Order your free credit reports. Credit reporting agencies are required to give you a free copy of your credit report once a year, when you request it. You'll need to go to www.annualcreditreport.com to order the reports. The credit report includes a credit score and your credit history. Businesses and lenders use this to decide whether or not to offer you credit and what interest they'll charge.
Shopping for a private student loan, comparing the pros and cons of different lenders, and submitting multiple applications so you can accept the loan with the best terms is generally a good idea. Hard inquiries usually only have a small impact on credit scores, and scores often return to their pre-inquiry level within a few months, as long as no new negative information winds up on your credit reports.
Creditors can instruct credit bureaus to remove entries from your credit report at any time. For example, I hadn't charged anything on a particular credit card for months and didn't notice that I had been charged my annual fee until the payment was late. (Like a doofus, I was just tossing the statements without opening them because I "knew" there were no charges.)
Whenever you contest information on your credit report, the agency will contact the lender or collection agency to verify the debt and your information. If they don't get a response from the company, they will remove the information and that will eventually help your credit score. A credit repair organization may be able to help if your credit report has erroneous information from a company that is no longer in business by working with the reporting agency to remove the information quickly.
It’s important to be careful with this step, though. If you apply for too many loans, it can damage your score. Instead, you need to plan your credit applications carefully. Start with a small installment loan. You might be able to get a small, low-balance installment loan from your bank. It might also be possible (if you are looking for a car) to get an inexpensive car from a dealer that specializes in customers with poor credit. Your small loan will probably have a relatively high interest rate, so plan to borrow a small amount, and keep the loan term short.
This is easier said than done, but reducing the amount that you owe is going to be a far more satisfying achievement than improving your credit score. The first thing you need to do is stop using your credit cards. Use your credit report to make a list of all of your accounts and then go online or check recent statements to determine how much you owe on each account and what interest rate they are charging you. Come up with a payment plan that puts most of your available budget for debt payments towards the highest interest cards first, while maintaining minimum payments on your other accounts.