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How to Repair Your Credit

Published March 11, 2024
6 min read

Key points about: repairing credit

  1. Your credit score is based on your credit habits, as recorded in your credit report.

  2. You could repair a low credit score by paying bills on time each month, reducing debts, or increasing your credit limit.

  3. Credit report mistakes could also lower your credit score. If you notice an error, dispute it.

A low credit score could make buying a car, renting an apartment, taking out a loan, or applying for new credit cards harder. Some companies offer paid credit repair services that might improve your credit score. However, you may not have to rely on credit repair companies to achieve good credit. You can take steps on your own to rebuild a positive credit history and heal your personal finances. With time, small changes in your behavior could foster lasting improvements in your credit score.

What makes up your credit score

Your spending and credit habits determine your credit score. Lenders use your credit score to judge whether you handle credit responsibly. 

As you use your credit card, creditors and financial institutions report your activity to credit reporting agencies. They sort the data into your credit reports. Credit scoring agencies, in turn, form your three-digit credit score based on certain factors from your credit report.

Here is how myFICO weighs each factor in your credit report, but remember other credit scoring agencies may weigh factors differently:

  • Payment history–35%
  • Credit utilization–30%
  • Length of credit history –15%
  • Credit mix –10%
  • New credit –10%

Ways to repair credit

Repairing your credit takes time and patience. While you may not see a positive change overnight, healthy financial habits pay off. Several strategies can help you improve your credit score. As you develop a plan, consider the issues that have hurt your credit in the past. 

Make all your payments on time

You may notice a dramatic drop in your credit score if you’ve repeatedly missed your payment due dates. Late payments could hurt your credit score after being late 30 days or more. Lenders typically want to see a consistent pattern of on-time payments. To rebuild your credit score, try paying your bill before your due date. If you struggle to remember your due date, you may be able to set up autopay. Otherwise, you could set a reminder on your phone or laptop a few days before your due date each month. Building a positive payment history is fundamental to improving your credit score.

Pay past due accounts

The longer your bills go unpaid, the more they may hurt your credit score. After 30 days, card issuers can report missing payments to credit bureaus. Past-due accounts remain on your credit report for up to seven years, according to myFICO.com, leaving long-term consequences for your financial well-being. 

The longer a bill goes unpaid, the more damage it could do to your credit. The impact of missed payments increases after 60, 90, and 120 days. To minimize the harm to your credit, try to cover late fees and overdue amounts as soon as possible. The sooner you repay your past-due accounts, the sooner you can begin repairing your credit score.

Pay off debt to improve your credit utilization ratio

Your credit utilization ratio shows lenders what percentage of your total available revolving credit you’re currently using. Ideally, your credit utilization ratio should be below 30%, according to Experian. A higher ratio may tell lenders you’re overwhelmed or unable to manage your debts.

Regaining control over credit card debts could be challenging if you’re struggling with several growing balances. Making minimum payments may not be enough. A few credit card debt reduction tools could help you approach your balances. You may also take the time to determine which credit card to repay first, based on interest rate or the amount owed. Credit counseling may also help.

As you pay down your debts, your credit utilization ratio should go down, too, especially if you keep accounts open. 

Don't close credit accounts once you've paid them off

Once you’ve worked hard and repaid your credit accounts, you may want to close them so their balances don’t grow. However, that doesn’t always work in your favor.

Maintaining a credit account after you’ve paid it off could help you keep a lower credit utilization ratio. Each card’s unused credit limit adds to your total available credit. If you close a card after repaying it, your available credit goes down compared to your balances, increasing your credit utilization. 

Closed accounts in good standing typically remain on your credit report for 10 years, according to Experian. However, the average age of your credit cards also influences your credit history. Closing an account you’ve had for a long time reduces the average age of your credit cards. This may hurt your score.

Should you apply for a new credit card?

Applying for a new credit card could affect your repair efforts in a few different ways. Creditors typically run a hard credit inquiry when you apply for a new credit card. This may temporarily lower your score. However, a new credit card may help you build your score by increasing your available credit and decreasing your credit utilization ratio. A new credit card also allows you to build a positive payment history by paying your balance in full or at least your minimum payment each month by the card’s due date. You could minimize the risk to your credit score by applying for credit cards that offer pre-approval. You may not qualify for many credit cards if you have poor credit. In that case, a secured credit card could help you build your credit history. Secured credit cards require a deposit. Your credit limit then equals that deposit amount. Card issuers may use that deposit to cover past-due balances. This safety net makes qualifying for a secured card easier.

Did you know?

If you keep your balance low and repay your credit card bill on time, a secured credit card could improve your credit score.

Of course, a new credit card may not be the best fit for every situation. If you struggle to limit your spending, you may quickly build a balance on your new card. This may make it harder to get out of credit card debt and repair your score. Before you apply for a new card, take the time to consider your needs and spending habits.

Check your credit report for errors

Mistakes in your credit report could lower your credit score. Issues like a missed payment that you actually made on time, or an open account marked as closed could hurt your credit. Other incorrect information, like errors in your name or address, may not hurt your credit score, but they could still cause errors later.

You should file a dispute with the credit reporting agency if you notice a mistake in your credit report. Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax all have slightly different processes for filing a dispute. However, they typically offer options online and over the phone. After you file a dispute, if the creditor agrees there was an error, they should update your information and notify the credit reporting agency to correct your credit report.

Repairing your credit may feel daunting, especially if you have debt on multiple credit cards or have gotten behind on your payments. Fortunately, by changing your habits one day at a time, you can repair your credit score and meet your financial goals.

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  1. There is no hard inquiry to your credit report to check if you’re pre-approved. If you’re pre-approved, and you move forward with submitting an application for the credit card, it will result in a hard inquiry which may impact your credit score. Receiving a pre-approval offer does not guarantee approval. Applicants applying without a social security number are not eligible to receive pre-approval offers. Card applicants cannot be pre-approved for the NHL Discover Card.