You know you have a problem — a credit score problem — but you don’t know how to fix it.
There are so many different possibilities that could be the source of your credit problems that it’s hard to know where to start. Here are some tools to help you understand, diagnose and manage your credit problems so you can fix your credit once and for all.
1. Spending Alerts
One of the biggest factors impacting your credit score is how much debt you have. Setting up spending alerts on your credit cards can help you make sure you don’t let your balances wreck your credit. Spending more than 30% of your credit limits on revolving accounts, like credit cards, can do major credit score damage. In fact, people with the best scores spend less than 10% of their limits. Some credit card companies let you set spending alerts for when you’ve charged more than a certain dollar amount or a certain percentage of your credit line. These alerts can help you make sure you keep that major credit scoring factor in check.
2. A Credit Card Payoff Calculator
The easiest way to hurt that “amount of debt” credit scoring factor is by carrying a balance on your credit cards. When interest charges accrue, they can quickly add to an already-high balance, doing double damage — you’re in credit card debt and your credit score is taking a hit. You can use a credit card payoff calculator like this one to get a handle on your debt and make a plan for paying it down.
3. Free Annual Credit Reports
If you don’t know what the problem is, how can you fix it? That’s why your free, federally-mandated annual credit reports are so important. Your credit reports have the raw data your credit scores are based on. You can get a free annual credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com from each of the three major credit reporting agencies.
4. Free Credit Scores
There are a lot of places where you can get your credit scores for free nowadays. You can check two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com, and many credit card issuers and banks offer a monthly credit score for customers as well. Checking your credit scores regularly can help you track your progress as you work to improve your scores.
By law, every major credit reporting agency must have a dispute process in place for correcting errors on consumers’ reports. Just one late payment reported in error can drop your credit score significantly, so a dispute can be a powerful tool. Here’s an in-depth guide to disputing credit report errors.
6. Credit Repair
For people with many errors on their credit reports, the dispute process may not be sufficient to get everything fixed with all the credit bureaus. Some people want to hit the easy button and not have to file all the disputes and track whether the errors are removed. Those people may want to consider a credit repair company — here are tips for picking a reputable one.
7. Credit Freezes & Fraud Alerts
If you’re a victim of identity theft, fixing your credit can be incredibly difficult. Someone took your personal information, like your Social Security number, old addresses, maiden name, etc. It’s one thing to dispute incorrectly reported information on your credit report when you hold all the information, but it’s another thing entirely once those details are out of your hands. In fact, you run the risk of being victimized over and over and over again — your Social Security number doesn’t expire, after all. That’s where filing for a credit freeze or fraud alert can come in handy. These are tools the major credit reporting agencies provide to help fraud victims protect their credit.
Fraud alerts require a lender or creditor to further verify your information when anyone applies for credit in your name. This helps ensure it is actually you who is applying for credit and not your identity thief. A freeze goes one step further and essentially shuts down access to your credit file until you unfreeze it. Depending on where you live, a credit freeze may be free or come with a fee.
A credit problem is often a cash problem as well, but sometimes it isn’t. For example, if you’re recovering from bankruptcy, short sale or other credit disaster, it can be hard to get new credit because your credit score is so low. But, you can get a secured credit card and start rebuilding your credit if you have some cash you can use to “secure” the card. These cards require a cash deposit that generally serves as your credit limit. Treating that account right, paying your bill on time and managing your credit usage, can help you build credit quickly and allow you to eventually access a standard credit card.
9. Lifetime Cost of Debt Calculator
Sometimes the key to building good credit is simply to stay motivated. That’s where this lifetime cost of debt calculator can come in handy. Plug in your age, where you live and a few other details and you can see just how much a good credit score can cost you in a lifetime vs. how much a bad credit score will cost you. The price tag alone will keep you focused on a better credit score.
More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:
- The Credit.com Credit Reports Learning Center
- What’s a Good Credit Score?
- How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report