A bad credit score can keep you from getting the loans and credit cards you want, force you to pay higher interest rates and even prevent you from renting an apartment or securing utility services. However, the good news is that it’s usually possible to fix bad credit and improve your score. Taking steps like reviewing your reports for errors, paying your bills on time and lowering your debt can help you raise your credit score and become eligible for more favorable loan and credit card offers in the future.
If you’re trying to repair bad credit, the first thing you need to do is get a clear picture of your credit history by pulling your credit reports from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Carefully review each report for accuracy, and be sure to follow instructions on disputing errors that you find. The three major credit bureaus are legally obligated to investigate your claim and correct any incorrect information in your reports, at no charge to you.
Once you’ve reviewed your reports, focus on making all of your payments on time from now on. Late payments hurt your credit scores the most, and they typically stay on your credit reports for 7 1/2 years. If you have any delinquent accounts, bring them up to date and put them on autopay to ensure that they’re paid on time going forward. You should also lower the amount of debt you’re carrying by focusing on paying down balances rather than charging new purchases to credit cards. If you have to use a credit card, choose one with a low APR and only use it to pay down the balance.
It can take a while to repair bad credit, especially if you’ve made mistakes in the past. However, your credit scores should start to rise as soon as you begin accumulating positive credit activity that outweighs negative items in your history. The time it takes to reach fair credit or better will vary depending on the severity of your past missteps and how recent they were.
It’s not uncommon for people to try to pay off bad credit by hiring a company that claims to have a fast, guaranteed way to fix bad credit. However, most credit repair companies do little more than attempting to delete inaccurate information from your credit reports, which is something you can do yourself for free. Plus, these efforts often backfire and actually cause your credit scores to go down. Ultimately, fixing bad credit or building credit for the first time takes a commitment to responsible behavior and some patience.