Most Americans Don’t Understand the Real Cost of Bad Credit, Survey Finds

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You may know that your credit scores are very important when it comes to securing an auto loan, mortgage or new credit card. But it turns out that many Americans greatly underestimate the cost of low credit scores.

That’s according to a new credit score survey from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and VantageScore Solutions. The survey shows that while the majority of consumers know that mortgage lenders (88%) and credit card issuers (87%) use credit scores, only 22% are aware that a low score, compared to a high score, typically increases the cost of a $20,000, 60-month auto loan by more than $5,000.

“Low scores can add hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to consumers’ credit each year,” Stephen Brobeck, CFA’s executive director, said in response to a question Credit.com posed during a press conference this afternoon. “If you have a bad credit score, you’re going to pay a very high price. And that’s just another important reason why people should pay attention to their credit scores.”

CFA’s and VantageScore’s findings are based on a telephone survey ORC International did in mid-April. The firm interviewed 1,005 Americans by landline and cell phone, and the margin of error for the survey was plus or minus three percentage points.

The survey also found that most people were unaware that non-creditors were using their credit scores — only about half of respondents (53%) realized that electric utilities may consider a credit score in establishing costs, like an initial deposit. However, more consumers (66%) were aware that home insurers potentially use credit scores, as do cell phone providers (68%) and landlords (70%).

Knowing Your Credit Score 

Whether you’re applying for a new mortgage, car loan, credit card or even a new cell phone plan, it’s a good idea to find out your credit scores. (To see where your credit currently stands, you can view two of your credit scores for free, updated each month, on Credit.com.) And if you find that you need to improve your credit scores, you can generally do so by disputing any errors you find, paying down credit card debt and limiting new credit inquiries.

[Offer: Your credit score may be low due to credit errors. If that’s the case, you can tackle your credit reports to improve your credit score with help from Lexington Law. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

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Help! I’m a Man-Baby Trying to Fix My Credit

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There comes a time in everyone’s life — sometimes more than once — when you have the sinking realization that you’re an adult and need to get it together. Financially speaking, that can mean getting out of debt, building credit or (gasp) saving a little money for when you retire.

For Nathan McGoey, a 30-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin, this moment came in his late 20s. He had just become a single dad, and for the sake of his son’s future, decided to change his irresponsible habits.

“I knew what I was doing probably wasn’t good, but I didn’t care enough,” McGoey said of his early adulthood. “I was blissfully ignorant when it came to f—— up my credit.”

About two years after he decided to get on top of his finances, McGoey checked his credit, and what he saw upset him.

“My score was, like, 560,” he wrote on Reddit last month. “I also saw I had something in collections that I had no idea about. I paid off that collection, and now my credit score is, like, 585. I want to improve this in the hope of someday getting a house. Because I have no debt, I thought I’d get a credit card and try to rebuild my credit, but surprise, surprise, I got denied for a credit card.”

The Man-Baby Lifestyle

McGoey has a good description for who he was in his 20s: a man-baby. Though he was an adult, he wasn’t managing his money any better than a child would have. It started with a car loan and credit card, which he got when he was 20.

“Within a month and a half, I had that maxed out at the bar having a good time with the boys,” McGoey said. “I just didn’t pay that.”

Then there were his car payments, which he rarely paid on time, even though he had money.

“There were times they would even look for me and try to repo me,” he said.

The credit card debt went into collections, and he made the car payments just often enough to keep his car and stop the calls from creditors.

A Wake-Up Call

When he was ignoring his bills, McGoey often thought to himself, “Who cares if I don’t get credit?” He knew he was messing it up, but it didn’t matter.

But having his son changed that.

“I knew what I was doing to myself was not only harming me but potentially harming him,” McGoey says.

He checked his credit for the first time a few years ago, and it was “atrocious,” he said. He decided to pay off the collection accounts in his report and get out of debt, though he didn’t want to check his credit again. When he checked it a couple of years later, he experienced the same disappointment and confusion many feel when trying to improve their credit. He was out of debt, but his score was still in bad shape.

Playing Credit Catch-Up

Having a bad credit score despite everything he’d done left McGoey with one common question: How can I improve it?

“It’s just one of those things that’s a constant reminder of all of the bad things I’ve done in the past,” he said. To him, having a higher credit score will mean finally leaving behind his self-described man-baby past and truly growing up.

The answer to his question is a frustrating one: Give it time. McGoey paid off the collection account, but that information can stay on a credit report for up to 7 years. He also opened up a credit card, which he plans to use sparingly and pay on time in order to improve his payment history. (Yes, there are credit cards for bad credit — you just need to research ones you may qualify for.)

Besides waiting for his man-baby past to age off his credit report, there are a few other things he could do. While it’s generally not a good idea to go into debt just for the purpose of improving your credit, having a mix of credit accounts (revolving accounts and installment loans, like a credit card and an auto loan) can help, as these show you can responsibly manage multiple kinds of credit.

You could also try to negotiate with creditors or debt collectors to have negative information removed from your credit report, particularly if it’s unfairly hurting your credit. (For example, if a single debt is sold and re-sold to different collection agencies, it can show up on your credit reports several times, worsening your score.) You can take these steps on your own or hire an expert to help.

Patience Is Key

Above all, McGoey and others working toward good credit need to be patient. It takes time to improve your credit score, and the best things you can do are make payments on time and keep debt levels low. A low credit utilization is probably one of the quickest credit-score fixes. (A good rule of thumb is to keep your credit card balances at ideally less than 10% of your combined credit limit.)

Whether you’re trying to boost your credit or maintain a good score, it’s important to regularly check your annual credit reports. Errors can damage your credit (and can take a while to fix), as can fraud, and you’ll only know of them if you monitor your credit. You can get a free credit report summary every 30 days on Credit.com to stay on top of your credit history.

[Offer: If you need help fixing errors on your credit report, Lexington Law could help you meet your goals. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

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A Crash Course to Moving On From Bad Credit

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So, you’ve decided to get serious, fix your credit issues and build healthier credit. Way to go! Often, the first question I’m asked by folks working to improve their credit is, “How long will it take for my credit score to improve so I can … buy a home, pay for my wedding, afford college and so on?”

If you’ve paid more than 30, 60 or 90 days late on accounts, your creditors will report that to the major credit bureaus and the derogatory information can remain on your report for approximately seven years. If you ignored a collection that was reported to the bureaus, it will stay on your credit report as well. However, you can start the healing with a plan.

Much of your success in raising your credit score and how long it takes depends on you. But if you stick to my plan, which I’ve outlined below, you’ll be on the fast track to healthy credit.

First, let’s agree on what not to do:

  • Pay your bills late.
  • Remain disorganized.
  • Max out your credit cards.
  • Lack a plan.

Below, I’ve mapped out your plan. Follow these steps and you will be on your way to a healthier credit score.

1. Order Your Credit Reports

Your first step to healthy credit is knowing where you stand. Starting now, order your credit reports. (You can pull your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and see a free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.) You may want to check all your credit reports twice a year, though you’ll likely have to pay for a second set. It’s a great way to track your progress, as well as keep an eye on your credit accounts to watch for any signs of fraud or identity theft. Examine reports carefully for any inaccuracies, and have the appropriate creditor and credit bureau correct them.

2. Keep Balances in Check

To raise your credit score, you will need to pay down any revolving credit balances worth up to 20% of your total credit line. Keep balances at those low levels by not charging up your credit cards and making sure you pay down new charges.

3. Resolve Accounts in Collections

If you have any accounts in collections or late payments due, take care of them as soon as possible. If you paid accounts late in the past but now pay them on time, you’ll stop receiving late charges. A collection that gets paid will be reported as such and remain on your credit report.

4. Rebuild With New Accounts

Once you’ve addressed the credit issues of the past, begin to rebuild your credit by making sure you have a nice variety of credit accounts. Consider taking out a credit card, car loan, mortgage, store credit card or even a secured personal loan. The key to a good variety is not getting in over your head, so be smart and conservative.

With these few simple steps, you will be on the quickest route to building healthier credit and achieving your financial goals.

[Offer: Your credit score may be low due to credit errors. If that’s the case, you can tackle your credit reports to improve your credit score with help from Lexington Law. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

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The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Trying to Fix Their Credit

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If your credit’s in the gutter, you won’t be doing yourself any favors by making rash moves. In fact, you may worsen your situation. When trying to repair your credit, it’s key to remember the basics: Check your credit reports for accuracy, find out why your score is so low and come up with a plan for improving it.

Yes, it’s really that simple, but all too often people do the following.

1. Not Checking Credit Reports

You can’t fix what you don’t know is hurting you, and that goes for your credit. To learn about your specific credit score killers, get in the habit of regularly checking your reports — especially since you can pull a free report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. (You can also view your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.)

2. Not Disputing Credit Errors 

One in five consumers have an error on at least one of their credit reports, according to a 2012 study by the Federal Trade Commission, so you don’t want to quick scan your scores and simply take those numbers at face-value. Instead, review your reports thoroughly for errors. And, after doing so, be sure to put any issues you see in writing and send a letter via certified mail to the relevant credit bureau. (You can go here to learn more about disputing errors on your credit report.)

3. Closing a Credit Card 

It sounds counterintuitive — shouldn’t closing an credit card account that’s gotten you into trouble in the past help clean up your score? — but it isn’t. Closing a credit card could lower your score by trimming the length of your credit history and reducing your available credit. It’s a good idea to keep the amount of debt you owe below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your total credit for best credit score results, so if closing a card will put you well over that threshold, you may want to think twice about nixing the account. Instead, focus on paying down all your debts and making payments on-time. Once your score is in good shape, you can re-evaluate whether you should consolidate your cards.

4. Opening New Credit Accounts

An inquiry is created whenever someone assesses your credit report. A hard inquiry is created whenever you shop for credit, i.e., try to get credit via a car loan, mortgage, student loan or credit card. Do this once and it can lower your score a little; do it too many times and your score can take a bigger hit. That’s why applying for a bunch of credit accounts in an attempt to boost your score could potentially backfire. It’s a better idea to add a mix of accounts organically to your credit profile over time.

5. Falling for Quick Fix Scams

Some people would rather watch paint dry than go through the credit dispute process. But while you can hire a credit repair company to represent you on your behalf, you don’t want to enlist just anyone. An honorable credit repair company will be upfront about what it can and cannot do, including not guaranteeing a “100-point rise in your credit score,” which is illegal. For those whose credit reports are riddled with errors or are dealing with situations such as divorce or major identity theft, the explanation and expertise can be helpful. You can learn more about vetting credit repair companies here.

[CREDIT REPAIR HELP: If you need help fixing your credit but don’t want to go it alone, our partner, Lexington Law, can manage the credit repair process for you. Learn more about them here or call them at (844)346-3295 for a free consultation.]

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7 Signs You Have Bad Credit

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Maybe you’re busy. Maybe you’re afraid of what you’ll see. Whatever the case, it can be all too easy to turn a blind eye to your credit report. Fortunately (or, perhaps, unfortunately), certain red flags can let you know that something is really amiss — and that your credit score has entered the danger zone. (Bad credit scores are generally considered scores below 600 on the common 300 to 850 scale.)

Here are a few ways to know you may have bad credit beyond looking directly at those three important digits.

1. A Loan Application Gets Denied

A loan denial is one of the quickest ways to learn that your credit is in rough shape, since a good credit score generally entitles you to affordable financing and an average one will often net you credit, but at a higher interest rate.

Fortunately, you should get an idea of where your credit stands shortly after you get turned down for a loan (though it’s a good idea to pull your credit immediately anyway). The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires lenders provide a copy of the report they used, along with an explanation, when a consumer is denied or offered adverse terms on a contract or loan.

2. Your Credit Card Issuer Won’t Lower Your APR (or Raise Your Limit)

A credit card issuer typically reviews your credit if you ask for a lower annual percentage rate or a credit limit raise on an existing account. So, if “you get turned down for some reason, it’s probably a sign that there’s something on your credit report that they have seen … that gives them a little discomfort,” said Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations and external affairs at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

3. Your Issuer Closes Your Credit Card

Issuers, too, are in the habit of conducting account reviews on their own from time to time, so, if you see a change in your credit card’s terms and conditions (like, say, your credit limit decreases), your score may have gone down. And if it’s fallen low enough, “they could close your account, particularly if it’s got a zero balance,” said Barry Paperno, a credit expert who blogs at Speaking of Credit.

4. You Get a Default Notice or Subpeona From a Creditor

Late payments are certainly going to hurt your score, but, by the time you’ve entered default, big damage is likely to have been done. The same rule applies if you’re being or were sued for an old debt.

“By the time you get a judgment you’ve probably entered default,” Paperno said. “You’ve probably gone to collections. Those are as bad as you can get.”

5. You’re Contacted By a Debt Collector

Lots of different items, including medical bills, unpaid utility balances or even gym subscriptions can wind up in collections. And these collections accounts will hurt your credit score, if the company who owns them reports to the three major credit reporting agencies. So, if bills start arriving in the mail or a debt collector comes calling, that’s your cue to check your credit, McClary said.

“You want to make sure the collections notice is valid,” he said, since sometimes scammers call or collectors have the wrong number. “One step in doing that is looking at your credit report.”

6. You Start Receiving Subprime Credit Offers

Credit card solicitations can wind up in anybody’s mailbox, but pre-approved offers from subprime financing providers, like a secured credit card issuer, payday lender or a car title loan company, may be a sign your score has dropped below a certain threshold — “especially if you’re somebody who’s used to being qualified for prime credit,” McClary said.

7. You Have to Put a Deposit Down on a Utility Account

Lenders aren’t the only ones who pull your credit — cellphone providers, insurers and even utility companies look at versions of your scores when determining whether to do business with you. So, if you have to pay fees or are offered less-than-stellar rates, your credit may to blame.

When it comes to utilities, “If they check your credit and require a deposit, your credit is probably bad,” Paperno said.

Has There Been a Mistake?

Keep in mind, your credit can be bad for a variety of reasons. While you may have committed a faux pas you weren’t aware of, there’s also a chance an error is weighing down your score (you can learn more on Credit.com about how credit report errors happen.) And something more nefarious could be afoot — a sudden drop in your score is a sign identity theft could be occurring.

To get a handle of what might be behind your bad credit, you should throughly check your credit. You can do so by pulling your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com. If your bad score is valid, you can work to improve it by getting accounts out of default, paying down high credit card balances and limiting new credit inquiries.

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Help! I Just Found Out I Have Bad Credit

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If you’ve gone a long time without checking your credit (or if you’re checking it for the very first time), you may be in for a surprise. A whopping 56% of Americans had bad credit scores, per a survey from early 2015. Fortunately, you don’t necessarily need to panic if your score is below 600 (the generally accepted definition of subprime.) Instead, you can follow these simple steps in order to unearth what’s going on — and to get your score to ultimately improve.

1. Do a Thorough Credit Check

There are a lot of reasons why a person can have bad credit. You could, for instance, have collection accounts you don’t know about it in collections, an unpaid store credit card account that you forgot opening or, worse, someone could have opened fraudulent accounts in your name. To get a better idea of what might be behind your low numbers, you may want to pull all three of your credit reports for review. (Not all lenders report to all three major credit reporting agencies, so doing could help you see the full scope of the problem.) You can pull your credit reports for free each year on AnnualCreditReport.com.

2. Check Your Reports for Errors

Once you have your credit reports in hand, you will want to check them thoroughly for errors that could be holding your scores back. These errors could simply be a clerical or creditor issue or deeper identity theft may be occurring. You can find out more about why errors appear on your credit report and how to go about disputing them on Credit.com.

3. Identify Your Areas of Opportunity

Most credit scoring models generally consider five major factors when computing your score:

  • Payment History
  • Amounts Currently Owed
  • Length of Credit History
  • Types of Credit
  • Searches for New Credit

If your poor credit score is being driven by your own data (or behaviors), it’s a good idea to identify what specifically may be holding your score back. Doing so could potentially help you also identify some new habits that might help you improve your score over time. For instance, if you’re continuously missing loan payments, you may want to use set up auto-pay on your credit cards or other loans. (Just be sure to still monitor statements regularly for fraud or new fees.) If you’re always maxing out your credit cards, you may want to try paying your bills more than once a month to keep balances from growing too high. You can see how certain factors are affecting your credit scores by viewing your free credit report summary each month on Credit.com.

4. Focus on the Basics

In addition to addressing negative items directly, you can generally build good credit in the long-term by making all of your payments on time, keeping the amount of debt you owe below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your total available credit and adding new credit lines organically as your wallet (and score) can handle it. Consumers with bad credit may also want to consider applying for a secured credit card or credit builder loan to begin demonstrating these habits and rebuild their credit over time.

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