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How to Rebuild Your Credit

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Having a good credit score can help you qualify for the best credit cards or good rates on personal loans. Your credit score is a reflection of how responsible you are with debt -- so to rebuild credit you need to make regular debt payments. Take a look at this guide on how to rebuild credit to find out what steps to take.

Can I rebuild my credit fast?

It can be possible to rebuild credit quickly -- in some cases. There are five factors that impact your credit score:

  • Payment history
  • Amounts owed
  • Credit history length
  • Credit mix
  • New accounts

Several factors, like your payment history and overall credit history age, are difficult to repair quickly.

But if your credit is damaged because you've maxed out your credit cards, you could be in luck. In this case, the best way to rebuild credit is to pay down your balances. Credit card issuers will report your updated balances to the credit bureaus at least once a month -- so this technique can help rebuild credit within 30 days. 

Of course, this may be easier said than done if you're living on a tight budget. Don't stress: Even paying down a small amount (whatever you can afford) may help boost your score. The next step? Building a budget focused on debt repayment can go a long way.

Unfortunately, if you need to rebuild credit after making late payments or defaulting on an account, the process could take much longer. Creditors -- and scoring models -- will usually want to see at least six months of positive payment history before they start to forgive your mistakes. And it can take up to seven years (10 years for certain bankruptcies) for the negative items to leave your credit reports entirely.

The only real exception: credit report errors. If you have a mistake on your credit report, filing a dispute with the credit bureau can help you rebuild credit quickly. But this only applies to actual errors. Do not fall victim to a predatory credit repair company that promises it can remove legitimate negative items.

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Getting approved for a credit card

Check credit score requirements before applying for a credit card. Some credit cards only approve people with excellent credit. Others are made especially for people with low or no credit. Here are our favorite credit cards organized by credit score requirements:

10 steps to rebuild your credit

There are many ways to rebuild credit, and the most effective options vary from person to person. Use this list of options to rebuild credit as a starting point to make your own personalized plan to rebuild your credit.

1. Get current with payments

Before you do anything else to rebuild credit, make sure every account you have is current (not behind on payments). Accounts more than 30 days past due can do serious damage to your credit, and the later they get, the worse the damage will get.

Plus, outstanding balances can mean late fees and interest fees get piled on top of your balances. The longer you're behind, the more expensive it'll be to catch up.

If you're struggling to get current on your cards, make sure to contact your issuer. In most cases, your credit card issuer will work with you to establish a payment plan. After all, it's in the issuer's best interests for you to repay that debt.

2. Pay down high balances

One of the key factors used in credit scoring is called your credit utilization ratio. This is the ratio of how much credit card debt you have (amounts owed) vs. your total available credit. For example, a credit card with a balance of $500 and a credit limit of $1,000 has a utilization ratio of: $500 / $1,000 = 0.5 = 50%.

High utilization (being close to your credit limits) is a warning sign to creditors that you may have taken on too much debt. As a result, high utilization can hurt your credit score. One way to rebuild credit is to pay down those balances. The general rule of thumb is to keep your utilization below 30% (try not to owe more than one-third of your credit limit. Below 10% is ideal.

Building a budget that prioritizes debt repayment is often the best method for paying down high balances (see below for more on budgets, or our guide to paying off debt for our top tips).

If you already have a tight budget, a debt consolidation loan may be a good way to pay down credit cards and boost your credit score. Opening a debt consolidation loan can bring down your score in the short-term, but can benefit your score in the long-term. If budgeting isn't an option, it's worth investigating whether a debt consolidation loan is right for you.

3. Pay on time, every time

Every time you make a credit card payment and the issuer reports your payment to the credit bureaus, you are contributing to your payment history. Your payment history is the most important part of your credit score.

No plan to rebuild credit will work if you aren't paying on time. Make at least your minimum required payment by the due date every single month. (Ideally, pay off your entire balance every month to avoid credit card interest fees.)

4. Activate automatic payments

If you're having trouble remembering due dates, you can let the credit card company take care of it for you. Most banks and issuers will allow you to set up automatic payments. You can choose the amount you want to pay -- make sure it's at least your minimum payment -- as well as when you want the payments to process.

If you don't have automatic payments set to cover your entire bill, be sure to follow up with additional payments to pay your full balance.

5. Keep balances low

As mentioned, your utilization rate has a lot of influence on your credit score. Once you've paid down your outstanding balances, make sure to keep them low.

You'll struggle to rebuild credit if you keep running up your credit card balances after paying them down. People with excellent credit tend to have utilization rates below 10%.

6. Open a secured credit card

The only surefire way to rebuild credit is to have a recent positive payment history. Of course, if your credit is heavily damaged, you may have trouble qualifying for a credit card with which to build that payment history. This is where a secured credit card can help. 

Secured credit cards can be pretty easy to get, even if your credit is damaged. That's because secured cards rely on a cash security deposit to minimize risk to the issuer. As you pay off your balance in full, you'll get the security deposit back when you close your account. Some issuers will even automatically upgrade you to an unsecured account.

7. Become an authorized user on someone else's card

Another way to rebuild credit is to become an authorized user on another person's card. When you become an authorized user on someone else's credit card, you receive your own credit card with your name. But the credit account is still the responsibility of the primary account holder. The card company typically reports the credit card account to the credit bureaus for both the primary account holder and the authorized user.

As long as the account is in good standing, being added as an authorized user can help raise your credit score.

Being an authorized user isn't without risks, however. For example, if the cardholder or the authorized user runs up a high balance, both users could see credit damage. Only tie your credit score to individuals you trust.

8. Build a budget -- and stick to it

Any plan to rebuild credit score damage is sure to fail if you don't address the root of the problem. In many cases, the root cause boils down to the lack of a budget -- and yes, that means a realistic budget, not an idealized one. If your budget doesn't reflect your actual lifestyle and debts, it'll be useless.

A good budget can help you repay debts and keep from overextending yourself in the future. 

9. Keep an eye on your credit reports and scores

As you work to rebuild credit, be sure to keep a close eye on your credit reports and scores. Many credit card issuers offer free monthly credit scores, especially on credit-building products. You can also get free copies of your credit reports from each of the three bureaus once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you find any errors on your reports, be sure to dispute them quickly with the credit bureau.

10. Give it time

Like it or not, sometimes time is the only way to rebuild credit. Those delinquent payments and defaulted accounts aren't going anywhere fast.

It can take years of building a positive payment history to recover from big mistakes -- especially when those mistakes can sit on your reports for up to seven years. If you're doing everything right to rebuild credit, but you're still seeing little movement in your credit scores: wait. Time -- and keeping on top of your payments -- heals most credit wounds.

How long will it take to rebuild my credit?

Every credit profile is unique. As a result, the best strategy to rebuilding credit will depend on your credit history and the reasons for your credit problems. In other words, the answer to the question of "How long does it take to rebuild credit?" is: It depends.

A low credit score caused by high credit card balances can be the quickest thing to fix (assuming you have the funds to pay them off). Paying down high balances can help you rebuild credit in 30 days or less.

On the other hand, if you need to rebuild credit due to late payments or a defaulted account, you're probably going to need longer. It will take at least six to 12 months to rebuild credit scores to an acceptable level -- and several years for the negative items to disappear altogether. 

In fact, negative items can linger on your credit reports for up to 10 years in certain cases (primarily bankruptcy), with most negative items having a shelf life of seven years. On the bright side, negative items impact your credit scores less as they age, particularly when you've been building a positive payment history in the meantime.

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Credit cards to avoid while rebuilding your credit

A lot of folks have used credit cards to rebuild credit with great results. However, some credit cards can make the damage worse. Stay away from predatory credit cards, specifically unsecured credit cards marketed towards people with bad credit. They tend to charge three-digit annual fees -- on top of processing fees and application fees. They'll also have outrageous interest rates. Instead, look for a good secured card. These types of cards are often the best credit cards for bad credit.

How can I raise my credit score by 100 points?

If you have very high utilization -- you're close to your credit limits -- paying down your balances could provide a large credit score boost. Credit scores damaged by credit report errors can also jump quite a bit when those errors are removed.

Outside of these situations, however, you'll typically need to rebuild credit over many months to see a gain of 100 points or more. There is no guaranteed way to raise your credit score by a specific amount -- and 100 points is a lot to expect. For example, a 100-point jump from 570 to 670 moves you from bad credit into fair credit.

What type of credit cards work for rebuilding credit?

The best credit cards to rebuild credit have minimal costs and report your payments to the credit bureaus each month. This means cards with affordable annual fees -- or, even better, credit cards with no annual fees -- and the option for automatic payments.

Wondering where to start? A number of credit cards for fair or average credit won't charge a fee. If you can't qualify for an unsecured card without an annual fee, consider a secured credit card. 

Secured cards differ from traditional cards in one key way: the deposit. Secured credit cards require an upfront cash deposit to open and maintain. This makes them safer for the issuer. Even if you have significant credit damage, you can likely find an issuer willing to offer you a secured credit card.

Banks where you already have a good relationship and your local credit union are often the best places to find a secured card. Look for one that might allow you to graduate easily to an unsecured card (and avoid annual fees, if possible).

What types of loans work for rebuilding credit?

Technically, you can rebuild credit with any type of loan that reports on-time payments, including debt consolidation loans (which can also help you save money by lowering the amount of interest you pay).

Of course, getting a loan with poor credit can be a challenge. If this is your situation, start by looking into credit-builder loans. These loans are specifically designed to help you build credit. 

Credit-builder loans are generally small loans with reasonable interest rates and short repayment terms. However, unlike a regular loan, you won't get the loan money at first. Instead, the lender sticks the money aside in an account you can't access. You make monthly payments as you would with any loan, and those payments are reported to the credit bureaus. When you've paid the loan in full, you get the money.

To recap, rebuilding your credit can be accomplished by: 

  1. Get current with payments: Pay any past-due accounts, late fees, and interest fees to prevent the damage from getting worse.
  2. Pay down high balances: Get your utilization rate at least below 30%, ideally lower, for quick credit score improvements.
  3. Pay on time, every time: On-time payments are vital to rebuild credit.
  4. Activate automatic payments: Make sure you're never late again by using automatic payments.
  5. Keep balances low: Maintaining a low utilization ratio will help safeguard your credit.
  6. Open a secured credit card: Rebuilding a positive payment history is important. Secured credit cards can help if you're struggling to get approved elsewhere.
  7. Become an authorized user on someone else's card: Being an authorized user on an account in good standing can give you a quick credit boost. 
  8. Build a budget: A good budget can help you keep up with your payments and prevent future credit problems.
  9. Monitor your progress: Keep an eye on your credit reports and scores as you work to rebuild credit.
  10. Give it time: Time is often the best tool to rebuild credit. Be patient during your credit recovery.

Still have questions?

Here are some other questions we've answered:

FAQs

  • In general, paying your debts on time every month and keeping balances low will rebuild credit scores over time. But the best way to rebuild credit depends on how you damaged it in the first place.

  • It can take anywhere from 30 days to seven years to rebuild credit, depending on the nature of the issue. A high utilization rate, for instance, can be repaired in 30 days by paying down your balances. However, it can take years to rebuild credit after a defaulted account or bankruptcy.

  • You might be able to boost your credit score by drastically reducing your utilization rate (how close you are to your credit limit). Having credit report errors resolved can also significantly improve your credit. Beyond that, pay all your bills on time and keep your balances low. Over time, you will rebuild credit and your score can easily increase 100 points or more.

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