By the way, don’t use a credit card for a big bill if you plan to carry a balance. The compound interest will create an ugly pile of debt pretty quickly. Credit cards should never be used as a long-term loan unless you have a card with a zero percent introductory APR on purchases. But even then, you have to be mindful of the balance on the card and make sure you can pay the bill off before the intro period ends.
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.
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First a few things on credit scores: They're important, and you should aim to have a good one, but you shouldn't obsess over the numbers. Fluctuations are normal, but keeping tabs on your score will help you make good financial decisions. Watching your score could even help you spot identity theft, because an unexpected score drop could indicate someone is misusing your information.
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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.
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Check your credit report for errors and fraudulent accounts as well. Errors can bring your credit score down. If something is inaccurate, dispute it, and fix the problem. The FTC offers great information on disputing inaccurate information, as well as a helpful sample dispute letter you can use as a template. This can be one of the easiest ways to give your credit score a little bump higher. Don’t forget to bring fraudulent accounts to the attention of the credit bureau and have them removed. If you are concerned about fraudulent accounts and identity theft, can place a freeze on your credit to avoid further identity theft problems. Each bureau has its own procedures, and you can learn more about how to place a credit freeze on your report by visiting the bureaus’ web sites. Understand that a freeze needs to be placed with each bureau individually.
Becoming an authorized user on someone else's credit card or adding an authorized user to your credit card is an easy way to give your credit score a boost. For married couples and long-term partners, this move is a no-brainer. You can both improve your credit scores just by signing on as an authorized user of each other's credit cards. Lenders look at cardholders who are authorized users differently because they are different. Statistically, cardholders who are trusted by friends, family members and partners are more reliable borrowers, which earns them a small boost to their credit score.
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.
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.
I wanted to raise my score a nudge, so I decided to get a car loan at a very low rate. I spent a year paying it off just to get a mix in my credit. At first, my score went down a little, but after about six months, my score started increasing. Your credit mix is only 10% of your FICO score, but sometimes that little bit can bump you up from good credit to excellent credit.
You can also open a totally new credit card to divert some spending as well. Again, remember the credit inquiry — and be sure your card can handle it. In most cases, the small hit should be more than mitigated by the newly available credit, but if you’ve been applying for a lot of credit lately or you risk being rejected for the new credit line, you’ll want to tread carefully.
Although you can repair your credit on your own, we don’t recommend it. If you have the funds to pay a professional credit repair service, you should use one. You’re more likely to get the results you want and it’s going to be far less hassle. So, just like people opt to hire professionals to manage their retirement funds or to buy or sell their home, we recommend you opt for professional credit repair, too.
The scoring system wants to see that you maintain a variety of credit accounts. It also wants to see that you have 3 revolving credit lines. If you do not have three active credit cards, you might want to open some (but keep in mind that if you do, you will need to wait some time before rescoring). If you have poor credit and are not approved for a typical credit card, you might want to set up a "secured credit card" account. This means that you will have to make a deposit that is equal or more than your limit, which guarantees the bank that you will repay the loan. It's an excellent way to establish credit. Examples of an installment loan would be a car loan, or it could be for furniture or a major appliance. In addition to the above, having a mortgage listed will bring your score even higher.
While a recent late payment will damage your credit score, the effect of the late pay will diminish with time, as long as you make it a point to pay the rest of your bills by the due date. Having a recent perfect pay history can begin to overtake the effects of any late payments you may have had in the past. Your payment history makes up 35% of your credit score, so paying on time has a large influence on your credit score.