Credit Score

How Fast Can You Rebuild Your Credit?

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Credit.com reader Tanya wrote us recently with this question:

My score is 606. At this moment, I only have a Macy’s card with a limit of $100. Divorced 5 years ago, when my ex filed bankruptcy and included the house we had together. At that moment, had credit card debts of $6k (Discover), $2k (Sam’s Club) and a couple of debts of under $1k. Since then, I only pay with cash or debit card. How can I raise my score, fast? I would like to buy a property, but I have no idea how to.

While the first thing to grab your attention in her question might have been the ex’s bankruptcy, the property she wants to buy, or that Tanya now pays with cash or debit card only; what jumped out at me was not only that she wanted her score raised, but that she wanted it raised fast.

It should come as no surprise that a number as important as a credit score will often cause people to try almost anything to raise that number as high and as fast as humanly possible. And Tanya is to be commended for apparently not falling for any of the many scams that promise fast credit repair.

So, why is her score only 606? Clearly her low score is being haunted by the mortgage included in her ex’s bankruptcy, some credit card debt, and, since she hasn’t been using credit, a lack of recent positive credit history.

With an eye toward rebuilding Tanya’s credit as fast as possible, the following tips should provide an effective strategy for anyone trying build a good credit score:

1. Make sure your credit reports are accurate.

If a recent FTC study has taught us anything, it’s to get your credit reports at least annually and make sure all of the credit information that impacts a credit score is accurate. A good source of credit reports from each of the big three reporting agencies is AnnualCreditReport.com, where the reports are free annually from each agency. And also for free, you can follow your credit report and score monthly with a Free Credit Report Card from Credit.com.

2. Make your payments on time and drive your debt down.

Bring all accounts current and stay current with your monthly payments. For any accounts you’re unable to bring current, contact the lender to make payment arrangements. If you have multiple problem accounts, a debt management plan (DMP) with a non-profit credit counseling agency can resolve both the payment history and debt related problems keeping your score down. Or if you can go it alone, you can raise your score by aggressively reducing your credit card debt while paying no more than the monthly minimum on mortgage, auto and student loans.

3. Start developing a positive credit history.

As I’ve written before, one of the best actions you can take for your score, based on one of the least understood scoring facts, is to add some recent positive credit history to the older bad credit. This shows that you’re currently managing credit successfully, not just avoiding it. One of the best ways to get back into the credit world — which, like it or not, you’ll have to do if you want to buy property one day — a secured card (or two), paid off each month and showing a statement balance of less than ten percent of the credit limit, will go a long way toward proactively helping to raise your score.

Tanya’s Fast Solution

Despite her ex’s bankruptcy and previously high credit card balances, Tanya could see a higher score simply by substituting a secured credit card (or two) for the cash and debit card she’s currently using instead of credit. And if she can reduce her credit card debt, she could be in the 700+ club within the next year or two, which, considering how long it took Tanya to arrive at her current credit situation, is actually pretty fast.

Image: iStockphoto

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  • Al Stanley

    Hi Barry Paperno my name is Al Stanley I have a question on my credit score. I would like to know why is it when I pay my credit card on time and it seems that it don’t get a good credit score I had this credit card for a few years I would like to know why my credit score is still in the high 600.

    • Barry Paperno

      Hi Al,
      I have a few questions for you:
      – Can you tell me your approximate balance and credit limit on the credit card(s) as of your last statement date?
      – I know you said you pay on time, but have you made any late payments in the past few years on any credit account appearing on your credit report?
      – Are there any collections, tax liens, or judgments on your credit report?

      Usually for a score in the 600s, there are either some late payments, other negative items, or high credit card utilization (balance/limit ratio). Let me know and we’ll figure this out!

      -Barry

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  • S. Stewart

    Hi Barry,
    I had to file bk in 2012 because my son did not payoff several loans he ask me to make for him
    Prior this mistake my credit was very good.I still have an American Express Card ,Khols Card ,Macy’s Card and a lease with Nissan Infinity. What should I do to rebuild? Thank you

    • Barry Paperno

      Hi S. Stewart, Are any of those cards still open? If so, keep them active by charging and paying them off each month if possible. If they’ve been closed, get a secured credit card that reports to all three credit bureaus. Again, charge something and pay it off each month, as there’s no benefit to your score from carrying a balance from month to month.

      That Nissan lease should be helping your score by adding some positive credit history each month. Keep it going for the full term.

      Then it’s just going to take some patience along with the rebuilding, and, depending on how many of your son’s loans were included in the bankruptcy – fewer the better – by adding positive credit history each month your score should climb to respectability – 700+ – within the next 3-5 years.

      -Barry

      • sharon

        Hi Barry My credit score is 555 and i had a bankrupcy in 2004 and its still on my reprt and i have some credit in collection for about 1350.00 and i recently bought a car and have a loan and paid 5 paments on it on time and was wondering how long will it take to go up i dont have any credit cards i have a Dots credit card and pay it on time…what should i do to in crease my credit score higher?

        • Gerri Detweiler

          Hi Sharon – It sounds like you filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy which will no longer be reported after next year (10 years after filing). The first thing I would suggest you do is get your free credit score from Credit.com https://www.credit.com/free-credit-score/signup-easy/ since it will explain the factors that are affecting your scores. It will also allow you to monitor your score each month to see if it’s getting better or worse.

          You may want to get a secured credit card, so that in addition to the car loan you have another account reporting. We’ve written about that here: http://blog.credit.com/2013/03/credit-cards-to-rebuild-credit-how-to-pick-one/

          Hope that helps!

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  • Tim A

    HI, I have had a bad history with credit, now im 26 and realize how important that stupid 3 digit number really is. I recently got a secured card, and also took out a secured loan. Its been a couple of months and i been paying on time. I also recently got a car loan, with a very high interest rate..I thought i am going to have to pay a higher interest rate since its my first car loan so i sucked it up and took it. I am wondering what else can i do to show lenders that i am credit worthy. I really want my score to go up and i want it to go up fast. Thanks.

    • Barry Paperno

      Hi Tim, It looks to me like you’re doing all the right things already. What was your credit score the last time you checked? Sorry to hear about the high interest rate on the car loan, but as long as both the card and loan are being reported to the credit bureaus, they are helping your score. Going forward, I’d suggest being as patient as you can be by not applying for anything new for about a year, while focusing entirely on paying the card and loan on time – including paying the balances on the secured card in full each month without incurring finance charges. Hopefully, a year from now your score should qualify you for a department store or other retail card to add to the mix. And, also depending on your score and income, you may be able to refi the car at a better rate. Good job so far! -Barry

  • Denny Matthews

    I was working with First Premier Bank to rebuild my credit. I was paying 59.90% APR. I had their credit card for over 2 and a half years. I asked them for a lesser APR and was told that the contract was for 59.90% APR. I decided to close that account because I felt that after 2 and a half years I deserved a better APR. After thinking about it, I wanted to keep their card, but they said that I closed my account. They always tell you that they appreciate your business and that they are there to help you. They are a crock of, well you know what I had in my mind to say. My credit score is 516. I have a better score with my business credit!

    The secured credit cards are suppose to be better than a prepaid card, but in reality, they are no different than a prepaid card. Capital One Bank is full of crap!

    • http://www.credit.com Barry Paperno

      Hi Denny, No one deserves an almost-60% APR! But you can avoid the interest and help your credit utilization (balance/limit ratio) by paying the balance in full each month within the 25 day grace period. Did you pay it off before closing it? If not, you may want to talk to them about re-opening it after paying the balance in full, and then continuing to charge and pay it off monthly.

      I have to correct your comment about secured cards being no different than a prepaid card. They are very different. First, like a debit card, when using the prepaid card you’re spending your own money that has been “loaded” into the card. With a secured card, even though you put down a deposit as collateral, you don’t ever “spend” that money. Rather, you typically have credit limit in the amount of that deposit, and can charge any amount up to that limit, making small monthly payments or paying in full each month – just as with an unsecured card. The deposit only gets spent if you default on what you’ve charged. Otherwise, it’s returned to you at some point. Also, an important distinction between prepaid and secured is that secured cards are reported to the credit bureaus, enabling you to rebuild your credit; whereas prepaid cards, again like debit cards, do not appear on your credit reports and cannot help build credit. -Barry

    • Single Girl In Chicago

      Sorry to hear about your situation. I was going to try First Premier but went with a more reputable financial institution, Bank of America. I got their secured credit card a year ago and it has done wonders for my credit score. Capital One and Wells Fargo both have secured credit cards now. I suggest anyone go with well known financial institutions and not with First Premier or We Give U Credit.com.

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  • maria tecuatl

    Hello Barry,
    I am 24yrs old with a credit score of 579 which is really bad. I made bad credit choices a few years ago and now I don’t know what to do to fix them. I leased a car that I could not afford and it ended with a repossesion. Honda sent me a bill for 4k and I did not have that kind of money. That account went to collections and this year in February I was able to settle it with the collection agency. Can I contact honda to remove the repo from my credit report? Also, I opened a share certificate with my credit union with 5k and got a CD secured loan on it. I have a 500 credit card with normally a 400 balance on it and I’m joint on a secured credit card with a limit of 1000. I have store credit cards for victorias secret, express, and new york and company which I don’t use at all. Is it a good idea to close them? I have a couple unpaid collection account from years ago. Can I just leave those on there? I would really appreciate any advice you can give me.

  • Lupita

    Hello Barry,
    I fell behind on student loans and was 90 days past due. I also have two medical bills in collections. I tried applying for a credit card to help my score but was denied. My score is 555. I finally was able to get a credit card from capital one. I contacted all those collections agencies and the student loans through mail. Do you recommend I pay it off in a lump sum or pay it off monthly payments? Also, what else do you recommend I do to raise my score asap?

  • Vincenzo

    HI Barry,
    Ive had a bankruptcy in 2002, and its still there, Its been over ten years now. Also, Due to financial difficulties from health over the past year, I fell into credit card , I had three low one’s 300. each and they fell into collections. Also, I have ONE Now orchard with 300, its now called capital one, that one is ok, and also my paypal credit is ok, also only 250., I try to use prepaid for my bills now.
    My Fico is 520, Horrible !!!!
    If I settle with the three bad one’s and pay them off since theyre already closed, they offered me low settlement. and If I use my capital one card , lets say once a month for a metrocard , and pay it on time and in full for lets say six months, will that improve my fico, or make it worse, sine those three cards are closed already???? Please advise.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Vincenzo — The best advice would be to settle the collection accounts and then focus on managing the one secured card impeccably. This means keeping all of your payments on time — every time, keeping the balances extremely low (less than 10% of the credit limit), and to continue this credit management pattern long-term. Six months is a good start but realistically, based on your previous history, it’s going to take more than 6 months of positive patterns before you’ll begin to see any significant improvement.

      Because the accounts are already in collection status, settling the debts for less isn’t going to hurt your credit scores any more than they’re already suffering. Keep in mind, however, that settling them won’t help improve your scores –but it will help clear the debts and keep them from making things worse. (You can read more about this topic here: Will Settling a Collection Hurt My Credit?)

      With credit scores, it’s impossible to improve them over night (or even in six months) when there are very recent serious delinquencies and a history of bankruptcy. If the bankruptcy is more than 10 years old, you’ll want to dispute the account to have it removed from your credit reports. (For more info on how long bankruptcies can be reported, see When Will My Bankruptcy Stop Staining My Credit Reports?)

      To help you through the dispute process, Credit.com offers two excellent resources that outline everything you need to know in order to dispute the error and have it corrected:

      A Step-by-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Errors
      How to Write an Effective Credit Report Dispute Letter

      Keep in mind that the two recent collections are going to hurt for a while and because credit scores place so much emphasis on the most recent 24 months, it’s going to take a good 12-24 months before you begin to see any significant results from your efforts. I know this isn’t the answer you were looking for (there isn’t a quick fix), but it’s important to understand the process and have realistic expectations going in.

      Once you’ve addressed the past due collections, you’ll be able to focus your efforts on improving your credit and credit scores. If you really want to rebuild your credit, we highly recommend you start with the following educational resources from Credit.com:

      The Ultimate Guide to Credit Scores
      How to Rebuild Your Credit
      A Secured Card Can Help You Rebuild Your Credit
      7 Tips to Improve Your Credit Score After Bankruptcy
      How Long Does Negative Info Stay on My Credit Report

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Hi Nathan – before you commit to using a credit repair company, we’d encourage you to read “Do I Need a Credit Repair Agency?” just to make sure you understand how credit repair companies work and understand what you’re paying for upfront. If you’re trying to remove credit errors, the following resources can help (and they’re 100% free):

    A Step-by-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes
    8 Rules of an Effective Credit Report Dispute Letter

    And finally, if you’d like to learn more about improving your credit scores and rebuilding from past credit problems, here are a few excellent resources to get you started:

    How to Rebuild Your Credit
    11 Tips to Rebuild Your Credit
    How Long Does Negative Information Stay On My Credit Report?

  • Terri

    My fiancé has NO credit. He has never had a credit card and had a car loan but has since paid it off about 7 years ago. We are tying to get a house but they said he has no credit! What can we do to raise is score?

  • Former_Verizon_Employee

    I’ve used a credit law firm a couple of times in the past, and it worked well for me, when I was getting ready to buy a house. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the credit reporting agencies will issue disputes on your behalf if you ask them to.

    Case in Point: I wanted to boost my credit score, so I removed myself as an “Authorized Buyer” off my wife’s credit card that had a very high balance. When I checked my credit afterwards, it dropped by 20 points, listed the account as “Terminated”, and still showed the complete balance as being owed! TransUnion issued a dispute on my behalf and had the account changed from “Terminated” to “Closed”, and the balance reported as zero. My credit then went back up 40 points for a 20 point net gain. All this in less than a month!

    My question is this: I have a large number of store credit/charge cards with zero balances. What are the short term and long term implications if I were to close all these accounts?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      It really depends on your current overall revolving utilization, what your current credit score is, and the factors behind your current score. Having said this, in most cases, if the cards have zero balances (and they’re positive accounts), it’s best to leave them open. Short-term implications of closing the accounts could cause your utilization to spike and lower your scores — but again, this would depend on your current revolving utilization. For more detailed information on how to determine whether closing a credit card account will hurt your scores, the following resource provides specific calculations for running revolving utilization percentages on your own:

      I Have Too Many Credit Cards. What Do I Do?

      As far as long-term implications, the accounts would eventually fall off your credit report and you’d lose the credit history (which counts towards your overall length of credit history) which is one factor in determining your credit score, although not as significant as other factors. When the account falls off your credit report, any positive payment history associated with the account would also be lost.

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  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Susan – Unfortunately it is impossible for me to predict what your credit score will be in 6 months or what kind of loan you can get then. I’d suggest you get your free credit score from Credit.com. In addition to your score you’ll also get information about what factors in your credit are strong, and what need some work. I hope you find it helpful in your efforts to turn your credit around!

  • justanaverageguy

    I filed chapter 13 3 years ago I now have a car loan. I bought the car in September for 4 k. I now have money to play it off but was told to increase my credit score I should pay the car off after one year. Your thoughts?

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