No matter your age or income, watching your credit score descend can be daunting. Unpaid bills and accumulating credit card balances are just two of the factors that can harm your credit. However, a poor credit score doesn’t have to be your reality — nor does it have to define your future.
With a few key steps, you can start repairing your credit before it causes you serious financial harm. Here are some tips to start cleaning up your credit report today.
Switch to Debit
After committing to repairing your credit, it’s wise to pull back on your credit card spending. Try to rely on credit as little as possible. This will likely involve cutting out all unnecessary spending and using a debit card or cash when making purchases.
You might be making more impulse purchases than you realize when swiping your credit card. It can be helpful to revisit your budget and identify areas where you might be overindulging. Make a list of your essential expenses and set spending limits on nonessential categories.
Get the Full Picture
When you’re facing credit problems, it’s easy to avoid looking at your credit statements altogether. However, getting real about your financial wellness is the next step in repairing your credit. You’re entitled to a free credit report annually. You should also keep tabs on your credit card statements and overdue bills.
Check your report for inaccuracies and point out any discrepancies when necessary. While errors are rare, they can occur and harm your credit even more. Laying your full credit history on the table will help you see where you stand. That will enable you to make a plan and start moving forward.
Catch Up on Bills
Payment history makes up 35% of your credit score, so you’ll want to pay close attention to your unpaid bills. Leaving these bills to sit can also land your account in collections. If possible, start with the bills you’ve been putting off the longest and pay the rest off from there. If you already have collection accounts, tackle those bills first.
Remember, sticking to your budget will help you make a dent in these overdue bills. Clearing these accounts will help clean your slate, so you can focus on repairing your credit going forward.
Make Your Payments on Time
Paying your bills on time is one of the best steps you can take to improve your credit. Even if you’re still working on past-due bills, be sure to pay your new bills before the due date. Make at least the minimum payment, if not more, on your credit cards as well.
Many people find that automating their bill payments helps them avoid late fees. Consider setting your automated payment to cover the minimum balance due, then you can make a larger payment when possible. You’ll likely notice your credit score creeping up as you make on-time payments month to month.
Check Your Credit Utilization
Typically, using more than 30% of your credit card limits will harm your credit score. And if you have poor credit, chances are your utilization is higher than it should be. It can certainly be difficult to reduce your credit utilization when you’re also paying interest. However, lowering your balance over time should be a top goal.
Some people may consider applying for a higher credit card limit as well. To go this route, call the credit card company and politely ask for the increase. However, you should employ this tactic with caution. The goal is to boost your credit card limit — not touch it — and watch your utilization go down accordingly. If you can see yourself making purchases and maxing out your newly available credit, it’s best to exclusively pay down your balance instead.
Avoid Closing Credit Cards
When you finally pay off the balance of a credit card, it can be tempting to close the account and start fresh. However, keeping your old credit cards can actually boost your score. This is because the age of your credit makes up about 15% of your score. In other words, the longer your credit history, the higher the number on your report.
So, what to do with those old cards? Keep in mind that, if you never use a card, a credit card company may close the account due to inactivity. To avoid this, keep a small recurring payment on an otherwise paid-off card and pay the balance in full each month. An inexpensive streaming subscription or gym membership are possible examples. These small transactions will keep your card active and — provided you pay your bill on time — positively impact your credit score.
Do-it-yourself credit repair isn’t the solution for everyone. If you’re facing a pile of debt and an ever-decreasing credit score, it might be time to seek help from a professional. Credit counseling is often a great option for anyone overwhelmed by poor credit.
A credit counselor can help you assess your credit and develop a debt management plan. In some cases, the counselor may also be able to negotiate lower interest rates with your creditors. Just be sure to sign up for services through a reputable organization. There are nonprofit organizations that offer credit counseling for free.
Repairing your credit isn’t easy, nor is it linear. You might stray from your budget or struggle to pay the occasional bill while focusing on your debt. It’s also possible that your credit score will dip without a clear reason.
Remember, you don’t need to let a setback ruin your progress. Simply learn from your mistakes and recognize that you can refocus on your goals at any time. Repairing your credit in the long term is what matters.
When facing a poor credit score, bankruptcy is far from your only option. There are steps you can take to repair your credit before it becomes a major issue. As you face your credit woes head on, remember that every step you take counts toward your future credit and financial wellness. Focusing on your credit goals every day will eventually pay off.