Michael Phelps is one of the greatest swimmers of all time. He has the most Olympic medals of all time. And, as we have now learned, he has the greatest side-eye of all time. Last night, #PhelpsFace became an instant meme after cameras caught Phelps’ epic death stare, directed toward rival swimmer Chad le Clos of South Africa, who beat Phelps to the wall (and a gold medal) by 0.05 seconds in the 200-meter butterfly at the 2012 Olympics.
#PhelpsFace is the perfect image of deep frustration, and because I needed something to write today, I figured I’d swim with the tide of the internet and give you this: What to do if your credit gives you #PhelpsFace.
1. Pull Your Credit Reports
In case you didn’t know, you’re entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. On those reports, you can see what’s affecting your credit, whether it’s a lot of unpaid debt, late payments, collection accounts or high credit card balances. That information can help you identify what you need to work on to improve your credit.
Looking at your credit scores can help, too. When you get a credit score, you also tend to get some information about what’s affecting your score most. (For example, you can get two free credit scores every month on Credit.com, along with the top factors driving your scores and the ability to make a personalized action plan for building credit.)
2. Dispute Errors
At one point during the intense stare-down, Phelps appeared to shake his head at Le Clos (though it could have been nothing more than Phelps moving his head to whatever music was pumping through his headphones, and while we’d like to insert a GIF of that, we can’t, because the International Olympic Committee apparently isn’t a fan of, well, the internet). But that head shake looked a lot like a physical way of saying, “Are you kidding me?”
That’s a familiar feeling to a lot of people when they’re looking at their credit reports. Credit reports often contain errors, which people tend to discover only after the error has messed up their plans to get a loan, rent an apartment or get a new credit card. It’s incredibly frustrating.
The way to avoid such problems is to regularly look at your credit (as described above) and dispute any errors you find on your credit reports. You’re entitled to challenge anything on your credit reports you think is inaccurate or unfair, and while you can do all of that yourself, you can also consider enlisting the help of a reputable professional. You can learn more here about how credit repair works.
3. Pay Down Debt
Your amount of debt has a huge effect on your credit standing, and of all the things that factor into your credit, your debt problems can be a relatively quick fix. (Consider the fact that negative information generally stays on your credit reports for 7 years — ideally, you can make a huge dent in your debt in less time it takes for past mistakes to age off your credit history.)
Take a look at your overall credit limit and how much of it you’re using — that’s your credit utilization rate, and the lower it is, the more positive affect it has on your credit. The industry rule of thumb is to keep your credit utilization lower than 30% (so if you have a total of $10,000 of available credit across your credit cards, your total credit card balances should be no higher than $3,000). If you can keep it even lower than that — say, less than 10% — that’s even better.
Credit scores also take into account how much unpaid debt you have, so chipping away at student loan balances or a mortgage can also help you make progress in this department.
4. Exercise Patience
Again, let’s turn to Phelps as an example: He’s sitting there, glaring at Le Clos, waiting for the opportunity to race him on the Olympic stage after losing to him 4 years ago. He’s clearly wanted to reclaim his spot on the top of the podium for a while.
With a long-term goal like that, patience is crucial.
If you had credit problems in the past, like late payments or collection accounts, there’s not a lot you can do about those black marks on your credit history, other than wait for them to fade with age and focus what you can change going forward (see the three examples above). Here’s a guide to how long things stay on your credit reports, and while you can sometimes get things removed before they’ve reached their maximum age, remember that your recent behavior has a greater impact on your credit. The older a late payment gets, the less it’s going to hurt you.
So stay focused out there. Channel your frustration into dedication, and you will be a credit champion. Dive into your debt-payoff plan, and don’t let up until you’ve reached the finish line. To get the credit score you’ve never had, you must do with your finances things you’ve never done. (Is that enough sports clichés? USA! USA! USA!)