Having bad credit makes life a lot harder. You won’t be able to open a new credit card, close on a mortgage loan, or even get a personal loan with affordable interest rates. In most states, even your car insurance will cost more when you have poor credit. The answer is DIY credit repair.
It’ll take some time and effort, but you can improve your credit score, one step at a time.
5 Steps To DIY Credit Repair
Repairing your credit can be easier if you follow these five easy steps.
I developed these steps after helping thousands of people improve their credit over the past seven years.
I think this is the quickest way to repair your own credit.
If you have any questions at all about any of my steps, feel free to ask me. I try to respond as quickly as I can!
Step 1. Start Monitoring Your Credit Score Monthly
Don’t, don’t, don’t skip this step! It’s time to start paying closer attention to your credit score!
This first step is so important because it’ll help you achieve the next four steps more quickly.
Federal law says you can get a free credit report from all three credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.com once a year. (Through April 2021 you can get a free copy of your credit report from each bureau once a week because of the coronavirus pandemic.)
Accessing your own credit reports gives you a front-row seat to your credit repair project. But there are other ways to monitor your credit besides reading your credit report every week.
A credit monitoring service, for example, can be a powerful tool in your do-it-yourself credit repair efforts.
FREE vs. PAID CREDIT MONITORING
Personally, I like TransUnion’s credit monitoring service although it does require a subscription.
TransUnion is one of the three credit reporting agencies so I know the information I’m getting reflects one of my actual credit reports.
Experian and Equifax, the other two credit reporting agencies, also have similar services.
Step 2. Rebuild Your Credit with a Secured Credit Card
The only way to rebuild bad credit is to balance out your old, negative credit entries with new, good credit entries.
This is why DIY credit repair requires patience. It’s like turning a big cruise ship. You don’t always see the results of your good credit decisions immediately. But you have to keep making better decisions anyway.
But, you might ask since you still have bad credit, how you can possibly start making better credit decisions?
No one will give you a chance with a new account after they see your credit score, right?
That’s a very good question. Here’s the answer: You have to give yourself a chance to start making better credit decisions.
YOU’RE THE LENDER & THE BORROWER
A secured credit card provides just the tool you’ll need. With a secured credit card you provide a security deposit that insures your account.
The credit card lender won’t be taking any chances of losing money.
You’ll get a credit card that works just like any other credit card account. Except if you fail to keep up with your payments, you’ll lose money (your security deposit), not your credit card issuer.
You should use your secured card for routine purchases and then pay off the balance on time every month.
BENEFITS OF A SECURED CREDIT CARD
A secured credit card provides a great way to start building a positive payment history which comprises 35% of your FICO score, by the way.
Paying off the card each month will also help your credit utilization ratio — another 30% chunk of your FICO score.
Once you have used your secured card a few months, check your credit report (this is where the credit monitoring is important) to see how your score has changed.
Once you’ve had a secured credit card for six months or so, you may have enough positive credit history to qualify you for a regular, unsecured credit card.
By making on-time payments on your unsecured card — and keeping the balance below 30% of your credit limit — you will further improve your credit score.
I recommend opening a Primor Mastercard Secured Credit Card to get started with.
Step 3. Start Paying Down Your Debt
Now that you’re off and running building new good credit, the next step is to pay down your existing debt, even for accounts with past-due balances.
Start with your smallest debts and move to the bigger debts. Or start with the account with the highest interest rate and work your way down.
Having a strategy makes it easier to stick with your payment plans. The less debt you have (particularly credit card debt), the better your credit score can climb.
You don’t have to worry about your mortgage or car loans so much; focus especially on credit cards, personal loans, lines of credit, and other sorts of consumer debt.
KEEP SOME PAID-OFF ACCOUNTS OPEN
Lowering the amount of credit you use in relation to your available credit limits will spark growth in your credit score. So along with paying down debt, consider keeping some paid-off accounts open.
Open, paid-off accounts decrease your credit utilization rate which affects 30% of your FICO and other credit scores.
Keeping accounts open will also increase the average age of your credit accounts which affects another 10% of your FICO.
Now, if you have collection agencies contacting you about old debt and posting negative information on your credit score, you shouldn’t necessarily pay off this debt yet. Doing so won’t always help your credit score.
We’ll get into removing collection accounts and other negative items in step 4.
Step 4. Remove Negative Items On Your Credit Report
You’ll need to find those up-to-date copies of your credit reports — or download new copies at annualcreditreport.com — to complete this step.
Once you have your reports in hand or on-screen, go through them and identify the negative entries.
These negative items could include the following things:
This step is one of the most important, but it’s also one of the most difficult steps. You should start by sending your creditors goodwill letters.
A goodwill letter is different from a dispute letter. In a goodwill letter you should claim responsibility for the negative item — whether it’s a just a delinquency on your student loan or a charge-off on a major credit card.
Let the creditor know you’re working to rebuild a good credit history so you can get a new mortgage (or achieve some other financial goal.)
Ask the creditor to remove its negative information from your credit files with all three major credit bureaus.
Goodwill letters work more often than you might think; however, the creditor is under no obligation to help improve your credit profile.
FIXING INACCURATE & NEGATIVE INFORMATION
If your negative information comes from inaccurate information, you should not send a goodwill letter. Instead, send a credit dispute letter.
Let the creditor know about the mistake and ask it to correct the inaccurate information.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is part of the Federal Trade Commission, enforces the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
This legislation requires creditors and credit bureaus to report only accurate information about you.
Be sure to cite this law in your dispute letter. Once again, you’ll need to check your credit report to make sure the creditor follows through with the correction.
You can also send dispute letters to all three major credit bureaus.
REMOVING COLLECTION ACCOUNTS
Even if you pay off a debt that’s gone into collections, the collection agency won’t remove the negative item from your credit profile.
However, you could convince the collection agency to help in your credit repair process through a pay-for-delete agreement.
With this kind of agreement — which you must get in writing before paying anything — you can make your debt payment contingent upon the collection agency removing its account from your credit score.
You’ll need to negotiate this deal on the phone but be sure you have a written agreement in hand before mailing your check.
By the way, you don’t always have to pay the full amount. You could offer to pay half the account balance, and the collection agency may take you up on your offer.
ASKING FOR PROFESSIONAL HELP
If your credit repair process is complex — or if you’d rather not spend time calling creditors and checking for changes on your credit report — consider hiring a professional credit repair company.
I suggest you check out Lexington Law Credit Repair. This firm excels at removing incorrect information from your credit profile quickly and efficiently.
You’d have to pay a monthly subscription fee, but your new and improved credit score could help you save even more money by avoiding higher interest rates on loans.
BE WARY OF SCAMS
Getting negative information removed from your credit reports can resuscitate your credit score within a month which qualifies as “overnight” in the credit reporting world.
If you come across a credit repair company that promises to remove negative information right away you may be dealing with a scam artist.
Same goes for a credit repair company promising to remove accurate information from your credit report.
First of all, a credit repair company shouldn’t promise you anything. Credit repair is more of an art than a science.
So if an offer sounds too good to be true, listen to your instinct. Don’t share your Social Security number or even your phone number. Report the company to the FTC.
Step 5. Apply for a Major Credit Card
Your road to better credit is almost complete. The final step is to apply for a major credit card.
But don’t apply for an unsecured credit card until you’re pretty sure your application will be approved.
Applying for new credit creates a hard inquiry on your credit report. Too many hard inquiries within a year can pull down your score.
Approval for credit cards relies almost exclusively on your credit score. So you may need to read a credit card account’s fine print to find it’s minimum credit score requirements.
Since you’re monitoring your credit score you’ll know whether or not you could get approved for the card.
Like I said above, in Step 2, making regular payments and keeping your credit card balances below 30% of your available credit limit will help your credit score continue to climb.
You’re on the right track. Stick with it. Well done!