A few months ago, I wrote a post on why you need a rewards credit card, the response was overwhelming. A lot of people commented that they would love to get a rewards credit card, but their credit is in the toilet so they're avoiding repairing their credit all together. I've partnered with CreditRepair.com for this post to bring you some tips and tools for repairing your credit. Your finances should be working FOR you rather than against you.
LBH: the world of finance can feel overwhelming. Most of the words sound like gibberish: micro-investing? robo advisor? FICO? SAY WUHHH?
The truth is, the terms aren't as scary as we make them out to be, it's just no one really taught us them (at least nobody taught me them).
Here's the thing though, credit scores and managing your credit doesn't need to be scary. In fact, if you develop an understanding of what credit is, how it works, and how to use it effectively, you can change your relationship with credit for the rest of your life! Repairing your credit doesn't need to feel impossible.
Let's start with the basics:
What is a credit score?
Your credit score simply tells lenders how likely you are to repay them. Landlords, banks, mortgage lenders, credit card companies, and other lenders need a quick and easy reference to determine how likely you are to pay them back on time. Enter the credit score.
How is a credit score used?
Your credit score is primarily used to help you get leases, loans, and better interests rates on those things. If you're a gazillionnaire and can pay for everything in cash all the time, you would probably never even need a credit score. But, since most of us aren't on Daddy Warbucks payroll, we want to use credit to get things like a mortgage (and maybe those new shoes, but really, don't do it – more on that later though).
How are credit scores calculated?
Okay, here is where it gets a little sticky, unless you have no credit history, you have more than five credit scores! Generally they vary by 20-50 points between one another, at an extreme level, no more than 100 points, but you won't have any say in which one a lender pulls.
Why are there so many credit scores?
Let's start with the credit bureaus, aka “The Big 3,” Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Each of the credit bureaus calculates a credit score on your behalf. Overall they look at the same factors, but weigh them a little differently. In addition to the Big 3, you also have a FICO score and a VantageScore. Both of which take into account information from The Big 3, as well as some additional factors and plugs all this info into their respective algorithm to generate a score. FICO and VantageScore make money each time a lender uses their formula to calculate a score. To make things a little more complicated, both brands of scores have different versions, meaning more possible scores! Generally, the FICO Score is the most widely used score across lender's. The down side? It's probably your lowest score.
FICO Scores are typically the most conservative, which makes sense why lender's would want to look at that one. VantageScore takes into account if you've paid something off that went to collections, FICO 8 does not. Vantage Score offers alternative data (recurring monthly payments like utility or phone bills), FICO doesn't currently. FICO requires you to have a least 6 months of credit history, VantageScore requires 30 days. FICO marks accounts as inactive after 6 months, whereas VantageScore requires them to be inactive for 24 months. I can probably go into an entirely different post breaking down just these few points and what they mean, but I won't today.
The takeaway –> Don't get caught up by a number. Instead focus on which range you're falling in! Moreover, if you don't need a line of credit or a loan in the next year or two, don't sweat that it's in the toilet! It'll recover if you're doing the next right thing!
What do you mean by doing the “next right thing”?
I mean taking actions to actually repair your credit! That means not signing up for every store credit card (they are usually a trap and you shouldn't do it). Don't charge the hottest trending clothes. Pay your credit card bill on time (that's one of the most heavily weight factors for your credit!).
a) Stop charging things that you can't pay off that day. Seriously, don't book that hotel room or buy that new jacket if you can't pay for it that day. I don't care how good the sale is or how badly you want it, there will be another one. Start to think of your credit cards like debit cards, only use what you have in an account. There's a myth many of us heard growing up, “you want to carry a small balance month to month to show you can use revolving credit effectively” – well guess what, that myth has gotten more people into trouble than not. In the long run, you'll be better off paying your credit card bills in full every month than carrying a balance, especially if you have a history of over spending.
b) Set reminders to pay your credit card bill at least a week in advance, if not more.
… A few things with this…
1) If you pay your credit card bill every week, it can lower your utilization ratio (a heavily weight factor in your credit score).
2) If you use a store credit card, chances are you'll forget about paying it. Especially if you're anything like me (opts for paperless billing and signs up for store stuff with a rarely checked email address). Get in the habit of paying the bill the day you make the purchase! Financial chaos (read: forgetting) is a major factor for most Americans living in debt.
3) Life happens! Sometimes things just don't go our way, so make sure to set a reminder (or even two) to pay your bills a week in advance of being due (or even the day it comes in!). Stop waiting until the last minute, it's only going to add unnecessary stress.
Start Repairing Your Credit Score
In line with getting organized on bill payments, you should probably know your credit score; or at least one of them. This will help you figure out what your next move should be. You can sign up for a free Credit Karma account which will give you your TransUnion and Equifax scores, or you can visit AnnualCreditReport.com to pull your credit history from The Big 3.
ACTION STEP: Check your credit scores and histories, report any errors in writing.
Depending on what range you fall in your credit score, you may want to consider enlisting a professional. Especially if you have derogatory remarks on your accounts or things in collection. CreditRepair.com helps individuals achieve the credit score they desire, but more than that, they help you change your relationship with credit! If you've ever attended a local credit workshop with me, you know I'm usually skeptical of credit repair sites or services. They don't fix the deeper behavioral issue. However, CreditRepair.com provides people with so much more than removing negative items from their history.
CreditRepair.com has a fantastic resource library for users to learn. The library covers specific terms, myths, consumer protection and government resources, case studies, and access to the experts! Seriously, knowledge is power when it comes to your finances. If you're taking the first step to repair your credit, you mine as well learn as much as possible in the process.
Don't just hand your stuff over to someone and close your eyes. You'll likely end up in the exact same situation down the road. CreditRepair.com also provides weekly text/email updates on your score, and access to the Member Services team to answer any questions between 5:00 AM MST to 10:00 PM MST. Lastly, they also use your FICO Score when working to repair your credit, since this is the most commonly used score thats a huge win to get a better overall picture of where you stand.
Gain Self Awareness
Look at where you messed up in the past and why. If you're working with a professional through CreditRepair.com ask a team member about how to handle future situations. Spend time in their resource library learning more about credit scores, how they work, and how to handle certain situations as they come up. The great thing with CreditRepair.com and credit scores, is that they are pretty easy to understand once you've spent a little time reading and speaking to an expert.
Remember, just because you screwed up in your early twenties, doesn't mean you should avoid credit forever. Learn the ins and outs of credit, get your questions answered. It takes months to build excellent credit, and only a few hours to destroy it. By setting a strong foundation early on, you'll set yourself up for success in the future!
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