Credit scores have been one of the biggest victims of the financial crisis and the recession. Unfortunately, that number can determine not only whether you can get credit and what interest rates you’ll pay but they can also affect your insurance premiums and even your ability to get a job.
Here some steps to take if you want to repaid and protect your credit:
1) Fix any errors in your credit report.
It’s bad enough if you’ve made your share of mistakes in the past so you certainly don’t want to be penalized for ones you didn’t make as well. About 70% of credit reports have them so there’s a good chance at least one of yours does too. You can get a free copy of each of your 3 credit reports every 12 months, at annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228. Once you get your report, you can then correct any errors you find that could be hurting your score.
2) Catch up on any missed payments.
If you’re having trouble making payments, you can try to work out a payment plan with your creditors or consult a non-profit credit counseling agency to negotiate on your behalf.
3) Make sure your payments are on time going forward.
After all, payment history is the biggest factor in calculating your credit score. You might also be able to get letters of recommendation from these companies when you apply for credit. For those reasons, you may want to consider having your payments automatically deducted from your checking account. Just be sure not to overdraw the account. If you do miss a payment, contact the creditor as soon as possible andaskif they would be willing to remove the late payment from your account as a courtesy and gesture of good will.
4) You can’t build a positive credit history if you don’t have any credit.
The problem is that it takes credit to get credit. A good place to begin would be to see if your bank will allow you to open a secured credit card. These cards require you to deposit an amount of money usually equal to the credit limit into a special savings account that the bank can collect any missed payments from. This helps to minimize the bank’s risk so it’s relatively easy to get but there’s a chance you may still need a co-signer to qualify.
5) After a few months of making timely payments, try to upgrade to an unsecured card.
Department store cards are a good place to start because they’re usually easier to qualify for. Pay your balance in full and on time each month and then try applying for a regular bank credit card in 6-12 months.
6) The next most important factor is the amount of your credit that you use.
Pay down as much of your credit card debt as possible and avoid closing credit cards because what matters is the amount you owe as a percentage of your total amount of credit. However, opening a lot of accounts in a short period of time to increase your available credit could actually hurt your score.
7) Avoid closing credit cards that you’ve had a long time.
This can negatively impact the third factor: the length of your credit history. If you have a card with an annual fee, request to switch the card to one without a fee instead.
8) Inquiries for new credit can also damage your score.
If you need a loan, shop for it within a focused period of time. A search for a single loan within a short period is looked at more favorably than searches for many new lines of credit.
9) To help protect your credit, consider contacting each credit bureau to put a security freeze on your credit.
This prevents opening a new line of credit in your name until you unfreeze it and is generally more effective than using a temporary fraud alert. Depending on your state, freezing your credit would cost just $10 or less per bureau and up to another $10 to unfreeze it. Even a credit freeze isn’t fool-proof though so you might also want to purchase a more comprehensive identity theft protection service.