OK, your credit is terrible. That burns for sure. But don’t get too down. You’re one of millions … and millions (meaning, it happens). Plus, there are plenty of things you can do to get rid of that terrible score.
Really? Great, How Can I Fix my Credit?
You can start by figuring out what specifically is wrong with it. Bad credit can be attributed to a variety of factors, most of which are related directly to your spending habits. Missed a bill, see your credit score drop. Carried high credit card balances, lose some more points. Applied for too much credit, incur another ding. And so forth and so on.
To course correct, you’ll need to decipher what negative information is weighing down your score — and take steps to directly address it. Our free credit report snapshot can help you with that. You’ll get a letter grade for how you’re doing in each major credit scoring category — payment history, credit utilization, credit history, mix of accounts and credit inquires — plus some clear directives on what you can do to improve.
While you’re at it, go ahead and pull your free credit reports from each major credit reporting agency at AnnualCreditReport.com. Your bad credit can be the result of errors on your credit file. They’re more common than you think, and they happen for a variety of reasons. Files get mixed, old debts get re-aged, creditors furnish the wrong data or identity theft strikes. If your credit is truly abysmal, it’s worth doing a full audit so, at best, you identify any errors that are needlessly holding you down or, at worst, pinpoint all the negative line items you need to clean up on your credit reports.
Got it. What Next?
Address your big credit-score killers. If you’ve got errors, dispute ‘em. If your debts are way too high, pay them down. If there’s an account in collections that you legitimately owe, pay if off. If you’re behind on your credit card payments, get that account out of delinquency. The sooner you address your core score issues, the faster the healing process can begin.
Wait a Minute. How Long Will This Credit Fixing Take?
Well, that’s the thing. In most cases, your credit isn’t going to go from bad to good overnight. Negative information, like missed payments, collection accounts or charge-offs, can take up to seven years to age off your credit report, even if you’ve shored up those accounts and/or got out of default. Most bankruptcies can actually take ten years to fall off your file. So, if your credit is terrible because of a big old misstep (or a bunch of little ones), your plan for fixing your credit is going to take patience.
What if My Bad Credit Is Not My Fault?
Meaning you have errors on your credit report? Well, that’s something you should be able to address in 30 to 45 days. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit reporting agencies have 30 days to resolve credit disputes though, in some cases, that window can be extended to 45 days. If the bureaus can’t confirm the accuracy of the info you’re disputing or straight up learn it’s inaccurate, the item must be removed from your credit report(s) within that timeframe.
Something to note: Disputing credit report errors can be one of the quickest ways to fix your credit, yes, but the process can still be arduous, particularly if you’ve got more than one error on more than one credit report. For instance, you’ll have to dispute each one separately with each credit bureau — and some disputes are considered less cut and dry than others. In other words, there are instances where the creditor or the bureau will dispute the dispute. If you’re staring at a boatload of errors, we can help with a little DIY credit repair. You can also go here to learn how to find a reputable credit repair company that can dispute errors for you.
Are There Other Any Quick(ish) Credit Fixes?
Yes, actually. If your score is weighed down by credit card debt, you could see a bump in about a month or so if you pay a big chunk of it off. Credit utilization — how much you debt you’re carrying versus how much credit has been extended to you — is the second most important factor among credit scores. And given that credit card issuers report your balances every 30 days or so (usually in line with your statement billing date), it’s one of the easiest issues to address. At least from a credit reporting standpoint. Coming up with the money to pay down that debt is admittedly another story. (Psst, we’ve got some tips for paying off those pesky credit card balances.)
There are a few other things that could give your credit score a quick boost. For instance, you might benefit from paying off a collection account. Most scoring models weigh unpaid collections more heavily than paid ones, and some newer scores even ignore paid collections entirely. Beyond that, if missed student loan payments are your credit score’s problem, look into deferment or forbearance, which can help get prior delinquencies off of your credit report.
Are You Sure All of This Will Work? My Credit Is Truly Awful.
OK, let’s talk about what constitutes “truly awful” credit for a minute. Most credit scores (because, yup, there are many) use a range of 300 to 850, with 300 being the worst and 850 being the best credit score you can actually get.
Now it’s highly unlikely that you have a 300 credit score. According to data pulled for Credit.com in March 2017 by credit bureau TransUnion, only 0.01% of the 294 million “scoreable” consumers in the U.S. had one. (FYI: a “scoreable” consumer is someone who has enough information on their credit report to generate a VantageScore 3.0. Per TransUnion, 4.28% of the population is not scoreable.) That 0.01% means only about 29,400 people had the worst credit score at the time the data was pulled. (You can find more on those numbers —including what percentage of the population has the best credit score you can net.)
That doesn’t mean you should start rejoicing if you’re not one of them. Any score below 600 is considered bad credit. And, really, if your score is less than 650, you’re probably going to have a hard time getting a loan — at least at an affordable rate.
Having said all that, there isn’t any scenario you can’t ultimately bounce back from — even if you are ever faced with that dreaded 300. Take bankruptcy, the Big Bad of credit reports, for example. According to a FICO study, a person with a 680 FICO score prior to filing for bankruptcy would return to that same score roughly five years after the fact, so long as they got their ducks in a row. OK, five years is a long time, but it sure beats ten, and it does go to show you’re not necessarily stuck with terrible credit. You can get it to go away.
Got it … How Do I Fix My Credit Forever?
Make all your loan payments on time, keep your debt levels low (less than at least 30% and ideally 10% of your total credit limits), and keep the new credit inquiries to a minimum while your score rebounds. Once you’re a pro at all of the above, you can add a mix of accounts (a credit card, mortgage, auto loan, etc.) as your score and wallet can handle them. Oh, and be sure to continuously check your credit for errors or even legitimate line items (like that utility bill you never paid back in college) that can pop up and damage your efforts.
This article has been updated. It originally ran on January 20, 2017.