One of the most common questions about credit is “How do I fix my credit score?”
Well the answer to that question is simple. You actually cannot fix a credit score. Confused? Don’t be. I’ll explain shortly.
You see, your credit score is tied to the information on your credit file, also known as your credit report. Needless to say, if your credit file sucks, your score will suck. Conversely, if your report is good, your score will be good or even great.
Now you see why you can’t actually fix your credit score: you can only raise or lower it depending on what is on your credit report. So, the first thing is to tackle your credit report. This means getting rid of negative information and adding as much positive information as possible.
If you have not already done so, you should get your credit report from each of the 3 major credit reporting bureaus. You are entitled to a free credit report from each bureau each year, but it is better to leave this for you monitoring purposes and instead purchase your reports.
Each report will cost you approximately $10 (at last check) give or take a dollar or two.
Caution: You can purchase your credit file(s) online but if your purpose is to fix bad credit don’t do this as you will have to “agree” to certain conditions. Instead purchase your reports by mail using a check or money order.
Since our main objective is to “fix” your credit score, you will also need to purchase your credit score. Unlike your credit report which you can get free each year as mandated by law, your credit score does not come free unless tied (covertly) to something else that you have to pay for.
Now, don’t order your credit score from any credit reporting bureau. Why?
Because not all scores are really important at present. You want the real FICO score supplied by Fair Isaac Corporation. This is the score that most creditors use, and that is why you want this so you can see what they see.
The FICO score is only supplied to consumers through two entities:
1. MyFico: The creator of this score. Unfortunately Experian credit bureau has stopped supplying their data to MyFico perhaps in an attempt to loosen Fico’s stranglehold on credit scoring. You can only get FICO credit scores from Transunion and Equifax from MyFico.
2. Equifax: The only credit bureau that supplies the real FICO score directly to consumers. You will be able (at my last check) to get all three scores from Equifax as it is a credit bureau and, though competitors, the bureaus have some sort of “comrade at arms” relationship.
There are two things (mainly) that affect your credit score; payment history and debt to credit ratio. Late payments will, of course, hurt your score. But most devastating are collections, judgments, unpaid tax liens, and bankruptcy.
If you have collection notions on your credit file, do not run to pay them off (or start making installment payments). Why?
There is a certain lose-lose catch 22 type of situation with collections when it comes to “fixing” your credit score. If you don’t pay, your score remains low; bad. If you pay it is noted on your report as “paid collection”; bad. So, what to do?
The best thing to do is with collections is to negotiate and get a written agreement that the account will be deleted upon making the payment. Be advised too that a collection agency can get in trouble for this, and they sometimes are reluctant to do it. You might not get it easy.
Just push on, while being careful not to “acknowledge” the debt as yours as this can restart the statute of limitations. Never use words like “my debt” or “I owe”. Instead, refer to the debt by its account number or simply “this account”.
As for late payments, these can also be negotiated with the reporting party but the best thing is simply to start making timely payments going forward. As the notations begin to get old they will diminish in importance. Meanwhile your credit score will rise with each timely payment(s) and soon you will have a pretty good score (barring other negative notions).
But perhaps the quickest solution to “fix my credit score” is your debt to credit ratio. This means the amount of outstanding debt (or balance) on your credit cards and other revolving credit compared to what’s available.
Just bringing down the balance(s) on your credit to about 30 percent of limit can cause a spike on you score.
You also should try to establish different types of credit. This means, for example, having a credit card or two, a car payment, a mortgage and perhaps direct deposited loan. Banks, credit bureaus and the FICO score model love to see a “healthy mix” of credit that is also… well, healthy.
Bankruptcies and judgments are a completely different cup of tea. This is because law courts are involved. These require extensive negotiating with the parties involved and some other technical strategies. Unfortunately this is beyond the scope of this article.