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Your credit score is like a financial report card that tells lenders how trustworthy you are when it comes to paying your bills. If you’ve made a lot of mistakes, like not making payments on time or racking up debt, your score will reflect that. But the flip side is also true: Responsible payment behavior will cause your credit score to rise again.
How long it will take to get a good credit score will depend on where you start, what kind of negative information is on your credit report, and how quickly you can pay off the debt. While you can’t fix your credit overnight, you’ll see your score go up over time if you work to pay off your debts and make your payments on time.
Here’s what you need to know about how long it will take to repair your credit and steps you can take to get started right now.
What is a bad credit score and why is it important?
There are hundreds of credit scores, but the two most common credit scoring models are created by FICO and VantageScore. FICO considers a credit score between 300 and 579 to be “poor,” while VantageScore considers a “poor” credit score to be between 500 and 600, according to credit bureau Experian. Under the VantageScore model, a credit score between 300 and 499 is considered “very low,” while FICO does not have a separate “very low” category. Keep in mind that your score may also vary with each of the three consumer credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, which independently collect and report information.
Having a bad credit score can affect your life in many ways. “Any time you apply for a mortgage, a car loan, any lease, it’s going to affect your payment. You’re going to end up paying a higher interest rate,” says Jessica Weaver, CFP, CDFA, CFS and author of “Confessions of a Money Queen.” Bad credit can even affect employment and housing, adds Weaver. Some employers check your credit score during the hiring process, and landlords use your credit score to determine if you are eligible to rent.
You may be denied a loan or credit card entirely if you have bad credit, says Nathan Grant, senior credit industry analyst at Credit Card Insider. Even if you’re approved, “you’ll get the worst financing terms you can get and lower credit limits,” he adds. Bad credit can also affect your insurance rates.
In general, bad credit can make your life more expensive, says Weaver. People on a tight budget should take special care to maintain good credit to avoid unaffordable financing options.
What leads to bad credit?
Your credit score is a reflection of your credit history, and any derogatory marks on your credit report can lower your score. These include:
- Late or missed payments: Your payment history is the most important factor in determining your score, and delinquencies remain on your credit report for seven years.
- punished accounts: This occurs when a credit card issuer closes your account for non-payment and you still owe the balance. It is one of the worst derogatory marks you can receive.
- Accounts in collections: If you miss payments and your lender or issuer sells your debt to a third-party collector, this account status will show up on your credit report and cause your score to drop.
- Loan Default: If you default on a loan, you will significantly damage your credit.
- Bankruptcy: Bankruptcies take longer to recover. Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 7 years, while Chapter 7 bankruptcy stays for up to 10 years.
- foreclosure: If you fall behind on your mortgage payments, your lender could foreclose on your home, further damaging your credit.
- high balances or cards to the max: Having a high credit utilization ratio or using a large percentage of your available credit will have a negative impact on your score. Try to keep your credit utilization ratio below 30%, if possible.
- Closing of credit cards: Closing old cards will reduce the age of your credit history, and closing a card with a high limit will increase your credit utilization ratio. Both could negatively affect your score. You should only consider canceling a credit card if it has an annual fee and you’re no longer using it.
- Request too many cards or loans in a short time: Applying for new credit causes a small temporary drop in your credit. Getting a new card every two years won’t be a problem, but if you’re applying for card after card, it will affect your score.
You can check your credit report for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com, the only source authorized by federal law to provide free credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus.
How often is your credit score updated?
Your credit score is based on the information in your credit report. Anytime something changes on your credit report, that’s usually when your credit score is recalculated, says Grant.
Your credit card company will generally update the credit bureaus once a month with your account details, corresponding to each new credit card statement, it adds. So if you’re working to improve your credit, it’s a good idea to check your score monthly.
How long does it take to repair or rebuild your credit?
“It’s often possible to get a higher credit score in 30 days or less,” Grant says, but don’t expect your credit score to go from fair to excellent during that time. If you’ve had a major setback, it usually takes about a year or two to repair your credit, according to Weaver.
But that depends on your individual situation. For example, FICO research shows that it takes five to 10 years to recover from bankruptcy, depending on your credit score. If you are 30 days behind on a mortgage payment, you can repair your credit in about 9 months to three years. The higher your score initially, the longer it will take you to fully recover from the mishap.
You should start the credit repair process as soon as you can so you are prepared the next time you need to apply for new credit. “If you’re going to buy a house, a new car, start a business, six months or a year from now, start looking at your score and your report,” says Weaver.
The fastest ways to improve your credit score
Although repairing your credit score takes time, there are a few steps you can take to speed up the process:
- Resolve errors in your report: If you notice errors on your credit report, such as incorrect balances or accounts that aren’t yours, disputing these errors and removing them from your credit report could quickly improve your credit score.
- Request a credit limit increase: Depending on your issuer, you may be able to request a credit limit increase online. You can also call customer service. If you’ve been making on-time payments but using much of your available line of credit each month, this could be a way to lower your credit utilization ratio and improve your score.
- Pay the debt: Paying off debt is another effective way to improve your credit score. “Immediately, prioritize paying the most you can afford in your budget and avoid late payments,” says Grant. One popular strategy is the debt avalanche method, which involves addressing the highest-interest credit cards first.
- Make payments on time: The longer you can maintain consistent and on-time payments, the more you’ll see an improvement in your score. If you tend to be forgetful, set up automatic payments; just make sure you stick to a budget and have enough in your bank account to cover the charges, so you don’t get hit by overdrafts or returned payment fees.
- Change your spending habits: If you’re in a cycle of debt and it’s not hurting your balances, you need to take a step back and look at your finances and spending as a whole, says Weaver. “Stop adding to that credit card while you’re paying it off,” she says. Use a cash-based budgeting system while gaining control of your finances. Once you pay off your debts, you can focus on using your credit cards responsibly so you don’t get in trouble again.