How to Fix My Credit: 3 Ways to an Improved Score

Fix My Credit
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Eric Bank
By: Eric Bank
Posted: August 13, 2020
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“Fix my credit!” That demand is all too familiar in today’s economy. A Pew study found that 80% of Americans said they have debt, while 25% of consumers who participated in a Federal Trade Commission study identified errors that might affect their credit scores. Moreover, 53% of Americans have been rejected for credit at least one time, according to another survey.

It’s evident that, whether due to inaccurate information, non-creditworthy behavior, or not having a credit history, there is a pressing need for many of us to improve our credit scores. Let’s look at three ways to do just that.

1. Credit Repair | 2. DIY | 3. Experian Boost
Credit Score Factors | FAQs

1. Hire a Credit Repair Service

Credit repair is the process of fixing mistakes and addressing negative items on your credit reports. You have three credit reports, maintained by the major credit bureaus (a.k.a credit reporting companies, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax).

Each credit reporting agency uses its own report of your credit history to independently calculate a credit score. FICO is the leading credit score system, but others may be used that yield different results.

Errors in your credit report can damage your scores. A credit reporting agency works on your behalf to identify, dispute, and correct errors on your credit reports, thereby allowing your credit scores to rise.

While you can attempt to fix your credit report on your own, the best credit repair companies have the knowledge and experience to achieve positive results. They can tackle issues that you would find hard to resolve on your own.

The fees for using a credit repair agency typically are in the $49 to $139 per month range for a six-month subscription. The exact amount varies with the company you choose and the types of services you select. While these companies typically suggest a six-month subscription, your case may require more or less time depending on its complexity.

Here’s what a good credit repair organization can do for you to earn its fees:

  • Identify derogatory items: These are negative items on your credit report, such as delinquent accounts, visits from a debt collector, and bankruptcies,  that harm your credit scores. A credit repair agency will scour your three credit reports to analyze all questionable items that hurt your score and review them with you. Typical derogatory items include duplicate accounts, accounts you don’t recognize, inaccurate accounts, and inaccurate credit inquiries.
  • Dispute negative items that require fixing: The company will formally correspond with each credit reporting company and with creditors to challenge negative items on your credit reports. There is a bit of science to structuring dispute letters and timing their submission to maximize their effectiveness. The bureaus must be able to verify the information they provide or fix/remove it.
  • Rinse and repeat: The process is ongoing for the life of the subscription. The credit repair organization will continue identifying and disputing derogatory items to help you attain your credit objectives. The company can escalate disputes that are not immediately resolved.
  • Analyze your credit scores: The company can review your credit scores and recommend ways for you to boost them.
  • Take legal action: If the credit repair organization is so equipped, it can help you take legal action to rectify disputed items.

Our top-rated credit repair organization is Utah-based Lexington Law. It boasts an average removal rate per client of more than 10 negative items within four months. Lexington is in full compliance with all federal and state credit repair regulations.

  • Free consultation: 1-855-200-2394
  • Most results of any credit repair law firm
  • Clients saw over 9 million negative items removed from their credit reports in 2016
  • More than 500,000 credit repair clients helped since 2004
  • Cancel anytime
  • Click here for sign-up form, terms, and details.
★★★★★

4.9

Overall Rating

Better Business Bureau In Business Since Monthly Cost Reputation Score
See BBB Listing 2004 $89.95 10/10
  • Free consultation: 1-855-200-2393
  • Average 40-point increase in Transunion credit score during first four months
  • Free access to your credit report summary
  • Three-step plan for checking, challenging and changing your credit report
  • Online tools to help clients track results
  • Click here for sign-up form, terms, and details.
★★★★★

4.5

Overall Rating

Better Business Bureau In Business Since Monthly Cost Reputation Score
See BBB Listing 1997 $99 9.5/10

Lexington offers you a free credit consultation and negative item review. The company offers three separate plans from basic to advanced. All three plans provide credit reporting company challenges and creditor interventions.

The more expensive plans provide additional services, including monitoring your score, issuing cease-and-desist letters, and protecting your identity.

2. Do it Yourself via Online or Mail-in Disputes

If you have the time and inclination, you can dispute credit report errors on your own. This can require a considerable amount of effort from time to time, but it can cost less than hiring a credit repair organization.

The first step is to request free copies of your three credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com, the only federally authorized free credit report source. Your job is to closely review each report and identify any black marks against you.

Credit Report Evaluation Infographic

Look for accounts you don’t recognize and closed accounts that are still reported open. Also check for credit inquiries that you didn’t authorize, as too many inquiries within a short period can hurt your credit score. In addition, ensure that all your personal information is correctly recorded.

Hard Inquiries

One of the most commonly disputed items is the number of hard inquiries appearing on your credit reports. Too many hard inquiries (i.e., inquiries made by others in connection with opening an account) within a short time can hurt your credit score.

Your FICO credit score is sensitive to the frequency of hard inquiries because inquiries may indicate financial risk. For example, too many inquiries may indicate your finances are overextended. Before offering you a loan or credit, lenders need to know if you can make full and timely payments.

If you notice unauthorized hard inquiries, dispute them by stating someone pulled your credit without your knowledge or permission. The impact of excessive hard inquiries is usually not substantial, so removing them probably won’t make much of a difference. Note that disputing inquiries on good accounts may prompt a credit bureau to remove the account from your report.

Inquiries remain on your credit report for 24 months but only affect your score for 12 months. FICO credit scores are updated annually for the frequency of hard inquiries, so you may have to wait to see a higher score when you have hard inquiries removed. Soft inquiries (initiated by you or by a party seeking only a background check) have no effect on your credit score.

Submitting Disputes

When you’ve collected all the information, you can begin the process of disputing questionable items. You either go online to the credit bureau websites to submit individual disputes or write letters that you mail to the relevant bureau.

Written letters should be sent to a credit reporting bureau or creditor using certified mail with return receipt requested.

Equifax

Experian

TransUnion

If you choose to send letters, start with a template like the one available from the Federal Trade Commission. The letter should state each item in dispute, the facts surrounding the item, and why you want it corrected or removed. Consider enclosing a copy of the appropriate credit report with each item circled.

You can write a separate letter for each disputed item or submit multiple related items clearly identified in one letter. Aim for a short, clear letter that concisely states the facts and why you feel the report is in error. Include:

  • your full name
  • your Social Security number
  • your date of birth
  • your previous two addresses
  • a copy of your photo ID, such as a driver’s license
  • a copy of a utility bill or other official document that contains your current address.

Send no money, the service is free. You should receive a reply within 30 days. You can check the status of your dispute on the website.

If you aren’t happy with the results, inquire how to request an appeal. You can also write to the creditor that supplied the disputed derogatory item and ask the creditor to investigate the issue. Even if a bureau turns you down, you have the right to append explanations to any remaining derogatory items.

You may see your credit score increase within a couple of months after the credit bureau deletes inaccurate derogatory information.

3. Use Experian Boost

Experian Boost is a free service that adds information to your Experian credit report in the hopes of raising your VantageScore and FICO credit scores. The reasoning behind it is that you are rewarded for paying bills on time, so by enlarging the universe of reported account payments, you may see your score rise. In fact, your payment history is the largest single factor (35%) determining your credit score.

To accomplish its mission, Experian Boost connects to your bank or credit union account to find on-time bill payments to utilities, telecom, and Netflix, and adds these payments to your credit report. The whole process takes about five minutes and can result in an instant score improvement. In fact, the average Experian Boost user experiences a 13-point increase, and the collective increase for all participating consumers exceeds 29 million points.

Screenshot of Experian Boost Website

Experian Boost is a free service that helps its users increase their credit scores by an average of 13 points.

Lenders have reacted positively to Experian Boost, most likely because it increases an applicant’s chance of receiving loan approval. You may even be urged by a lender to use Experian Boost when you are about to apply for a loan. Besides increasing access to loans, the extra points may also allow the lender to offer a lower interest rate and fees.

Note that Experian Boost ignores late payments, so it cannot lower your credit score. Another positive of the program is that the accounts you add may increase the length of your credit history, a positive factor when calculating credit scores.

To sign up for Experian Boost, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Experian Boost web page.
  2. Create a free Experian account.
  3. Connect Experian to your online bank accounts.
  4. Verify your willingness to add the accounts from your bank or other financial institution to your credit file.
  5. Your recalculated credit score should be ready in five minutes or less.

When you sign up for Experian Boost, you create a free Experian CreditworksSM Basic membership that entitles you to free FICO scores and free credit monitoring.

To date, more than 4 million Americans have signed up for Experian Boost. Consumers with scant, fair, no credit, or bad credit tend to get the biggest benefit from the program. About 87% of users with very poor scores received a score increase, as did 63% with fair scores.

Factors that Influence Your Credit Score

Removing errors from your credit report can have a salutary impact on your credit score. But it’s not a panacea — you have to pay attention to the factors that determine your score, even if your credit report is error-free.

The FICO scoring system relies on five factors, as follows:

FICO Credit Score Factors

Payment history (35% of score): Lenders want to know whether you are likely to pay your bills on time. Your credit history records debt repayment transactions for items such as retail accounts, credit card accounts, loans, and other finance company accounts.

You’ll hurt your credit score, sometimes severely, if you experience foreclosures, bankruptcies, liens, lawsuits, wage attachments, or court judgments. The negative impact on your credit score can last up to 10 years, although the effects will begin waning after a couple of years.

Perhaps the most common way to hurt your credit is to miss payments. Your credit report will detail any late payments, including the owed amount and the number of days your payment was late. Payments over 30 days late are considered delinquent, and those over 90 days late may cause a default. On the positive side, your FICO credit score will benefit if you make your payments on time.

Amounts owed (30%): The amount you owe relative to your available credit limit (i.e., your credit utilization ratio or CUR) has the second-largest impact on your FICO credit score. Your credit utilization ratio is significant if you have revolving credit accounts (such as a credit card or a line of credit) in which you can borrow up to a credit limit.

The higher your credit utilization, the more you are perceived as a credit risk, because you have little opportunity to borrow more if you hit a financial snag. A CUR above 30% of your available credit can reduce your credit rating, whereas a ratio below 20% is positive.

The lesson is clear — pay down your debts, including credit card debt so your CUR falls below 30% of your available credit. Other important aspects of your CUR include the amount you still owe on installment loans and how many of your accounts are carrying balances, such as credit card debt.

Length of history (15%): It’s a great idea to open a credit account when you are young to establish a long credit history. Your FICO credit score considers the age of your oldest and newest account as well as the average age of all accounts.

It also considers the age of specific credit accounts and how long an account has remained dormant. Managing your credit responsibly over a long time span will improve your score. It’s recommended that you not close credit accounts you no longer use, as this may hurt your credit score.

Credit mix (10%): Lenders are comforted when you demonstrate the ability to juggle a mix of different debt types. Although not a primary factor, credit mix gains importance if your credit history is short.

A healthy mix includes a student loan, personal loan, installment loan, credit cards, retail accounts, mortgages, and finance company accounts. But don’t go overboard — you don’t need loans in each category, and you shouldn’t open accounts unnecessarily. FICO considers the types and number of accounts you have, both closed and open.

New credit (10%): FICO credit scores can suffer when you open several credit accounts in a relatively short period because it may signal that you are in financial distress. The impact is even greater if your credit history is scant.

The new credit factor also includes whether you have recovered from previous financial difficulties, how long since you opened a new account, and how many recent hard inquiries have been made on your credit report.

You are OK, however, if you are rate shopping for a particular purpose, such as a mortgage or auto loan, as long as you do it within a short time period. FICO treats multiple hard inquiries as a single one when you are rate shopping.

The five FICO factors and their relative weights do not necessarily apply to other scoring systems. However, with FICO used in 90% of lending decisions in the U.S., it’s the Big Kahuna in the credit scoring world.

How Can I Fix My Credit on My Own?

It starts with your credit reports. As we described earlier, you can get free copies of all three credit reports once per year. The steps we laid out above for removing inaccurate information from your credit report have you combing through each report looking for incorrect or missing information.

You then communicate with the credit bureau online or via snail mail to dispute the errors you find. If the bureau agrees with your objections, it will remove or correct the offending entries, thereby removing the anchor holding down your score.

This can be a large undertaking, so if you proceed, stay organized and follow the best practices for communicating with the credit bureaus.

After removing errors, omissions, and other inaccurate information, whip your finances into shape by observing the five factors controlling your FICO credit scores. The most important of these is to pay your bills on time.

A corollary to this rule is to repay delinquent or defaulted accounts when you can, as this will communicate your commitment to creditworthy behavior. It’s also a good idea to pay down some of your debt if your credit utilization rate is above 30%.

Also, consider using Experian Boost, a free program that adds your timely utility, telecom, and Netflix payments to your credit report. It can’t harm your score and may help it, especially when you have poor, scant, or no credit. As a bonus, you’ll also get free access to your FICO credit score as well as free credit monitoring.

Can You Really Pay Someone to Fix Your Credit?

Yup, honestly there are many credit repair companies that will take your money and promise to patch up your credit. But beware, it’s a jungle out there, with predators ready to make promises that they might not keep. We strongly urge you to use only well-established companies that have passed muster with BadCredit.org.

Our top pick is Lexington Law, a professional outfit with years of good results and positive reviews. Its top package provides extra services, such as FICO credit score tracking, ID protection, cease-and-desist letters, and several finance tools.

  • Free consultation: 1-855-200-2394
  • Most results of any credit repair law firm
  • Clients saw over 9 million negative items removed from their credit reports in 2016
  • More than 500,000 credit repair clients helped since 2004
  • Cancel anytime
  • Click here for sign-up form, terms, and details.
★★★★★

4.9

Overall Rating

Better Business Bureau In Business Since Monthly Cost Reputation Score
See BBB Listing 2004 $89.95 10/10

Look to spend approximately $50 to $140 per month for the services of a credit repair organization. Most offer a choice of two or more packages at different price points. The best ones are very experienced and knowledgeable — they know the tricks of the trade and are effective at cleaning up your credit history.

While a credit repair service will take care of most of the heavy lifting, you will have to spend time with them reviewing your credit reports and identifying problematic items. Nonetheless, they will save you oodles of time at a relatively affordable price.

How Long Does Credit Repair Take?

Many experts suggest it will take four months or longer to start seeing results after hiring a credit repair organization or after managing your own credit disputes. Many of the leading credit repair companies offer plans that last six months and can be renewed as needed. Depending on your situation, it may take years to get your credit score up to where you want it.

Cleaning up your own act may take six months or more to start bearing fruit. This involves paying your bills on time, controlling the amount of credit you use, keeping accounts open even if you’re no longer using them, using a mix of different credit account types, and limiting the number of new accounts you open within a short period.

The fastest fix you’ll find is Experian Boost. When you sign up, you may see an immediate FICO credit score increase — the average is a 13-point hike.

Fast, yes, but not an earthshaking improvement. Still, the service is free and provides you with free credit monitoring and free FICO credit scores.

What is a Bad Credit Score?

The FICO scoring range runs from 300 (worst credit) to 850 (best credit). The good folks at Fair Isaac Company, the purveyor of FICO, label scores below 580 as “poor.” According to FICO, about 61% of consumers in this scoring range are likely to become delinquent.

FICO® Score Range

We think poor credit and bad credit are fairly synonymous, but not all experts use the same terminology. For instance, Experian labels scores below 670 as “bad.” It divides this group into “fair” (580 – 669) and “poor” (below 580).

So, semantics aside, scores below 670 could use improving and would benefit from the fixes we discuss in this article.

Can a Credit Counseling Agency Help Fix My Credit?

The job of a debt counseling agency is to advise you on the management of your money and your debt. It can help you set up debt consolidation through a debt management plan if you have large amounts of unsecured debt.

With this type of debt consolidation plan, you make one monthly debt payment to your counselor who then divvies up the money to your creditors. You may be able to get a lower interest rate as part of the bargain, but without a doubt, you’ll pay fees, usually upfront and monthly.

To the extent that it reduces your debt, credit counseling should be able to stabilize and even increase your credit score. However, it will not do anything to fix the errors in your credit reports unless the counseling agency also offers credit repair.

Debt counseling may require some actions that hurt your credit score. For example, after you pay your debt to a credit card company, you may be forced to close the account, which may increase your credit utilization ratio. That can have a long-term negative impact on your credit score.

In addition, a counselor may be able to settle some of your debt for less than the full amount owed. This kind of settlement can hurt your credit score. In sum, debt counseling can help you reduce your debt, but it’s not clear how much that will help your credit score.

Can Credit Repair Help with Identity Theft?

The process of analyzing your credit reports can help you detect accounts that you didn’t open, which is a sure sign of identity theft. Let’s be clear: You would get the same benefit by reviewing your credit reports without participating in credit repair.

However, since credit repair forces the review, it can be an important tool to find ID theft.

If theft is detected, a credit repair organization can help you address the problem. You may have to file a police report, identify all suspect accounts, and state that the accounts are not yours. Be aware that criminal charges may result, so be certain before you claim identity theft.

Fix My Credit: These 3 Options Can Help

You demanded: “Fix my credit!” In this article, we’ve shown you three options to do just that — hiring a credit repair organization, undertaking to do the repair work yourself, and signing up for Experian Boost. The first two will actually fix errors in your credit reports, whereas Experian Boost will merely add some points to your credit score.

We recommend Lexington Law as our top-rated credit repair organization. Never hire a credit repair company before researching it carefully, as there are scam companies out there that will take you for a ride.

After you fix your credit reports, make sure you understand how your credit score is calculated and what you should do to improve your score. By observing the five factors comprising your overall FICO score, you can adopt creditworthy habits that will help you improve your credit in the long-run.

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