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So you’ve taken the plunge and looked at your credit score. The number, you discover, is less than optimal (less than 700) and you are not a happy camper. How can you try increasing your credit score? First, take a step back and acknowledge that by just finding your score, you have made a proactive move on your own behalf. Education is the first step toward making good future financial decisions and you now have the knowledge of where you are starting from. Your next move will be to take advantage of the opportunity you have to make things better going forward.
Review your credit report
If you are not happy with your current credit score, the first thing to do is get copies of your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus. You need to do this because the information that is fed into the credit scoring companies’ algorithm comes directly from the information listed in your credit reports. This is why it is crucial to ensure the information in your credit report is accurate.
If you find mistakes in your report, you have the right to dispute errors through the credit bureaus directly.
Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Credit Bureaus have 30 days to investigate a consumer instigated dispute. This means they (the bureaus) will contact the original creditor and ask the creditor to prove that the information about your credit is correct. If the creditor cannot provide this proof, then the bureaus are obligated to delete or correct your credit information from that creditor within the same 30-day timeframe.
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How to start increasing your credit score
If the information on your credit report is accurate, the Fair Credit Reporting Act allows negative credit information to remain on your credit report for seven years from the date of the last transaction (which includes your account being closed). If you want future lenders to consider mitigating circumstances when evaluating your creditworthiness, you can ask the credit bureaus to add an account-specific statement to your report, but the statement will not necessarily have any impact on increasing your credit score.
Bankruptcies can remain on your report for ten years.
If the negative information on your credit report is related to unpaid debts, you might consider offering to repay the debts in full. Having the creditor report the debts as paid to the credit bureaus may result in an increase in your score. Be sure you can pay the debts in full before you contact the creditors; new agreements with creditors can restart your state’s statutes of limitations for the debt collection timeline back to the beginning. Each state has its own laws that specify how many years a consumer debt can be collected. You should also make sure to get any new agreements you make with a creditor in writing and signed by the creditor. You can do this yourself – avoid trying to use a debt settlement company to do this for you.
If you are in doubt about how debt recovery laws in your state apply to your personal situation, you should get legal advice first.
Add some positive information
Another option is to get new information added to your credit report that shows proof of your ability to handle credit responsibly. To do this you can opt to take out a secured credit card or secured small personal loan. Both secured credit cards and credit loans involve you making a deposit predetermined by the lender into an account. The lender then provides you with a loan or credit limit that is equal to the amount you have deposited. As you use the loan or credit balance and pay back what you have used on time, the lender reports these repayments as a positive history of using credit.
Finally, you should also protect your credit identity. This is true even if you have negative information on your credit report. The last thing you need is more negative information finding its way onto your report, especially if it is based on information that doesn’t belong to you. You can opt for a credit freeze at no cost to prevent credit from being opened in your name without your consent. Of course, if you want to apply for credit, you will have to unfreeze your credit reports and then refreeze it after you are done accessing your reports, so take the time factor into consideration. Unfreezing and refreezing your reports are fee-free by law.
Check your credit report
Check your credit report with each of the three credit bureaus to find out what negative information is being reported about your credit history. If there are errors in your report, consider disputing them through the credit bureaus directly. The Federal Trade Commission has a sample letter format that you can use to dispute an error to the credit bureaus and a separate sample letter for disputing an error directly with a creditor.
Consider a shared loan when increasing your credit score
Consider getting positive credit history information added to your report through your use of a secured share loan through your local credit union or a secured credit card. Check your credit report to be sure that the positive information is being added and periodically check your credit score to view potential increases. Sites like Credit Karma, Mint, and Credit Sesame will let you see your credit score for free. Note that you personally checking your own credit report and score, no matter how frequently, does not have any effect on your credit history or score itself.
Consider extra protection
Decide if you need extra protection for your credit identity. If so, you can opt for a credit freeze directly through the credit bureaus. You can also sign up for an online credit monitoring service. There are many credit monitoring providers so compare services and prices accordingly.
About the Author
Dawn Torres-Gale, AFC
Accredited Financial Counselor
In 2008, Ms. Torres-Gale was chosen by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Foundation to be part of a select group of military spouses. Through this, she received FINRA sponsored training from the Association of Financial Counseling, Planning and Education and became an Accredited Financial Counselor® in February 2012.
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