To get your finances in order, it's key to create a budget and track your progress. There's no universal approach for monitoring your budget, but if you're in debt, you'll want to take inventory of your finances often and take note of your spending habits at least once a month. The goal is to avoid overspending – and understand how much you spend each month to create a plan to pay off your debts. "This word 'budget' seems to be such a painful word to everyone, but there is actual power and freedom in having a budget in place and having the power to tell your money where to go," Omo says. "It's the basis of your plan to get out of debt."
Although you may understand the concept of credit limits, few people take the time to examine their credit utilization—or the amount of debt owed vs. the total credit limit. An ideal credit score boasts a utilization ratio of 25 percent or less. If you have a $10,000 credit limit, you should never charge more than $2,500 at a time. The same goes for individual cards. For example, Margot has three credit cards with the following limits:
Typically this is how these companies work: Instead of obtaining a new loan to pay off your credit cards, the debt management company tries to negotiate with the credit card companies to reduce your interest rates or otherwise lower your monthly payments. Each month, you make a single payment to the debt consolidation firm and it distributes a portion of your payment to each of your creditors. Usually, it also keeps a portion (or sometimes all) of your payment to cover its own fees.
The earlier you find out about a credit report or identity theft issue, the easier it is to solve. To ensure that you find out about issues in the future, consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. Some companies, like CreditKarma, offer free credit monitoring. Other companies offer daily three-bureau monitoring and resolution services. You can learn more about these options here.
The days of “the expert” were gone once and for all. Even critically important practices like lending borrowing and banking were performed “on the fly.” Waiting for anything became unheard of and as a direct result of the “life in a hurry philosophy” quality products and services found their way into that “hand basket” headed for that destination people don’t like to talk about at parties. Credit Repair was no exception – fast credit repair companies raked in huge upfront fees while others sold “fix your own credit” programs to quench that uptick in do-it-yourself clients. Consumer credit files and credit scores fell into that same basket with all of the other “misfit” results. More damage was done by amateur “credit-mechanics” rushing to collect upfront fees from clients who expected their FICO scores to bounce before the next mouse-click than may ever be known.
Credit utilization is the second most important factor when calculating an individual’s credit score. Simply, credit utilization is how much credit you have used in comparison to how much lenders have provided you. For example, if you have three credit cards with a limit of $3,000 on each card, your total credit would be $9,000. Now, say after a weekend of house decorating, you spent $4,500 on your credit cards – your credit utilization would be 50%. Credit utilization is another facet in which credit holders have complete control over. By landing your utilization in the 25%-45% bracket, your credit score will be optimized.
Credit reports typically have a space for you to provide your comments at the bottom: explaining why a particular debt hasn't been paid or to point out any factual errors. While this is another area of recourse, with the credit bureaus you're seen as guilty until proven innocent, and the burden's on you to correct things. When you write to the credit bureau, be sure to send copies (not the originals) of any proof that can be used.