Bankruptcy. Debt collections. Foreclosures. These things can do serious damage to a person’s credit score. The damage can be long-lasting. But it’s not always permanent.
There are certain things you can do to repair the damage caused by a negative event, such as bankruptcy. In this article, you’ll learn the best ways to improve a credit score quickly.
7 Things That Can Ruin Your Credit
Before we go any further, we need to discuss the reasons your score might have dropped in the first place. Here’s a quick rundown of the most harmful items:
Filing for personal bankruptcy (Chapter 7 or 13)
Having your home foreclosed upon
Missing payments, or making late payments, on a credit card or loan
Having an account “charged off” by a creditor or lender
Defaulting on a loan
Having a debt sent to a collection agency
Maxing out your credit card limits
Below, you’ll learn the best ways to improve a credit score after any of these negative events. The damage done by these things will vary, depending on several factors. For example, a single late payment on a credit account could lower your FICO score anywhere from 50 to 100 points. So it’s hard to assign exact numbers to these events. Just know that the steps outlined below have the potential to restore your credit quickly.
The Best Ways to Improve Your Score
No matter how bad your credit is right now, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t say exactly how long it will take you to rebuild your credit rating — nobody can. There are too many variables for such a prediction. But I can tell you the even that most significant damage can be ameliorated over time. I have personally seen someone go from a 550 FICO score to a 720 in just over a year’s time. Below, we will discuss some of the steps she took to improve her credit rating so quickly.
Let’s take a look at the five primary factors that influence your FICO score. We also need to talk about the relative strength they have, in terms of helping or harming your credit.
This chart shows five categories of information that can affect your FICO credit score. But I want to direct your attention to two of the categories in particular. You’ll notice that the dark-blue and red slices of the pie, when combined, account for 65% of your score. You’ll also notice that the next-largest slice (yellow) is determined by the length of your credit history, which is something you can’t really control.
What does all of this mean? It means that if you want to see quick results, you should focus your energy on the blue and red sections. Those are the best ways to improve your credit score quickly. So let’s talk more about those two areas:
1. Bill Payments — Steady as She Goes!
Your payment history can make or break your score, all on its own. Earlier I mentioned that a single late payment of 90 days could lower your FICO rating by more than 100 points. That’s a significant amount of damage for a single negative event. That’s why it’s critical that you make all of your payments on time.
In this context, I am primarily referring to the types of accounts that show up on your credit reports. These include retail charge cards, car loans, credit cards and the like. If you haven’t done so already, you should get copies of your reports. AnnualCreditReport.com is the official website for this purpose.
2. Amounts Owed — Pay Down Those Balances!
I know, it’s often easier said than done. But if you can pay down your credit card balances (or any other form of revolving debt that you have), you’ll be able to improve your score more quickly. It’s okay to have balances on one or more cards. In fact, this can help you improve your score over time. But the key is to maintain low balances, relative to the card’s limit.
This is referred to as your utilization ratio. A higher ratio will result in a lower FICO score. Create a payment plan that allows you to reduce your balances over time. It’s one of the best ways to improve your credit score quickly.
These are certainly not the only things that affect your rating. But they are two of the most important factors. You can clearly see this when you look at the pie chart presented above. Remember, this strategy is intended to help you rebuild your score as fast as possible.
If you want to see some significant changes in months, as opposed to years, you need to start with the “Big 2″ items described above. There is no getting around this. Stay on top of your bills — don’t let a single bill become delinquent. And do whatever you can to reduce the balances on your existing credit accounts.
I’d like to move on to talk about another strategy you can use to boost your credit rating. It actually piggybacks on the “payment history” concept mentioned earlier.
How Long Does it Take?
No one can tell you how long it will take to improve your credit score. If somebody claims to know this information, they are probably trying to sell you something. Even the people who developed the FICO scoring model admit that it’s impossible to make such predictions. Earlier, I said I knew someone who boosted her score from 550 to 720 in just over a year. This is true. But her situation may be much different from yours.
Here’s one thing we know: It generally takes longer to recover from a history of negative events, as opposed to an isolated event. If I have a bankruptcy filing on my credit record, but it’s the only negative entry on my reports, I’ll probably recover much faster than somebody with a dozen negative entries.
The speed with which you implement these strategies will also play a role. For instance, consider the reduction of credit card balances we talked about earlier. You’ll probably be able to rebuild your credit rating faster if you reduce your balances quickly, as opposed to “chipping away” at them over a period of months. In the latter scenario, you are improving your credit-utilization ratio much more slowly. So the results will also be more gradual in nature.
When you consider how long things can stay on your credit reports, you might be discouraged:
“Why should I even try to rebuild my credit history, if a single late payment can stay on my report for up to seven years? What’s the point? Can I make any improvements in the meantime?”
Yes, a negative entry can stay on your report for a long time. But you can actually boost your FICO score even while those negative items remain. They tend to have less impact over time. So it’s certainly worth the effort. Start with the strategies listed above — it’s the best way to improve your credit quickly.
In all honesty, it might take several years to fully recover from a catastrophic event such as bankruptcy. But you can still benefit from the incremental improvements you’ll make along the way. For instance, if you can boost your score by 50 points or so in the short term, you’ll qualify for better interest rates on loans, credit cards, etc. And the sooner you start your campaign to rebuild your credit, the sooner you’ll reach the finish line — regardless of how far away it might seem.
Important Notes: Every financial situation is different. The tips offered in this article applies to most credit situations. But there are exceptions to every rule. This information has been provided for educational purposes and should not be viewed as financial advice. I strongly encourage you to continue your research beyond this article.