All credit scores are based on the contents of your credit reports. Any errors in those reports can cause undeserved credit-score damage. They can also indicate fraud. So check your reports, dispute any errors you find, and take steps to protect yourself from identity theft if necessary. In particular, look for collections accounts, public records, late payments and other bad credit-score influencers.
The accounts section contains a detailed history of all accounts (open and closed), your balance, and your payment history associated with each account. You should be able to see month-by-month payment information for 7 years of history. Each month will have a symbol next to it that indicates whether the account was paid as expected or if it was late.
You're also entitled to a free credit report if you've been turned down for credit because of something on your credit report, if you're currently receiving government assistance, if you're unemployed and planning to look for a job soon, or if you think you've been a victim of credit card fraud or identity theft. Some states even have laws that let you get an additional free credit report each year. All these free credit reports should be ordered directly through the credit bureaus.
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.
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If you need money fast, a home equity loan might be a good option. A home equity loan can provide you with a lump sum of money in a matter of weeks; the borrowed amount can then be paid off on a monthly basis for a fixed rate. It can be especially helpful to use this type of loan to help consolidate your current debt. A home equity loan can combine debt from various lenders, such as different credit card companies, and place it into one convenient payment.
Next, estimate your monthly spending habits for other expenses such as gas, groceries and entertainment. Create a limit, based on your income, of what you can spend in each of the different categories of expenses. For example, if you tend to spend $400 a month on groceries, try to stick to $300 a month on groceries by making changes like buying generic brands, using coupons, and resisting impulse purchases.