A healthy credit score is critical to be approved for loans, get affordable financing, and pay a lower cost for many types of insurance and utilities. A recent survey by the American Bankers Association says just 60% of consumers checked their credit report last year.
Many consumers don’t understand how credit scores are calculated or how to improve one. There is no overnight cure for a low credit score, but there are strategies to apply to improve it over time. Start now, and you can have a better score before you know it. Consider these tips.
#1 Start Secured
After bankruptcy, you won’t have any credit card accounts. That’s the first place to start. Most consumers must begin with a secured credit card after bankruptcy, but all secured cards are not the same.
Do your homework and choose one that doesn’t have high annual fees, a ridiculous set-up fee, and over-the-top interest. Also, research to see which secured card issuers will work with recent bankruptcy filers – not all will do so.
#2 Check Your Report
Many bankruptcy filers gave up on monitoring their credit score because they know it’s not good news. After your bankruptcy discharge, pull your credit report from all three bureaus – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
Make sure all accounts listed in your bankruptcy petition reflect a zero balance from the discharge. Also, look for accounts that are fraudulent or inaccurate and get those cleaned up by contacting the bureau and filing a dispute.
#3 Track Your Credit Score
To confirm your credit score is improving, you must know your starting point. Your credit report is not your credit score - don’t confuse the two. Discover offers a true FICO score to everyone – not just Discover card holders.
To get your true FICO score, visit credit score card dot com and get a free account. You’ll get the same score most potential creditors use, and you’ll get a quick rundown of what factors are helping or hurting your score.
#4 Apply for New Credit Strategically
It’s important to get a credit card account ASAP after bankruptcy discharge because one factor in your credit score is the average age of credit. Older accounts help you so even when you get unsecured cards, keep your older accounts.
New accounts also help your score but don’t apply for credit without being sure you’ll be approved. Research online credit forums to find out specific criteria and make sure you apply strategically, so you don’t get denials.
#5 Pay Off Balances in Full
You never want to fall into a trap where you get in too deep with credit cards. Cards are essential to improve your credit score, but you shouldn’t carry balances month to month. If you do, you’ll be stuck paying interest.
Instead, use cards wisely, perhaps for utilities and other necessities. You can pay off regularly and in full and don’t buy things you don’t need. If you pay off before your statement date, you shouldn’t incur any interest.
#6 Get New Credit but Use It Sparingly
Another part of your score is utilization. Your utilization is calculated as the percentage of balances owed on revolving credit compared to your total available lines of credit. If you have $10,000 in credit lines, that’s the first part.
If you have $2,000 in balances, that’s 2000/10000 = 20% utilization. That's not terrible, but lower is better. When you get new credit, it helps your utilization but only if you don’t use it. Keep your balances at low or zero for best results.
Make the Most of Your Fresh Start
After you get a bankruptcy discharge, it’s time to work on improving your credit score. There is no time to waste. If you’re not sure where to start, contact Credit Score Keys for assistance. We help North Carolina consumers improve their credit scores after bankruptcy.
Resources: ABA Survey
Discover Score Card