Leading up to the credit score crash — You lost your job and used credit cards to pay expenses. You are overburdened with five maxed out credit cards at $5,000 each, for a total debt load of $25,000. You stopped paying them all for six months so they’ve grown to $30,000 with interest included and a balance of $6,000 each. You have 100% utilization and a terrible credit score of 450. As a last resort, you take out a $14,000 loan from your 401(k) and start calling creditors to negotiate.
If your teen is ready for their own card, a secured credit card is a good place to start.  A secured card is similar to a traditional “unsecured” card, except it requires a security deposit to access credit. Your teen can build credit by charging a small amount each month to their secured card and paying it off in full and on time each month. They can eventually upgrade to an unsecured card, and we’ll explain how below.
To accomplish this, simply get a family member to agree to allow you to be an authorized user on their account. They should have had the account open for at least two years. Then, draft a letter to the creditor to put the agreement in writing. Make sure to define what percentage of the account you’re allowed to use and whether or not you’re responsible for payments on any of those purchases.
Credit reporting companies must investigate the items you question within 30 days — unless they consider your dispute frivolous. They also must forward all the relevant data you provide about the inaccuracy to the organization that provided the information. After the information provider gets notice of a dispute from the credit reporting company, it must investigate, review the relevant information, and report the results back to the credit reporting company. If the investigation reveals that the disputed information is inaccurate, the information provider has to notify the nationwide credit reporting companies so they can correct it in your file.
Each time you apply for credit is listed on your credit report as a “hard inquiry” and if you have too many within two years, your credit score will suffer. In general, a consumer with good credit can apply for credit a few times each year before it begins to affect their credit score. If you’re already starting with below-average credit, however, these inquiries may have more of an impact on your score and delay your ultimate goal of watching your credit score climb.
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If your debt feels overwhelming, it may be valuable to seek out the services of a reputable credit counseling service. Many are non-profit and charge small or no fees for their services. You can review more information on selecting the right reputable credit counselor for you from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Credit counselors can help you develop a Debt Management Plan (or DMP) and can negotiate to reduce your monthly payments. In many cases, you'll be responsible for only one monthly payment to the credit counseling service, which will then disburse funds to all of the accounts you owe on.
If you have missed payments, get current and stay current: the longer you pay your bills on time after being late, the more your FICO Scores should increase. Older credit problems count for less, so poor credit performance won't haunt you forever. The impact of past credit problems on your FICO Scores fades as time passes and as recent good payment patterns show up on your credit report. And good FICO Scores weigh any credit problems against the positive information that says you're managing your credit well.
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