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).
If you use your credit card at an ATM, it will be treated as a cash advance. Most credit cards charge an upfront cash advance fee, which is typically about 5%. There is usually a much higher “cash advance” interest rate, which is typically above 20%. And there is no grace period, so interest starts to accrue right away. A cash advance is expensive, so beware.
"Financial companies love profitable customers who run up their credit card balances, right? One might think," says Randy Padawer, vice president of credit services at LexingtonLaw. "But interestingly, that same industry penalizes consumer credit scores as a direct result. To ensure a good credit score, never max out your credit cards. For an even better score, keep balances as low as possible."
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).
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.
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.
If you are unable to get a credit card, consider applying for a secured credit card instead. You need to provide a deposit, and you will be given a credit limit that is tied to your deposit amount. A secured credit card is reported to the credit bureau and can help you build your credit score. You can shop for the best secured cards at sites like MagnifyMoney and NerdWallet.
Start online credit counseling to see if you qualify for our debt consolidation alternative. During your free counseling session, we’ll help you identify the root cause of your financial problems. We’ll also help you develop a budget that minimizes your monthly expenses. Finally, based on your income, assets and budgets, we’ll recommend a debt relief solution tailored to your personal situation. This solution may be the debt management plan which consolidates your monthly payments. Other solutions include bankruptcy and referrals to other nonprofit organizations who can help you save money and eliminate debt. If you’d prefer to speak with a live counselor, call the number on the right.
Secured cards are a great way to build or improve credit. When you open a secured card, you submit a security deposit that typically becomes your credit limit. This deposit acts as collateral if you default on your account, but you can get it back if you close your account after paying off your balance. As long as you use a secured card responsibly — for example, make on-time payments and use little of your available credit — you may see improvements in your credit score. Unfortunately, in addition to the upfront deposit, this credit-building tool can have extra costs, like an annual fee.
However, there is a big myth that you have to borrow money and pay interest to get a good score. That is completely false! So long as you use your credit card (it can even be a small $1 charge) and then pay that statement balance in full, your score will benefit. You do not need to pay interest on a credit card to improve your score. Remember: your goal is to have as much positive information as possible, with very little negative information. That means you should be as focused on adding positive information to your credit report as you are at avoiding negative information.
If following the steps above seems daunting, some organizations specialize in paid credit repair services. Most of the services require a monthly subscription fee between $60-$100 per month, and most reviews report that the negative items are completely removed within 3-5 months. Despite the high cost, legitimate companies provide a valuable service if you’ve been the victim of identity theft and you want someone else to do the work for you.
As part of the bankruptcy completion, there are two courses you need to take. The first is the pre-filing credit counseling and the second is the pre-discharge debtor education, which is a financial management course before you make your final bankruptcy plan payment. In taking both courses now, before you file, you can learn about a variety of options for debt consolidation and ways to rework your budget and re-prioritize your spending. It’s possible that this re-education can give you the skills and resources you need to create a personal plan for organizing and tackling your debt without filing for bankruptcy.
Your best bet is to call and ask to see if they can put you on a payment plan where you can afford to pay them (even if it’s just the bare minimum a month) or if they will possibly settle for less money. A tip: anything that has your name attached (banking account,utility bills, credit cards, anything you finance, student loans, medical bills, car loans, home loans, your apartment, etc) that you miss a few payments on or don’t pay at all can be reported to the credit agencies and sold to collections companies.