Building and maintaining good credit is a lifelong process. And if you're trying to fix your credit, the time it takes depends on several factors, including the type of damage. Here's what it takes to get started repairing your credit.
Review Your Credit
If you haven't already, you should take a look at your credit reports. It's a good idea to review the report from each of the three main credit bureaus — TransUnion, Experian and Equifax — as they don't all include the same information. You can get free copies from each of the bureaus every 12 months when you visit AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also see two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com, which are updated every 14 days.
Assess the Issues
Once you have copies of your reports, it's time to look through them for items that could be bringing your scores down. (You can take a look here at the five factors that influence you credit health.) Late payments, charge-offs, bankruptcies, court judgments, a short or "unscoreable" credit history and high credit card balances are just a few of the issues that could be weighing down your score. But, beyond those, you may be surprised by other issues that cause credit damage.
- Mistaken identity: A 2014 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) report found that 25% of consumer complaints are the result of mistaken identity. A misspelled name, address or Social Security Number (SSN) could result in someone else's financial history appearing on your credit reports, affecting your score in the process.
- Reporting errors: A 2012 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) study found that one in five consumers had at least one error listed on one of their credit reports. These can include accounts closed that appear open on your credit report (or vice-versa), unfounded late payment citations, incorrect revolving or fixed credit balances, incorrect credit limits and other outdated account information. Of those affected, 20% reported a significant increase in their credit scores once the errors were removed.
- Identity theft: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 17.6 million Americans reported cases of identity theft in 2014. Add to that, 86% experienced the misuse of an existing bank account or credit card, but these aren't the only problems. Many identity thieves open new accounts in their victims' names and even use Social Security numbers to further their crimes. If this has happened to you, you may notice these items on your credit report and you can dispute these credit report errors.
Review your credit reports carefully to highlight which of these issues may be damaging your credit. You'll need a complete list of anything inaccurate or unfair in order to dispute them (and get them removed from your credit report). It's also good to know how long things can legally remain on your credit report, because that can help you understand how long you may have to wait to fully recover from negative credit events.
Prioritize & Take Action
Credit repair is something you can do on your own or turn to a professional for assistance. Either way, it's a good idea to prioritize your actions based on severity.
Ongoing credit damage caused by errors and identity theft should be handled immediately. Contact your lenders and the credit bureaus to alert them of the situation and then work to get them removed.
From there, it's a good idea to take a look at the five factors of credit scoring and consider using them as a roadmap to positive change. Consider behavior changes like paying your bills on time, maintaining low revolving debts, keeping old accounts open and active and using discretion when applying for new credit. You might also consider revisiting your household budget to determine if it's possible to reallocate money and accelerate your efforts.
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