Credit 101

5 Fast Ways to Tank Your Good Credit Score

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Building a good credit score takes time and effort. Damaging your credit, unfortunately, is a different story. There are few major faux pas that could cause a stellar credit score to plummet seemingly overnight. Here are the big missteps to watch out for.

1. A First Missed Payment

Payment history is the most important component of major credit scoring models. As such, your first 30-day delinquency on a bill can really cost you. In fact, a recent late payment can cause as much as a 90- to 110-point drop on a FICO score of 780 or higher. That’s why it’s always a good idea to talk to your creditor if you accidentally miss a due date — they may be willing to give you a pass and not report the delinquency to the three major credit reporting agencies, especially if you previously had a good track record.

2. Maxing Out a Credit Card

Credit utilization (how much debt you owe versus how much credit has been extended to you) is the second most important factor of credit scores, so maxing out a credit card is not exactly a good idea. While it wouldn’t inflict the same type of damage as a late payment, someone with a good score of 780 would have to weather anywhere from a 25 to 45 point drop for using all of that available credit limit, according to a test scenario conducted by credit scoring model FICO. (That kind hit can be particularly problematic to someone who’s score was on the cusp of greatness.) Remember, as a general rule of thumb, you should keep the amount of debt you owe on each card and collectively below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your available credit.

3. Debt Settlement

Letting a debt go to settlement can also cause a similarly good score to fall around 105 to 125 points, per FICO’s test scenario. Debt settlements include collection, judgment, lien and repossession, Barry Paperno, a credit expert who blogs at Speaking of Credit, said in an email. To avoid taking the major hit, you can try negotiating with a creditor. They may be willing to work a payment plan out with you in lieu of taking one of the aforementioned adverse actions. You can find 10 tips for negotiating with creditors here.

4. Foreclosure

Foreclosures are generally preceded by other negative events (like a first missed payment and 60-day delinquency) that will damage your credit, so it’s unlikely that this incident itself will tank a good score. It’s still worth noting, however, how badly a foreclosure can depress your credit. According to FICO’s test scenario, a score of 680 would fall to anywhere between 575 and 595 once this item hits your credit report. And if you score was somehow in good shape (again, around 780) at the time you could lose anywhere from 140 to160 points as a result.

5. Bankruptcy

Similarly, bankruptcies can make your credit scores plummet by 200 points or more. Keep in mind, too, a bankruptcy can affect your credit far longer than other types of negative information. By law, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy public record will appear in a credit report for 7 years from the filing date, while Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcies remains for 10 years. (You can go here to learn about rebuilding your credit after bankruptcy.)

Dealing With the Damages

If you do mis-step, try not to despair, Paperno said.

“The most severe impact to your score will occur on the date the mistake first appears on your credit report,” he said. “After that, as long as you don’t make any more mistakes, the negative effect on your score will lessen over time and allow your credit to recover, albeit slowly. Even though most bad credit marks remain on your credit report for seven years, you can start to see a good score within three to five years with consistently on-time payments, low card balances low and very few newly opened accounts.”

To start rebuilding your credit, focus on getting any delinquent accounts current, making all future payments on time and keeping card balances low. You can track your progress by viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.

If you have one of the above derogatory marks on your credit report, but it doesn’t belong to you or you think it’s inaccurate, you can dispute the item with the major credit reporting agencies or someone like a credit repair company to do it for you. Removing that negative, inaccurate information can restore your good credit relatively quickly.

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