000 more in unnecessary interest just because of bad credit.