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How can I repair my credit?

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The most reliable help for restoring credit comes from time and patience. There is generally no way to repair a credit report when the negative information on it is accurate, except through the passage of time.

The best advice for improving credit is to bring your payments up-to-date and keep them current. Eventually the negative information on your credit report will be deleted and only the positive information will remain. As soon as you pay your debts, you begin to rebuild your credit history. Adding a string of on-time payments will counter the old delinquencies.

After a year or two of current account payments, get a copy of your credit report and talk to your creditors about it. They may be willing to extend credit to you based on the responsibility and reliability shown since overcoming your financial problems.

Information on your credit report seen as negative by potential lenders, landlords or employers includes a debt that was forwarded to a collection agency; late payments on credit cards and loans; lawsuits in which you owe money; court judgments against you, such as child support payments; and bankruptcy. There is a chance that your credit report lists debts that don’t belong to you. It’s not unheard of for credit files to be mixed up, especially for people who have common names. Therefore, it is important to check them carefully.

There are several things that can limit your credit:

1. Overextended credit use. This occurs when the balances on your credit cards are close or equal to your maximum credit limit. Even if you are up to date with your payments, you may be turned down for further credit. Pay off balances before you apply for new credit.

2. Too many applications. When you apply for credit, it shows up on your credit report, whether or not you are approved. The credit bureaus call it an “inquiry.” Many lenders see a lot of inquires as a warning sign that you may overextend your credit use.

3. Low credit score. A credit score is a picture of how your credit looks right now. Your score is based on recent credit activity, late payments, how many times you have applied for credit and public action you have been involved in, such as lawsuits, liens, foreclosures or bankruptcies.

To improve your credit score, apply only for the credit you need. Also, don’t miss payments — even a slightly late payment is better than none. Clear up credit disputes before they are sent to a collection agency.

Consider these tips for improving your credit.

Keep existing accounts in good standing. Improve the way you handle existing accounts. Make all payments before the due date. Apply for a credit card or small loan from your bank. Explain that you have had problems but that you are serious about improving your credit history.

Get a secured credit card. These cards are backed by money you deposit and keep in a bank account.

Own two to four credit cards. Less is bad; so is more. Keep a checking and savings account. If you have neither, you’ll have points deducted from your credit score.

Keep your debt-to-income ratio under 20 percent. Make infrequent requests for additional credit. Your credit file shows how many inquiries have been made about you recently from credit issuers. If there have been more than four over the past year, that’s a strike against you.

Stay put. If you’ve been in your current home for four years or longer and with your current employer for five years or more, you rack up points.

Don’t close old, paid-off accounts. Closing accounts can never help your score, and can often hurt. Shutting down credit accounts lowers the total credit available to you and makes any balances you have loom larger in credit score calculations. If you close your oldest account, it can actually shorten the length of your reported credit history and make you seem less credit worthy.

Don’t be afraid of credit counseling. The Utah State University Family Life Center offers free financial counseling at (435) 797-7224. Their toll-free number is (866) 519-7881. Use Power Pay to help reduce your amount of debt. Power Pay is a debt reduction computer program available through your local USU Extension office.

Stay out of bankruptcy if you can.

While you are repairing or improving your credit rating, keep your finances simple and live frugally. Remember the following advice: “If you will live for the next ten years like most people won’t, you can live for the rest of your life like most people can’t.”

Even if you don’t have a poor credit history, it’s a good idea to conduct your own credit check-up, especially if you’re planning a major purchase such as a home or car. Checking in advance on the accuracy of the information in your credit report could speed the credit-granting process. The following agencies can give you a credit report: Equifax, PO Box 740241, Atlanta, Georgia 30374-0241, 1-800-685-1111; Experian, PO Box 2104, Allen, Texas 75013, 1-888 - EXPERIAN (397-3742); and Trans Union, PO Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022, 1-800-916-8800.

Recommended Reading: “Credit After Bankruptcy: A Step by Step Action Plan to Quick and Lasting Recovery,” by Jean Chatzky.

Posted on 4 Mar 2005

Adrie Roberts
County Director, Family & Consumer Science Agent, Cache County

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