Despite the rosy national picture, we see regional and age-based disparities. A minority of Southerners still rank below prime credit. In contrast, credit scores in the upper Midwest rank well above the national average. Younger consumers struggle with their credit, but boomers and the Silent Generation secured scores well above the national average.
To have a good credit score, you need to have positive information reported into your credit report on a monthly basis. The easiest way to do that is with a credit card. Just try to keep your utilization low (although there is no magic number, VantageScore released data showing that people with excellent credit scores tend to have utilization below 10%). And make sure you pay your statement balance in full and on time every month. If you repeat this, over time your score will improve.
If you're living with bad credit, this probably isn't the news you want to hear. The good news, however, is that there are several things you can do right now that will start to improve you credit score. Just keep in mind that there are no magic fixes in the credit world. Credit repair done right takes patience, persistence, and an understanding of how your credit score is calculated. Here are a few ways you can start repairing the damage to your credit score:
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Not only does a Chapter 13 filing require a long-term commitment and an understanding of the impact on your credit, but it also carries an expense, as the filer must pay the court, the trustee and their attorney. Before you consider attempting a Chapter 13 without an attorney, note that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court instruction packet states that it is “… extremely difficult to succeed in a Chapter 11, 12 or 13 case without an attorney.”

There is no magic ratio that is “good” but generally if your balances on any of your cards start creeping above 20 – 25% of your available credit, you may see an impact on your scores. Have you checked your credit scores to see how this factor is impacting your credit? Here’s how to check and monitor your credit score for free. As for the new account, it may have an impact on your score but usually for most people that levels out once the bills are paid on time for a few months. If it will save you a good chunk of money it may be worth it!
However, there is a big risk to using a debt consolidation loan. Once you pay off your credit cards, you will be tempted with a lot of newly available credit. If you got into debt because you spent too much money on credit cards, creating more spending power on your credit cards can be a dangerous strategy. Dave Ramsey regularly tells listeners that they cannot borrow their way out of debt. On his blog, he write that "debt consolidation is nothing more than a "con" because you think you’ve done something about the debt problem. The debt is still there, as are the habits that caused it — you just moved it!"
Did you just get a tax refund, a bonus, a raise or an inheritance? Instead of spreading it out and making small extra payments to all of your debts, opt for the snowball method. Consider paying as much as you can towards the debt with the lowest balance so you can reduce or eliminate it entirely (while keeping the account open). This reduces your credit utilization dramatically and can increase your credit score just as dramatically and quickly. Reducing your credit utilization from 50% of your credit limit down to 30% of your credit limit can result in a 50-point score lift, according to the VantageScore report.
While it seems to make sense to pay off all of your old delinquent debts, this strategy can sometimes backfire and drop your score further. If a credit account is simply overdue and shows as outstanding debt, paying it off will improve your score – though it won't eradicate the record of late payments. But if you have an old debt on your credit report that has been charged off by the lender – meaning that they do not expect further payments – setting up a new payment plan can re-activate the debt and make it appear to be more current than it actually is. This is often the case with debt that has been turned over to a collection agency. The agency may register the debt with credit bureaus as new rather than reporting it against the written-off debt.
While it seems to make sense to pay off all of your old delinquent debts, this strategy can sometimes backfire and drop your score further. If a credit account is simply overdue and shows as outstanding debt, paying it off will improve your score – though it won't eradicate the record of late payments. But if you have an old debt on your credit report that has been charged off by the lender – meaning that they do not expect further payments – setting up a new payment plan can re-activate the debt and make it appear to be more current than it actually is. This is often the case with debt that has been turned over to a collection agency. The agency may register the debt with credit bureaus as new rather than reporting it against the written-off debt.

If you consolidate by taking a personal loan to pay off your credit cards, your utilization ratio could go down, causing your score to go up. For this to work, you need to leave the credit card accounts open after you pay them off. But your credit rating could go down if an underwriter has cause for concern that you could easily rack up new debt on the open and now balance-free credit cards (many people do).


The most important factor when it comes to one’s credit score is their credit payment history. What this means is, are you making on-time payments, have you ever missed a payment, and are you delinquent on any payments? Putting these numbers into practice, one missed payment can impact over 35% of your entire credit score. On our website, we discuss how, in some circumstances, this can be detrimental, leading to up to 100-point credit score drops.
Common ways to consolidate credit card debt include moving all your credit card debt onto one card, or taking out a loan to pay off the balances. In addition to reducing stress, when you consolidate, you may be able to score a lower interest rate. That can make it easier to pay off the debt faster, which is one important factor that can help improve your credit scores.
A personal loan is for a set period of time; three to five years is common. It's important to understand that your monthly payments will be a fixed amount. That's a bit different than a credit card balance, where you can vary your payments month-to-month as long as you hit the minimum amount due. And a credit card does not have a fixed payback period.

Common ways to consolidate credit card debt include moving all your credit card debt onto one card, or taking out a loan to pay off the balances. In addition to reducing stress, when you consolidate, you may be able to score a lower interest rate. That can make it easier to pay off the debt faster, which is one important factor that can help improve your credit scores.

I have two credit cards, one from a credit union with just over 10% interest and one from Chase with 9.99% interest. I just asked the credit union to increase my credit line to $20k so I can consolidate the two, as I thought it’d be best to keep my credit union account. I have a credit card through Wells Fargo that has an $18k limit, but it’s zero’d out and I don’t use it. Will this hurt my credit score? It’s in the mid-700’s.
"Unlike a credit card exchange, where you swipe your card and get it back, you actually give away your cash when you spend it," says Joshua Schumm, a financial coach who owns Kansas Financial Coaching in Hutchinson, Kansas. Using cash "creates a loss-type feeling in your mind and makes you less likely to make impulse purchases." Schumm says that until he and his wife began using cash at the grocery store, they often missed their budget goal. "Now, with cash, we can't overspend it," he says.

I would like to say Thank you for the outstanding service that you gave me. I started the program just four short years ago and in March I will be debt free. With your help in setting better plans with my creditors I was able to accomplish this. It was hard work, but it was all worth it at the end. The Consolidated credit counselors are the best; they answered all of my question(s) and helped me every step of the way.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy requires a $235 case filing fee and a $75 miscellaneous administrative fee, plus attorney costs. Chapter 7 bankruptcy comes with a $245 case filing fee, a $75 miscellaneous administrative fee and a $15 trustee charge, as well as attorney charges. With both types of bankruptcy, you are also required to pay for two credit counseling sessions that cost $50 to $100 each.
The Affinity Secured Visa® Credit Card requires cardholders to join the Affinity FCU. You may qualify through participating organizations, but if you don’t, anyone can join the New Jersey Coalition for Financial Education by making a $5 donation when you fill out your online application. This card has an 12.35% Variable APR, which is one of the lowest rates available for a no annual fee secured card and is nearly half the amount major issuers charge. This is a good rate if you may carry a balance — but try to pay each statement in full.
I would like to say Thank you for the outstanding service that you gave me. I started the program just four short years ago and in March I will be debt free. With your help in setting better plans with my creditors I was able to accomplish this. It was hard work, but it was all worth it at the end. The Consolidated credit counselors are the best; they answered all of my question(s) and helped me every step of the way.
If you choose to settle with a lender for less than the total owed, the arrangement will show on your credit report and may drop your score depending on how it is reported. Some lenders will simply mark it as paid, which has a positive affect on your score. However, if they show it as settled, your score may suffer. Although you can negotiate with a lender as to how they will report the settlement, you ultimately have no control over what they will do.
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One of the sneaky-quick ways to increase your score is to add yourself as an authorized user on someone else’s. According to FICO, 35% of your score is based on your history of on-time payments, so when you become an authorized user on a friend or family member’s credit card, car loan, or installment loan, etc. you automatically “assume” the same positive history of payments on your credit report. Viola! Your score will go up as well. You do need to make sure the lender registers your social security number and will start reporting the change, and it can take 30 days to reflect on your own credit report (unless you do a Rapid Rescore—see below). But becoming an authorized user is a fantastic way to benefit from a great payment history that’s not even yours.
Obviously, the higher the utilization percentage, the worse you look. Experts have long said that using 30% of your available credit is a good way to keep your credit score high. More recently, that recommendation has been reduced to 20%. In the $5,000 limit MasterCard example above, 30% utilization would represent a $1,500 balance. Boosting your credit limit from $5,000 to $10,000 would allow for a $3,000 balance and still maintain 30% utilization. (This, of course, is just an example. It’s not likely you would get a 100% increase in your credit line. But any amount will help increase the spread and lower the utilization ratio).
If you are juggling multiple credit card bills, you may benefit from the convenience of having one consolidated monthly payment. Consider all of the bills that the modern household pays (mortgage/rent, utilities, cell phone, cable, internet, etc.).  Adding 5-10 monthly credit card bills can overwhelm your bill-pay. Multiple payments are due every week. Going on vacation or having a hectic few days can result in several late payments and hundreds of dollars in fees.
The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® offers qualifying cardholders a lower security deposit compared to other secured cards. You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200, determined based on your creditworthiness. Typical secured cards require you to deposit an amount equal to your credit limit, so this card has added perks for people who qualify for the lower deposits.
Kevin Han, a Minneapolis-based attorney who runs FinancialPanther.com, a blog focused on side hustles and reducing debt, says that after law school, he got in the habit of calculating the cost of his debt. His suggestion: "Figure out how much your debt costs in interest per year, then divide that by 365. When I did this, I found out my debt after I graduated law school cost me $17 per day. When I realized this, it got me super pumped to pay off my debt as fast as possible. Each time I paid off more of my debt, my daily interest that I was paying dropped," he says. Thanks to that strategy, along with smart budgeting, Han ended up paying off $87,000 in student loans in two and a half years.
"Unlike a credit card exchange, where you swipe your card and get it back, you actually give away your cash when you spend it," says Joshua Schumm, a financial coach who owns Kansas Financial Coaching in Hutchinson, Kansas. Using cash "creates a loss-type feeling in your mind and makes you less likely to make impulse purchases." Schumm says that until he and his wife began using cash at the grocery store, they often missed their budget goal. "Now, with cash, we can't overspend it," he says.

In more cases than not, debt consolidation loans don't make sense. They're certainly attractive: the lure of being able to pay off all of your credit cards is a strong one, especially in exchange for a single monthly payment to your bank or credit union at a lower interest rate. It's definitely a tantalizing opportunity, but it's not perfect. Remember, debt consolidation loans are financial products, which means financial institutions wouldn't offer them to you if they didn't make money from them. Here are a few tips to make sure you're not falling into a trap:


The right way: You should expect some fees, but avoid excessive fees when you consolidate. You don’t want to make your journey out of debt any steeper than it has to be. It’s worth noting that a debt management program has fees, but they get set by state regulation. They also get rolled into your program payments, so you don’t actually incur an extra bill.
The key to debt consolidation is to avoid taking on new debt. If you borrow money, pay off your credit cards and then charge them back up again, you’re in worse shape than ever. If there is any chance that you might do this, or if you find yourself doing it after you obtain the consolidation loan, stop using the cards and just close the accounts. Your credit score will suffer, but your finances will thrive. Your score will come back up over time, and by then you’ll have learned valuable lessons about racking up too much debt.
If you are running out of time on your intro APR and you still have a balance, don’t sweat it. At least two months before your existing intro period ends, start looking for a new balance transfer offer from a different issuer. Transfer any remaining balance to the card with the new 0% intro offer. This can provide you with the additional time needed to pay off your balance. Ideally, look for a card that has a 0% intro APR and also no balance transfer fee.
When negative information in your report is accurate, only time can make it go away. A credit reporting company can report most accurate negative information for seven years and bankruptcy information for 10 years. Information about an unpaid judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer. The seven-year reporting period starts from the date the event took place. There is no time limit on reporting information about criminal convictions; information reported in response to your application for a job that pays more than $75,000 a year; and information reported because you’ve applied for more than $150,000 worth of credit or life insurance.

Here’s a good example of when a reputable credit repair service can help you do something you may not be able to accomplish yourself. If you have a collection account that’s been sold to a few different debt collectors, it may appear on your credit report multiple times. That information is accurate but having that one debt dinging your credit score multiple times may not meet the “fair” standard Padawer mentioned.


Of course, those situations aren't the norm, and most of us with credit card bills looking to get rid of them aren't in that position. That's not to say there aren't situations where debt consolidation loans can offer people who really need them the breathing room to get out of debt and organize their finances. ReadyForZero has a great post on this topic, and showcases some examples of when debt consolidation can be a good choice—and even save you money on interest while getting you out of debt faster.

Remember, there are lots of reasons why your credit may be in rough shape. Most are related to your spending habits. So, for instance, if you missed a few payments or your debt levels are too high (think over 30% of your total available credit limits), disputing errors won’t help your case — you’ll have to make some changes to improve your credit scores. And you may have to wait a bit to see an uptick.
Just because you have a poor credit history doesn’t mean you can’t get credit. Creditors set their own standards, and not all look at your credit history the same way. Some may look only at recent years to evaluate you for credit, and they may give you credit if your bill-paying history has improved. It may be worthwhile to contact creditors informally to discuss their credit standards.
I had a $10,000 surgery when my medical insurance lapsed. I had to fill out a form with the hospital that stated I could not afford to pay it and they forgave it/never went on my credit. If you make under a certain income, the hospital should help you get those off, call the hospital and ask. It may be too late since it’s in collections already, if that’s the case, don’t pay it because it won’t change the negative impact since it’s already in collections. Wait for it to fall off.
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