How to Repair my Credit on my Own
There is no shortage of credit repair solutions aimed at bad credit borrowers. Designed to carefully build your credit without resorting to debt relief options like debt settlement and debt consolidation, credit repair is effective and relatively easy. However, if you go through credit repair companies then it can also be expensive, and unnecessarily so, as they have the same rights and abilities as you do.
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By choosing to do it yourself, you can save yourself a lot of time, money, and stress, avoiding potentially expensive charges and scams. With that said, let’s look at the ways you can repair your credit and look forward to a future of lower interest rates, higher credit limits, and better opportunities.
What is Credit Repair?
Every time you apply for a loan or open a line of credit, a trade line, also known as a credit line, is added to your credit report.
A credit line contains all credit information pertaining to that account, including every successful and missed payment, every default, and every collection. This information is used to establish your credit score, which in turn is used by lenders to determine whether you’re worthy of a new credit card, student loan, personal loan or secured loan.
Your financial future relies on this data, but even if you pay on time, maintain a respectable payment history and build a good credit score, you’re still susceptible to mistakes and identity fraud, which can leave a major blemish on your credit report and make it difficult to establish credit accounts in the future.
That’s where credit repair comes in. It aims to remove information that shouldn’t be on your credit report and allow you to build and grow. You can pay a company to perform this service for you, but they can charge upwards of $100 a month. They may also promise to remove all or most negative information from your credit report, but this is a promise they can’t keep, and you should be wary of any company that offers this service.
In fact, you don’t need any credit repair company to help you with this. You can do it all yourself with minimal effort and fuss.
What Can Credit Repair Help You With?
Contrary to what a credit repair agency may tell you, there’s no way to remove late payments or a collection account from your credit report unless they have been added by mistake. However, there are some other negative items that can be removed, some of which are just as damaging as any marks left by a collection agency:
- Credit accounts that were not created by you
- Hard inquiries not initiated by you
- Incorrectly dated accounts
- Debt that cannot be verified
- Debts and marks that should have disappeared
These incorrect additions can be the result of innocent mistakes, as well as identity theft. Both of these can reduce your credit score, but the latter tends to do more damage.
It can take some time and effort to remove these from your account, but you have the law on your side. The Fair Credit Reporting Act, created by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), insists that all information added to your credit report is accurate.
You have the right to be heard, to send a dispute letter and have your credit fixed. With that in mind, let’s look at the steps you need to take to tackle this issue yourself.
1. Get a Free Credit Report
The first step is to check your credit report to understand where you stand and what needs to be done. You are entitled to a free credit report at least once a year from all of the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, Experian). If there are any mistakes on your credit report, then move onto the next step. If your report is in good standing and all the information is correct, you can skip ahead to number 3.
All credit reporting agencies use the same credit scores (FICO Score and VantageScore) and record most of the same information. However, there can be discrepancies between them and it’s important to repair all of them.
Get a free copy of your credit report from all three credit bureaus and scan your credit history (new accounts, charge-off information, loan data) as well as your personal information (Social Security Number, Name, Address).
You can get these free copies from annualcreditreport.com, which is backed by the federal government and simplifies the process.
2. Dispute Errors
If you find any errors on your credit report, you need to dispute them. You can’t dispute a missed payment if you actually missed that payment, even if you are really remorseful and promise to never do it again. But you can dispute incorrect accounts, payment data, and personal information.
The first step to filing a dispute is to gather all your evidence, proving that a mistake was made. The credit reporting agency won’t change anything without this proof. It doesn’t matter how trivial you think the proof is, everything should be included to avoid issues and further requests in the future.
Print a copy of your credit report, highlight the mistake, write an accompanying letter outlining the issue, and attach your proof. Click this link to find further details and use the relevant phone number below to get more details:
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 1-800-916-8800
- Equifax: 800-685-1111
3. Remember that Time is on Your Side
While you can’t remove missed and late payments if they were actually missed or late, these will disappear from your credit report after a period of time. Generally, you need to wait 7 years for a negative mark to disappear from your credit report, but it will stop having a significant impact on your credit score after just a few years.
As for hard inquiries, these will disappear after just two years and will stop impacting your score after 12 months. By continuing to meet your payments, you can strengthen your payment history and bide your time until all these negative marks stop reducing your credit score.
Your payment history accounts for a larger percentage of your credit score than anything else, but it’s also the only thing that can’t be improved quickly but can be damaged in an instant.
For example, when you meet your monthly payments, you’re only doing what is expected of you and your score will improve by very little as a result. But if you miss a single payment, it will take a hit and could drop by up to 100 points.
4. Improve Your Credit
Biding your time isn’t the only way to improve your credit score. There are a few ways you can bring that score back up faster after completing credit repair, including:
- New Credit: Avoid applying for any new credit, especially if it carries a high-interest rate. Your credit score will take a hit because it’s a new account and will proceed with a hard inquiry.
- Stick with Secured Credit: The only exception to the above is if you don’t have any credit accounts to build credit in the first place. In this case, a new credit card account can help, but it’s better to stick with a secured credit card as it carries less risk and should have less of an impact on your credit score.
- Improve Credit Utilization: Your credit utilization ratio counts for 30% of your credit score. It compares total available credit to used debt, and the lower it is, the better. You can improve this ratio by paying off your debt but you can also increase your credit limits, which doesn’t reduce your credit score.
- Pay off Debt: Finally, and most importantly, you can improve your credit score by repaying your debt. Increase your monthly earnings, use any windfalls you have, and put more money towards your debts every month.
Summary: Stop Burying Your Heard
It’s easy to bury your head in the sand and hope things will pass or just put everything off for another day. But the longer you leave it, the more damage it will do. This is not something you can put off, so keep these tips in mind, get your free credit reports and start disputing those errors and cleaning up your credit report today.
If you’re worried about identity theft going forward, sign up for a credit monitoring service, which will alert you when new accounts are added to your report and there are suspicions of fraud.