With the economic crisis having decimated the budgets of millions of families, many are wondering if it’s possible to improve your credit report and FICO® score. And while some have seen their credit scores decline as they fell behind with mortgage payments and credit card bills, the damages can be repaired. Yes, you can improve your credit report and FICO® score, but it’s not as simple as some of the scam artists would have you believe.
The first step is to get copies of your credit report from the major credit reporting agencies; and the credit reporting agencies are mandated to provide you with a free copy of your report annually. This is not one of the so-called “free” reports you see advertised on TV—those are only free if you subscribe to their service; and that’s not free. Your free credit reports are only available at: www.annualcreditreport.com. And while you’re checking you may want to purchase a copy of your FICO® score. It will be offered to you by when you order your report from Equifax.
The FICO® score is the only legitimate credit score. Other scores offered by the various credit bureaus are inconsistent with the FICO® score and are generally not considered by lenders. Don’t waste time or money with the scores offered by the other credit bureaus; pay for the same score lenders use.
The three major credit reporting agencies are:
P.O. Box 740123
Atlanta, GA 30374
475 Anton Blvd.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
P.O. Box 7000
North Olmstead, OH 44070
After reviewing your credit reports and correcting any errors you find, it’s time to begin the steps that will improve your credit score. A great place to get started is with www.Mint.com, a website that offers FREE money management software. With tools that allow users to track their spending, the website connects to thousands of financial institutions. Offering a wealth of services and options, Mint will help you begin learning how to live more frugally. You may also want to check out www.BudgetTracker.com, another site that I’ve found helpful.
Now you’re ready to follow the simple steps of commitment, creativity, planning and patience.
COMMITMENT: Restoring your credit requires a commitment to your plan and to your monthly budget. Don’t be tempted by purchases that will get you “off track.” Stick to your plan regardless of the temptations that arise.
CREATIVITY: Look for ways creative ways to lower your monthly expenses such as: brown-bagging, car-pooling, getting rid of cable TV, home phones or other items that are not necessities. Visit websites such as www.TheFrugalGuru.com for additional money saving ideas.
PLANNING: Improving your credit means that you have a plan and that you follow it. Part of your plan is a budget that requires constant monitoring and updating. And when you become aware of future needs, plan those expenditures so they don’t disrupt your budget.
PATIENCE: Restoring your credit takes time. Depending upon the amount of damage done, it could be a couple of years or more before you begin to see a significant improvement. But don’t fall for those scam artists that advertise immediate restoration of credit; it can’t be done—at least not legally. Unless there are gross errors on your credit report, restoring it won’t happen overnight.
Additional Credit Tips:
Limit your requests for credit. If you are just starting out and attempting to establish credit for the first time, don't open several new accounts in rapid succession. New accounts lower your average account age, which can significantly impact your score, especially if your credit history is slim. Additionally, opening several accounts within a short time makes you appear as a high risk.
Avoid multiple inquiries into your credit history. If you are shopping for the best rate on for a particular purchase (furniture, appliances, auto or home mortgage) try to do your rate shopping within a short time period. Credit scores are not generally affected by multiple inquiries for the same purpose if they occur within a short period.
Always pay your bills on time. I recommend using your banks’ bill paying service—they’re much less likely to miss payments, and if they do, you’ll have a record of ordering the payment on time. Make sure your bank offers the service as part of your checking account. There should be no extra charge for bill pay; and you shouldn’t really pay for normal checking either. If your bank doesn’t offer a free checking that meets your needs, look at the offerings from competitors.
Pay off high interest credit cards first by applying as much as possible to the balance while paying minimums on other cards.
Maintain the lowest possible balances on credit cards or other “revolving credit” accounts. A high debt to credit limit will lower your credit score.
Once a credit card balance is paid in full, don’t close the account; keeping it open actually improves your score. However, don’t apply for additional cards just to increase your available credit; opening multiple accounts could reduce your score.
For those who are overwhelmed by debts and so far underwater that budgeting seems impossible, check with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org), a non-profit agency providing financial counseling throughout the country. They can provide an honest analysis of your financial situation and will help you get back on track. But, avoid those services that advertise debt consolidation, many are scams that will only leave you in worse financial shape.
Finally, the best advice for improving your credit is to manage your use of credit responsibly. Use credit only when necessary and pay all your bills on time. And once you’re back on track, begin a program of regular savings. Loan officers love to see a program of regular savings for it demonstrates stability and a commitment to your financial future.