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Credit Scores and Reports

From bad to good credit: How long it takes, and how to fast-track progress

A credit report riddled with problems and the low score that goes with them can make your life difficult and expensive; here's how to improve both

Summary

How long does it take to improve a low credit score? That depends on what’s in your credit report and what actions you take to improve it. Here’s how to speed up the process.

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If your credit rating is terrible today, you may wish you could wake up tomorrow to find it fantastic.

After all, a credit report riddled with problems and the low score that goes with them can make your life difficult and expensive. Bad credit negatively affects everything from loan and credit card acceptance to housing and employment opportunities.

In a TransUnion survey, 48 percent of landlords said results of a credit check is a top cause of lease rejection. Twenty-nine percent of employers review credit reports to assess an applicant’s financial responsibility, according to a CareerBuilder survey. And, of course, lenders routinely assess prospective borrowers’ creditworthiness.

So how long does it really take to see an improvement in your credit rating? That depends on what is being reported and the actions you take. Here’s what you need to know – and how you might be able to expedite the process.

See related: Will my credit score rise after 12 months with no late payments?

How quickly credit damage can be healed

The information on your credit report changes as creditors and other furnishers send it to the credit reporting agencies, which is usually on a monthly basis. Therefore, the credit scorers also update your scores once a month.

Scoring companies, such as FICO and VantageScore, take the financial information listed on your credit report and input it into their algorithms. Scores range from 300 to 850 – where 300 to 669 is considered poor to fair, and 670 to 850 is good to excellent.

Credit reports that contain negative items such as mistakes, fraudulent accounts, delinquencies and charge-offs, collection accounts, high credit card balances, bankruptcies and excess inquiries typically result in low credit scores. Consequently, to increase your credit rating, the reported data will need to change.

Some credit report activities will create a significant and fast credit scoring boost, while others will result in incremental and slower scoring increases, says credit expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO and Equifax. Each score type ranks credit report activity in different ways, but payment history and credit utilization are almost always at the top.

So how long can it take to heal credit rating damage? Jeff Richardson, vice president of marketing and communications for VantageScore, offers some general timeline guidelines:

One to three months

Fixed mistakes and disputed fraudulent activity will usually be updated on your credit report within a few months at the most, says Richardson. So if your score is low because your report is indicating a defaulted account with a large balance when it shouldn’t, the scoring model won’t factor it in after it’s corrected and your scores will rise.

Paying off credit card balances is also a fast and impactful fix that can improve your score under the credit utilization factor.

“A month or two after the creditor reports that your balances have been paid off, your scores will increase significantly and quickly,” says Richardson.

For collection accounts, “a consumer should see improvement in a score a month to three months after it’s been paid,” says Richardson. “That’s because, for the VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0 and the most recent version of the FICO, paid collection accounts are not factored into the score.”

However, the most commonly used FICO scoring model still considers collection items, even if they are paid off. But paying off a collection could improve your standing with a potential lender, even if it doesn’t help your score.

12-24 months

Hard inquiries, which result from applying for credit cards and loans, will remain on your credit report for two years. You can’t remove them before that time frame is up, but they will cease to impact your credit score after 12 months. (Note: although important, inquiries are a relatively minor scoring factor.)

See related: My credit score is 776 … and 815 … and 828?!

18-24 months

Recovering from late payments is different for everyone, says Richardson, as it matters what else is in your credit reports. The more delinquencies you have, the longer it takes. And a late payment stays on your credit report for seven years, though its impact to your credit score will recede over time.

Because payment history is the most significant factor in both the FICO and VantageScore models, it can take up to two years for a score to rebound after getting back on track.

7-10 years

Foreclosures will stay on your report for seven years. Once that time frame is over, it will be removed and will not factor into your scores.

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy will also be deleted from your credit report seven years from the date you filed, but a Chapter 7 bankruptcy will remain glued to your credit report for 10 years after the date you filed. Once the bankruptcy notation is lifted, whatever the type, it won’t affect your scores anymore.

“A month or two after the creditor reports that your balances have been paid off, your scores will increase significantly and quickly.”

9 tips to fast-track your credit score improvement

Review your credit reports from all three agencies – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax – to see what is causing your scores to drop. All three are available at AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can get one from each for free once a year. Print them out and have a pencil handy.

“Take it line by line, account by account,” says Mary Ann Campbell, a family and personal finance instructor at the University of Central Arkansas. “It’s not easy to read these reports, so go slowly.”

Identify what is really damaging your reports and scores and make a note next to each. These are the data points you’ll be focusing on.

Once done, concentrate your effort on the actions that will have the most significant impact first, then go down the line:

1. Pay off collection accounts. If accounts are in collections and you have the means to satisfy them, act now. According to Richardson, the recency and amount of a bad debt isn’t looked at as much as its presence.

“The collection account can be six years old and when it’s wiped out it will help your scores,” says Richardson. “Prioritize collection accounts that you can pay off in full, no matter age and amount.”

2. Dispute fraud and mistakes. Remove all information that is untrue and harmful by using the credit reporting agency’s dispute process. When an item is purged, your scores will rise.

3. Expand your credit card utilization ratio. If your credit card balances are too close to your limits, the most logical solution is to pay them off. But if you can’t and you’re current on the accounts, you may be able to broaden the ratio by asking your issuers for credit limit increases. (In some cases, a credit limit increase request will result in a hard inquiry.)

Another method is to open a new credit card. Use it, but keep the balance at zero, and it too will open up that ratio.

4. Use a debt consolidation loan. Another strategy is to consolidate credit card debt with a loan. This can drastically lower your credit utilization ratio, and installment account debt carries less weight in the credit scoring formula than revolving balances.

“It will result in a new inquiry and account, which might lower the scores at the very beginning, but you’ll also open your utilization ratio,” says Paul Paquin, CEO of Golden Financial Services, a company that helps consumers get out of debt. “By making steady payments your scores will increase. Just keep the original credit cards open so you don’t reduce the age of your accounts.”

5. Reduce number of accounts with balances. Instead of paying all of your accounts a little at a time, pay off those that have smaller balances and send the minimum payments on the rest, says Ulzheimer. It should result in a score increase. When those accounts are repaid, you can send more to the remaining accounts.

However, if you want to reduce the amount of interest you pay on multiple balances, you may want to tackle the account with the highest APR first.


Video: FICO’s 5 credit score factors

See related: 10 tips to improve your credit score in 2019

6. Pay on time, starting now. If late payments are driving your numbers down, change your habits immediately. By borrowing and paying on time, you will be feeding your report the kind of data that propels a score skyward.

7. Apply only for cards you qualify for. It’s important to be realistic about what cards you can qualify for, depending on your credit score. After all, a denied card application still results in a hard inquiry. But you can use tools such as CardMatch to find pre-qualified card offers, with no effect on your credit score.

8. Add positive activity to offset negative notations. You can’t remove such negative notations as bankruptcies, foreclosures and late payments before they drop off naturally, but you can use credit products assertively and responsibly. By charging and repaying in full and on time, with multiple accounts, you will be proving that you are a good credit risk today and into the future.

9. Piggyback on a well-managed credit card. You can add points to your score very quickly by becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card, says Paquin. The history of that card will show up on your credit report, and if the balance is always paid off and the payments are made by their due dates, your credit score will enjoy an almost instant boost.

Make fixing credit report errors and adding attractive information to your credit reports a methodical and precise event. With some strategies you can go from bad to good credit in a month or two, but it’s not going to happen overnight.

“Slow and steady wins the race,” says Richardson.

What’s up next?

In Credit Scores and Reports

Can I just pay off my delinquent balance and ignore the creditor’s fees?

If you have a car loan in default, don’t just pay off on the amount shown on your credit report. Chances are your credit report is only listing the actual amount of the default, not the additional lawyer and collecting fees. Those interest charges and fees will continue until the debt is paid in full.

Published: March 28, 2019

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