Do you know what your credit score is? If not, maybe it’s time to take a peek.
Knowledge is power, and knowing (and understanding) your credit score is important. It may just be three digits, but your credit score can be an impactful number—it can be used to determine whether or not you’re able to borrow a loan or even to rent an apartment.
If you’re new to the game and don’t have much credit history, you may be wondering how to build credit. On the other hand, if you are in need of a little credit restoration, you might be wondering how long it takes to repair credit.
The truth is there is no hard and fast timeline. Building credit from scratch can take time and so can rebuilding it. The process can be complex and can vary from person to person. In fact, many factors can affect your credit scores, so we want to be clear here that SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. This is just a higher-level look at some factors to help give you a better idea of what the credit-repair landscape can look like. With all that said, let’s dive in!
Factors that Can Influence Your Credit Score & Report
A credit score gives a numerical value to a person’s credit history. It can help give lenders a big-picture look at a potential borrower’s creditworthiness. These scores (there isn’t just one) give lenders insight into how reliable a person might be when it comes to repaying their debt.
This can influence a lender’s decision on whether or not to loan a person money, how much money they are willing to lend, and even the rates and terms for which a borrower qualifies.
Since credit scores are so widely used, it’s easy to see why some individuals may be interested in improving their credit scores. First, it might be helpful to understand the factors used to actually determine your score. Let’s take a look specifically at what goes into a FICO® Score 8 , since that is the credit score used by many lenders right now. Typically, the two most prominent are payment history and credit utilization ratio.
Your payment history accounts for approximately 35% of your FICO® Score, making it one of the most influential factors. Even just one missed or late payment could potentially lower a person’s credit score.
Lenders want to be sure that you’re able to payoff the debt, and a history of on-time payments could illustrate your reliability. A history littered with late payments could be a red flag.
Credit utilization ratio accounts for 35% of your FICO® Score . Credit utilization ratio is your total revolving debt in comparison to your total available revolving credit. Revolving credit is what’s considered when looking at an individual’s credit utilization ratio.
Revolving credit (also known as revolving debt) is essentially credit that is renewed as it is paid off, like credit cards. So, things like credit cards or other lines of credit will be included in a utilization ratio while other debts, like student loans or a mortgage, wouldn’t be.
A low credit utilization ratio can indicate to lenders that you are effectively managing your credit. Typically, lenders like to see a credit utilization ratio that is less than 30% , but how much credit being used is “too much” can depend on a number of factors.
Those factors, like the mix of your credit, the number of hard credit inquiries in your name, the length of your credit history, and negative information (like a foreclosure) can also impact your credit score.
Credit Issues: How Long Do They Linger?
Negative factors like late payments and foreclosures can hang around on your credit report for a while. Generally, the information is included for around seven years .
Bankruptcy is an exception to this seven year guideline—it can linger on your credit report for up to 10 years , depending on the type of bankruptcy filed. Bankruptcies filed under Chapter 7 can be reported for up to 10 years from the filing date. Bankruptcies filed under Chapter 13 can be reported for seven.
While a late payment will be listed on a credit report for seven years, as time passes it typically has less of an impact .
Disputing an Error on Your Credit Report
Checking your credit report can help you stay on top of your credit. You’ll also be able to make sure the information is correct, and if needed, dispute any mistakes.
There are three major credit bureaus—Experian®, Equifax, and TransUnion® . Once a year you can request a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus, at no cost. Checking in with each report may feel a little repetitive, but it’s possible that the credit bureaus could have slightly different information on file.
If you find that there are discrepancies or errors , you can write a letter to dispute the mistake. You’ll have to write to each credit bureau individually. Generally, you’ll need to send in a letter with documentation to support your claim. Once you’ve submitted your dispute letter, the bureaus have 30 days to respond .
Often times, a bureau will require additional supporting documentation, which can lead to some back and forth within or sometimes after the 30 days. It could take anywhere from three to six months to resolve a credit dispute, but it could take less time, or potentially even longer, depending on the issues being disputed.
Staying on Top of Credit Repair Efforts
Sometimes, resolving issues on a credit report isn’t enough to completely repair a bad credit score. On the bright side, credit scores aren’t permanent. Here are a few ideas for helping to keep up with your own credit restoration plan.
Improving Account Management
If you’re struggling to keep up with accounts with a variety of financial institutions, it could be time to simplify. Take stock of your investments, debts, credit cards, and savings or checking accounts. Is there any opportunity to consolidate?
Having your accounts in one, easy to check location can make it easier to ensure you never miss an alert or important deadline. Having easy access and visibility into your accounts can help you spot any issues as they pop up, so they don’t fester under the surface and surprise you when you least expect it.
Making Payments On-Time
Lenders can be hesitant to lend money to people with a history of late payments. So make sure you’re aware of each bill’s due date and make your payments on time. One idea? You could set up autopay so you don’t even have to think about it.
Limiting Credit Utilization Ratio
It could help to set a realistic budget that reflects your credit utilization ratio and stick to it. Some accounts will let you set up balance alerts that can warn you as you inch closer to the 30% guideline. Another option could be paying your credit card bill more frequently (for example, setting up a mid-cycle payment in addition to your regular payment).
Strategizing to Destroy Debt
When it comes to paying off debt, having a plan can help. Without a clearly defined strategy, it can be easy to get swept up in the stress of debt.
For example, using a credit card can be an effective way to build credit, but if not used responsibly, credit card debt can be incredibly difficult to pay off. Not only that, it could end up impacting your credit score. As a part of your credit restoration plan, you might consider putting a debt repayment plan into place.
Your finances and personal situation will be a major factor in the debt repayment strategy that works best for you. If you need some inspiration, these potential methods may be helpful to reference in your quest to pay off debt. If you decide that one of these options works for you, here’s how you might go about them.
The Snowball Method of paying off debt is pretty straightforward. To put it into action, you would organize your debts from smallest to largest, without factoring in the interest rates.
Then you’d continue to make the minimum payments on all of your debts while paying as much as much as possible on your smallest debt. When the smallest debt is paid off, you’d then roll that money into debt payments for the next smallest debt—until all of your debt is repaid.
This strategy is all about changing behavior and building in incentives to help keep you going. Starting with the smallest debt means you’d see the reward of paying it off faster than if you had started with the larger debt. While this method can help keep you motivated and laser focused on eliminating your debt, it isn’t always the most cost effective, since it doesn’t take into account interest rates.
The Debt Avalanche method encourages adherents to focus on high interest debts first. Prioritizing debts the debts with the highest interest rates by putting any extra cash towards them, while making the minimum payments on all of your other debts, could help save money in interest in the long run. And it could even help you pay off your debts sooner than the Snowball Method.
The Fireball combines the Snowball and Avalanche methods in a hybrid approach designed to help you blaze through costly debt so you can focus on the things that matter most to you.
The first step in this method is to go through all of your debts and categorize them as either “good” or “bad.” “Good” debts are those with an interest rate of less than 7%. Debts with interest rates higher than 7% are considered “bad.” Then, you’d list your “bad” debts from the smallest amount to the largest amount.
Then you’d take a look at your budget and see how much money you have to funnel toward making extra debt payments. While making the minimum monthly payment on all outstanding debts, you’d direct the extra funds toward the bad debt with the smallest amount.
When that smallest balance is repaid in full, you’d apply the total amount you were paying on that debt to the next smallest debt. Then you’d continue this pattern, moving through each outstanding bad debt until they are all paid in full.
An important note: while you are moving fiercely through your bad debts, you would still follow the normal payment schedule on your good debts.
When you’ve incinerated your bad debts, then you’d apply the money you were using to pay off bad debt toward investing in a financial goal—like saving for a house or for retirement.
By focusing on the debts with the highest interest rates first, this method could save you some change when compared with the Snowball Method. And, since you’re then targeting bad debt from the smallest balance to the largest, you could still benefit from the same psychological boost as you see your debt shrink, one payment at a time.
The Fireball also places an emphasis on saving for the future over repaying low-interest debt, so some people may find this method less appealing, especially if they have a strong aversion to debt.
Creating a Goals-Based Approach
Studies have shown that people who write down their goals are more likely to achieve them. So, it makes sense that setting some financial goals could be a smart step in fine-tuning your financial plan.
Having financial goals could possibly help you streamline your efforts. If you’re actively working toward saving for a down payment, you may feel less inclined to spend money elsewhere.
You could try setting short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals. In the short-term your goals might be as simple as tracking your spending and setting up a budget. For mid-term goals, you might think about something a little further out, like buying a house or saving for a child’s education. Long-term goals are often things like saving for retirement.
Writing down your goals and setting a time for when you’d like to reach them can help you set up your plan.
Organizing Your Finances
Organizing your finances has never been easier thanks to handy credit repair apps and financial tracking software. If you’re looking for a tool to help you manage your money with ease, take a look at SoFi Relay.
You can connect your accounts, even those unaffiliated with SoFi, to the app so you have visibility to all your finances in one place that can be accessed in an instant. This can make it easier to see when payments are due. You can also track your cash flow and spending in real time, so you’ll never have to wonder where your credit cards stand.
With SoFi Relay, you also have the option to speak with a licensed financial advisor to clarify your goals and refine your financial plan.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .
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