When you find yourself with damaged credit, it’s important to catch your breath and begin laying the foundation for a brighter financial future. Testing your financial literacy and educating yourself are part of that. But the centerpiece of this effort should be your emergency fund. With money saved for a rainy day, you’ll be far less likely to miss payments and damage your credit if met by hefty emergency expenses.
Radio, television and the internet are full of ads for credit-repair services promising to make your credit problems go away. It's not that easy. Be very wary of for-profit-credit-repair services. These ultimately just add to your expenses and, in the case of debt management services, may cause you to lose control of when and whether payments are actually reaching your creditors.
Even if the debt has passed the SOL in your state for suit (variable by state) and even the federal SOL for reporting (roughly 7 years from when the debt discharged) a collector may still pursue you for this money if you owe it. They will just never be able to collect it or report it if you don't allow them to, although they will certainly try and hope you are ignorant enough of the law that they get money from you.
Know where you are at financially. Check your credit report to see exactly where you need to improve. Do you have a lot of missed or late payments? Is your debt utilization too high? These clues can help you figure out what items to tackle first. You are entitled to a free report from each of the credit bureaus one a year (so, three total). You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com (the official site run by the three credit bureaus) for your free reports. You can also order reports directly from each of the three bureaus:
Of course, the real trick is that you need to know where to go to get one of these cards and this may take some work. The problem is that these cards are marketed almost exclusively via email, telemarketing and direct mail. This is so they can make almost irresistible offers such as “$5000 credit cards – guaranteed! ..no credit check, … no co-signer … you cannot be turned down … everyone approved,” etc.
However, don’t believe a collector if they say they have ways of ruining your credit game forever. That’s just not true. Nothing you do can get you kicked out of the credit game forever. Any penalty you encounter will only set you back. But you can offset these setbacks by taking positive actions that help you move forward. So even if your period of financial distress puts you back at Square One, you can start again and get right back in the game.
Beware of scams that tell you to create a new credit file. Some disreputable credit repair agencies will suggest inventing a new credit identity by using an Employer Identification Number rather than your Social Security Number. This is illegal! Besides the fact that it is considered to be credit fraud, this action does not mean that your “real” report no longer exists. Any lender who asks for your Social Security Number will still find this information.
It's important to note that repairing bad credit is a bit like losing weight: It takes time and there is no quick way to fix a credit score. In fact, out of all of the ways to improve a credit score, quick-fix efforts are the most likely to backfire, so beware of any advice that claims to improve your credit score fast. The best advice for rebuilding credit is to manage it responsibly over time. If you haven't done that, then you need to repair your credit history before you see credit score improvement. The following tips will help you with that. They are divided into categories based on the data used to calculate your credit score.
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