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If your scores are above 760, you’re probably already getting the best rates. If they’re anywhere below that mark, though, they could stand some improvement. So here are the nine steps you can take to speedy credit repair:
1. Get a credit card if you don’t have one
Don’t fall for the myth that you have to carry a balance to have good scores. You don’t, and you shouldn’t. But having and using a credit card or two can really build your scores. If you can’t qualify for a regular credit card, consider a secured credit card, where the issuing bank gives you a credit line equal to the deposit you make. Look for a card that reports to all three credit bureaus
2. Add an installment loan to the mix
You’ll get the fastest improvement in your scores if you show you’re responsible with both major kinds of credit: revolving (credit cards) and installment (personal loans, auto, mortgages and student loans).
If you don’t already have an installment loan on your credit reports, consider adding a small personal loan that you can pay back over time. Again, you’ll want the loan to be reported to all three bureaus, and you’ll probably get the best deal from a community bank or credit union.
3. Pay down your credit cards
Paying off your installment loans (mortgage, auto, student, etc.) can help your scores but typically not as dramatically as paying down — or paying off — revolving accounts such as credit cards. Lenders like to see a big gap between the amount of credit you’re using and your available credit limits. Getting your balances below 30% of the credit limit on each card can really help; getting balances below 10% is even better. Though most debt gurus recommend paying off the highest-rate card first, a better strategy here is to pay down the cards that are closest to their limits.
4. Use your cards lightly
Racking up big balances can hurt your scores, regardless of whether you pay your bills in full each month. What’s typically reported to the credit bureaus, and thus calculated into your scores, are the balances reported on your last statements.
You often can increase your scores by limiting your charges to 30% or less of a card’s limit; 10% is even better. If you’re having trouble keeping track, you can set up e-mail or text alerts with your credit card companies to let you know when you’re approaching a limit you’ve set. If you regularly use more than half your limit on a card, consider using other cards to ease the load or try making a payment before the statement closing date to reduce the balance that’s reported to the bureaus. Just make sure to make a second payment between the closing date and the due date, so you don’t get reported as late.
5. Dust off an old card
The older your credit history, the better. But if you stop using your oldest cards, the issuers may decide to close the accounts or stop updating them to the credit bureaus. The accounts may still appear, but they won’t be given as much weight in the credit-scoring formula as your active accounts, said Craig Watts, an executive at Fair Isaac, the company that created the FICO score. So you might want to charge a recurring bill to one of those little-used accounts or take them out for dinner and a movie occasionally — always, of course, paying off the balance in full.
6. Dispute old negatives
Say that fight with your phone company over an unfair bill a few years ago resulted in a collections account. The older and smaller a collection account, the more likely the collection agency will agree to remove it. Some consumers also have had luck disputing old items with a lender that has merged with another company, which can leave lender records a real mess.
7. Blitz significant errors
Your credit scores are calculated based on the information in your credit reports, so certain errors there can really cost you. But not everything that’s reported in your files matters to your scores.
Here’s the stuff that’s usually worth the effort of correcting with the bureaus:
Late payments, charge-offs, collections or other negative items that aren’t yours.
Credit limits reported as lower than they actually are.
Accounts listed as “settled,” “paid derogatory,” “paid charge-off” or anything other than “current” or “paid as agreed” if you paid on time and in full.
Accounts that are still listed as unpaid that were included in a bankruptcy.
Negative items older than seven years (10 in the case of bankruptcy) that should have automatically fallen off your reports.
You actually have to be a bit careful with this last one, because sometimes scores actually go down when bad items fall off your reports. It’s a quirk in the FICO credit-scoring software, and the potential effect of eliminating old negative items is difficult to predict.
Some of the stuff that you typically shouldn’t worry about includes:
Various misspellings of your name.
Outdated or incorrect address information.
An old employer listed as current.
If the misspelled name or incorrect address is because of identity theft or because your file has been mixed up with someone else’s, that should be obvious when you look at your accounts. You’ll see delinquencies or accounts that aren’t yours and should report that immediately. However, if it’s just a goof by the credit bureau or one of the companies reporting to it, it’s usually not worth sweating.
Two more items you don’t need to correct:
Accounts you closed listed as being open.
Accounts you closed that don’t say “closed by consumer.”
Closing an account can’t help your scores and may hurt them. If your goal is boosting your scores, leave these alone. Once an account has been closed, though, it doesn’t matter to the scoring formulas who did it — you or the lender. If you messed up the account, it will be obvious from the late payments and other derogatory information included in the file.
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