I pay my bills on time now and have been for years, but my credit score is toast because of a collection write off I had about 5 years ago and a maxed out home equity line of credit. It's kind of scary to put all my extra money into paying down my line instead of putting aside anything into savings. I really can only do one or the other. My car note interest rate is astronomical with no way to refinance because of the FICO and my house mortgage is underwater so I can't take advantage of low rates these days. I guess I'll just put half on debt and half in savings and do another credit report in 6 months.


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.
The mix of credit you have is 10% of your credit score. The credit-scoring model favors people who have both revolving lines of credit (credit cards) and installment credit (auto loans and mortgages), or a “mix” of the two types of credit.   If you only have credit cards listed on your credit report, this can hurt your score. Consider applying for an auto loan or a mortgage, and make sure the lender will report the account to the credit bureaus.
4) Of course, you can't build a positive credit history if you don't have any credit.  The problem is that it takes credit to get credit. A good place to begin would be to see if your bank will allow you to open a secured credit card. These cards require you to deposit an amount of money usually equal to the credit limit into a special savings account that the bank can collect any missed payments from. This helps to minimize the bank's risk so it's relatively easy to get but there's a chance you may still need a co-signer to qualify.
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.
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