So this is it — you are going clean up your credit once and for all. First, take the time to accept this statement as fact. Because the fact is, you can repair and rebuild bad credit, and you do not need to pay anyone else to do it for you.
Bottom line, no matter what you have heard or read anywhere else, there is nothing a credit repair company can do for you that you cannot do for yourself. Here’s how.
1) Request copies of your credit reports.
Before you can repair bad credit, you need to know precisely what items are negatively affecting your credit score. Your credit reports will tell you just that, and you’re entitled to free copies of them every 12 months. To get your free copy from all three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — go to AnnualCreditReport.com.
2) Dispute erroneous/negative items on your credit reports.
Once you have access to your credit reports, it’s time to go through them with a fine-tooth comb. At first glance, credit reports can be a little intimidating, but you’ll have no trouble interpreting them once you know what to look for, and what it means.
Sending letters of dispute.
After decoding your credit reports, the next step is disputing erroneous/negative listings.
Start with the credit bureaus. If you have trouble resolving an issue this way, move on to directly disputing items with the original creditor or collection agency, need be. Finally, if the issue remains unresolved through all of these channels, you can submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
3) Settle debts that cannot be eliminated through debt validation.
During the dispute process, you will be requesting debt validation for erroneous/negative listings. While original creditors can likely provide this proof, that is not always the case for debts that have passed to collection agencies (making this an effective strategy for eliminating old credit card debt).
However, for any debts that cannot be resolved in this manner — or through a complaint to the CFPB — it is probably time to try settling the debt.
4) Add positive credit.
Once you have removed as many erroneous/negative listings as possible from your credit reports, it’s time to add something positive:
Make your current loan payments on time.
Pay down credit card debt, thus lowering your credit utilization ratio.
Use your credit cards (paying off the balance every month).
You can also try adding new lines of credit to your reports via secured credit cards and other means.
5) Monitor your credit.
You won’t be able to get free copies of your credit reports for another year, but you can monitor your credit for free through sites like Credit Karma, Quizzle, and Credit Sesame. Granted, this will require providing these sites with some personally-identifying information. So if you’d rather, you can always purchase your credit reports through AnnualCreditReports.com, and your FICO credit score through myFICO.com.
As you can probably imagine, cleaning up your credit won’t happen overnight. It’s a process that will likely take 6 months (if not longer), but as someone who’s been living with a poor credit score, you know it’s well worth the time and effort to clear things up.