- Avoid talking directly to debt collectors
There are two main reasons why people want to improve their bad credit. The first reason is so they can buy a house or car. The second reason is because they are tired of getting harassed by debt collectors. When you’re contacted by a debt collector, the best thing you can do is simply telling them to send it to you in writing and to stop calling. Debt collectors are basically trained to toy with your emotion so you’ll pay them (even if it means you won’t be able to make rent). They don’t care about anything but getting paid. Don’t risk getting roped in by a debt collector.
- Don’t agree to anything unless it’s in writing
This one plays off the point above. When a collector calls you, don’t make any agreements. All your correspondence should be done via email or snail mail. Snail mail is even better than email because you can send letters via registered mail with delivery confirmation. The reason why this is the best way to do it is with the delivery confirmation you’ll have records saying they actually received the letter so they can’t later say they never received it.
- Don’t close any credit card accounts
This is a mistake that so many people have made. It seems logical that if you have credit cards with negative entries such as late payments, closing the account will improve your credit score. The opposite is actually true. In most cases closing a credit card account will actually hurt your credit score.
The calculation that determines you credit score is based on a number of factors. One of the most important factors is the length of your credit history. In other words, how long your credit cards have been open. When you close a credit card account, you’re shortening the length of your credit history, and thus your credit score will take a hit. The best solution is to keep the accounts open and attempt to remove the late payments from your credit report.
- Don’t apply for a major credit card
I feel like this point is common sense but it’s worth noting. When you have bad credit it’s unlikely you’re going to get approved for an unsecured major credit card such as American Express. When you apply for credit it results in an inquiry entry that gets recorded on your credit report. Multiple inquiries will hurt your credit score so you need to be careful about how many credit cards you’re applying for. Don’t waste an inquiry on a credit card application that’s just going to get declined.
- Get a secured credit card to build credit
Since you’re unlikely to get approved for an unsecured major credit card with bad credit, I recommend getting a secured credit card. Almost everybody gets approved for secured credit cards because they are specifically designed for people with bad credit. By getting a secured credit card you’re beginning the process of building new, good credit history. It’s an important step in repairing your credit and I always recommend it’s what you start with.
- Quickly remove negative entries
In addition to building good credit history with a secured credit card, you’ll want to begin the process of removing negative entries from your credit report. The quicker you remove these entries, the faster you’re credit score will improve.
- Pay down debt quickly
The key to this step is to keep just a little bit of debt. The most important thing you need to do is pay down credit cards that are maxed out or close to being maxed out. Next, you should begin the process of paying down your installment loans (like auto and student loans). You’ll see a big jump in your credit score once these are all significantly paid down.
- Avoid getting back into debt
One mistake people make over and over is that they get out of debt and improve their credit score so they can get a house, but within a year they’re back in debt and behind on their payments. What’s the point in doing all this work to improve your credit score if you’re just going to mess it up again?
It’s simple: your behavior about using debt and credit has to change if you want to sustain a positive credit score. This means not relying on your credit card, and more importantly, keeping tabs on how much you spend. This is basic personal finance stuff that you should be practicing.
- Consider getting some help
There might be circumstance where you should considering getting help from a professional credit repair service. This is generally a good idea if you have a lot of negative stuff to clean up on your credit report, or you’re in a hurry. These services can usually remove this stuff quicker than you can on your own. Obviously, they do it every day.
- Be patient
The journey to better credit can take a while. The important thing is that you’re committed and persistent. It’s definitely worth the effort you put into it. Not only will you come out of this with a better credit score, but you will have gained a ton of information on how to better handle your personal finances.