My wife and I recently decided we wanted to buy a home better suited to starting a family and sell our townhouse (which she owned when we met). I didn't have the best, let's say, track record with financials in my past and my credit was abysmal. I hit rock bottom 2.5 years ago when my car ( a beautiful fully loaded Jeep) was reposed on Xmas eve morning. Even then, although angry and ashamed, I didn't do much to help myself out. My 20's, which were years of partying, spending and generally speaking not caring had finally caught up. I was 29. So, we got to work with fixing things. Paying off creditors, paying down debts, making on time payments, etc. When we had my credit run about 6 weeks ago, it was 588. This was much higher than the 410 I had a couple years ago, but still a far cry from good. (Side note here, be mindful of using credit cards that track your fico score, or having a credit bureau account that gives you your score. There are around 30 different scores that are used, and different scores are used for different types of inquires (auto loan is different than mortgage)). So we got to work, paid off the last couple things and really started paying attention to what was happening. One thing I can't stress enough is every year, you're allowed to get 3 free credit reports, 1 from each bureau. You MUST do this each year. This is where I found my credit windfall. I was able to uncover the fact that a debt that had been paid of was still being reported as open and late. I also found a debt that wasn't mine! A big one. $1700 showing open and late for 2 years with a collector. I filled a report with the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) and they started an investigation. The company that had this debt wrote me a letter saying that even though I had no proof that the debt wasn't mine, they would absolve it and would contact the 3 credit bureaus to have the reporting removed and cleared. At this point, I called my broker and said it's time to run the simulator. They ran it, and then performed what is called a Rapid Rescore. Some brokers charge for this; good ones don't. Since they are trying to get your business they will do it for free. If it's at cost, it's roughly $10 per item per report. If you have a lot of issues it can add up. Anyhow, they did the rescore, did the simulator, ran a hard inquiry and BOOM, 657.
If you are unable to qualify for a balance transfer deal or personal loan that makes financial sense, and you prefer to not touch any of your assets, you may want to set up a chat with a reputable credit counseling firm to see if you are a good candidate for a Debt Management Plan (DMP). A DMP can make it easier for you to pay your credit card bills, but it will likely have a negative impact on your credit score.
Many times, a credit counselor can offer insights into your financial situation that you may not see on your own. They may see obvious ways you can cut your spending that you may have overlooked, for example. Their extensive knowledge of debt relief options also makes them ideal mentors for consumers who need professional help when it comes to assessing their debts and figuring out a plan that will work.
A third of your overall credit score is based on the credit utilization ratio across all of your cards. Because of the way credit scoring works, it's better to carry a $1,000 balance on a card with a $5,000 limit (20% credit utilization) than to carry a $500 balance on a card with a $1,000 limit (50% credit utilization). That's why, in discussing payment pecking order, we recommended paying off the cards closest to being maxed out. That's also why you shouldn't terminate accounts. It'll increase the percentage of total available credit that you’re using – and that will reduce your score.
If you’re unable to pay all of your bills on time, “cushion the blow to your credit score by defaulting on just one account. There is a component in the FICO score called 'prevalence,'" says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com. "That means having five collections is worse than having one." He recommends that you “let the account with the highest monthly payment fall behind to free up more money every month to pay your other debt obligations.”
The cause of your debt may be due to overspending, and that’s where creating a budget can help. You can view a snapshot of your expenses and see where you’re able to cut costs and hopefully save money to pay off debts you may have. There are plenty of budgeting apps that are free and allow you to link various accounts to get a holistic view of your finances.
So, the first thing you should do is assess the damage by looking at a current credit report issued from one (or all) of the three major credit bureaus. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, every American has the legal right to receive one free report from each one of the companies per year, which will save you some money on processing fees. You can get access to each one at the site annualcreditreport.com.
If you’re hesitant for your teen to open their own credit card, adding them as an authorized user on your credit card account may be the best option. You can easily monitor their spending through statements and online banking. While they piggyback off your credit, you can continue to benefit from the same perks your card offers and even earn rewards on their purchases — if you have a rewards card.
Many people, however, don’t have the time or don’t understand how to make their case, so they look into hiring a credit repair company to dispute errors on their behalf. These companies can charge a fee for their legwork (more on how that works in a minute), but there are times when the extra help can certainly be welcome. (Say you have multiple errors across credit reports or you’ve been the victim of widespread identity theft.)
With poor credit, you may not be able to get approved for new credit products like credit cards. Although you may still be able to take out an auto loan or a mortgage, you’ll pay a much higher interest rate because of your low credit score. Compared to a borrower with good credit, someone with poor credit can pay $50,000 more in interest on a mortgage. Over an entire lifetime, you could end up paying over $200,000 more in unnecessary interest just because of bad credit.