Ready to Repair Your Iffy Credit? Here’s Where to Begin.
Real talk first: Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix. Repairing your credit is a long road, and it can certainly be stressful—especially if you’ve got a big goal on the horizon like buying your first home. It takes a while—about 7 to 10 years—for credit-affecting issues (like late or missed payments) to come off your credit report, so repairing bad credit might seem downright impossible at times. But the reality is, there are some small steps you can take right now to start getting your credit back on track.
Stop using your credit card
First thing’s first: Stop using your credit card unless you absolutely have to. The higher your balance gets, the more it’ll negatively impact your score. The goal is to bring down utilization so your credit score can start to go up, and if you keep using it, it’ll keep you from making progress. You don’t have to cut it up (unless you think that’s the only way to keep yourself from using it—do what feels right for you) but definitely take it out of your wallet and put it somewhere safe, where you won’t feel tempted to use it unless it’s truly an emergency.
Request—and get to know—your credit report
You can’t really help your credit score unless you know what you’re dealing with, so before you do anything else, make sure you check your credit report. You can check websites like Credit Karma for a quick look at your credit history and what may have impacted your score, and you’re also allowed to request a full credit report from the 3 main reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) every 12 months by visiting annualcreditreport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228. Be sure to check your report thoroughly to make sure there aren’t any mistakes—if there are, you can have them investigated and dispute them, which could help raise your credit.
Create a payment plan
Once you know what you’re working with, you can come up with a plan to help you get back on track. Do the math and figure out how much you make and where you can come up with extra money to pay on your credit card. If you owe on multiple cards, figure out how much you owe on each one. Then, plan out how you’ll pay them off. Note that paying off one card fully will be a big help to your credit score, so if you have one card that has a much lower balance than the others, work on getting that one taken care of first (while still paying at least the minimum payment due on your other cards). And another pro-tip: The more often you make payments, the less interest you’ll accumulate and wind up paying overall, which is a great additional perk—try scheduling bi-weekly payments instead of monthly payments (right after payday maybe?), and making additional one-time payments any time you get a little extra windfall of cash. Drafting your plan is a small step you can take right away, but it will pay off (literally) in the long term.
Make a payment (even if it’s small)
Speaking of making additional payments, if you have any money to spare—even if it’s a small amount—make one now. (Literally, right now. Open up a new tab and transfer $20.) Every little step you take towards paying off your debt is a step toward raising your credit score. Even if you think that making a $20 payment won’t make much of a difference, it will—it might not increase your credit score right now but it will contribute to paying off your debt, and it can help you change your attitude about making more frequent payments or putting spare money towards your credit card if you don’t typically do so.