How fast can I make a credit score comeback?

After running up bad debt, rebuiliding a credit history takes time, patience

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Question for the expert

Dear To Her Credit,
I went under financially back in 2007 and 2008. As a result of my troubles, I totally destroyed my credit.

Over the last year and a half, fixing my credit has become an obsession. I have increased both my Equifax by 48 points and my Experian by 36 points in 12 months. To rebuild my credit, I had to get new cards. I got one last year with a $300 limit and in December, I got another with a $700 limit. I put my NetFlix on one card, and my toll charges on the other. That's about it.

I basically keep the balance of each at less than $100 a month. If they go over that $100 mark, I pay them off immediately. The impact on my credit rating as a result of finally having two cards appears to be inconsistent. On one hand, I am rewarded by having two credit cards. On the other hand, I am penalized due to the fact that they are considered new.

My question is how long will these credit cards be considered new? One year? Two years?  -- Alisa

Answer for the expert

Dear Alisa,
A new card is new just long enough to build a good track record.

Barry Paperno, FICO's consumer operations manager, says that should take less than one year. "Any new credit account can be expected to lower a person's FICO score initially, but the score can recover over time," he says. "Assuming all accounts on the reader's credit report are being paid on time, she's keeping her credit card debt low and hasn't opened any other new accounts recently, she can expect to regain all of those lost points within six to 12 months after the open date of her most recently established card."

I notice you are tracking more than one credit score. There are many scores available -- perhaps 1,000 or so. You can't track them all, so it's important to pull the most generally score, known as FICO. This score is available from for around $20. (The "free" report you hear advertised is an "educational" score not used by lenders, and it's only free for seven days.)

Congratulations on improving your credit so dramatically in just 12 months! Remember, however, that your credit score is just one aspect of your financial life, and there is very little you can do now to raise your score except wait. With two cards you are paying faithfully, your score will come up naturally over time.

In the meantime, your financial troubles are quickly moving out of the spotlight on your credit history. Negative marks generally stay on your report for seven years, which means your troubles from 2007 will only show for a couple more years. Even now, the negative marks have far less of an impact on how potential new creditors see you than they did when they were new. Every month you make your payments, they become less of an issue.

Cleaning up your credit history is great for a first financial goal. Now it's time to create more goals and work toward them. How is your career or business coming? Can you start investing soon so your money is working for you? Do you have an emergency fund and the right insurance, so next time you have financial troubles you don't go under again?

Trying to raise your credit score is a great motivation for keeping bills paid on time and being financially responsible. I wish everyone kept a close eye on their scores as you are doing. If you apply the same determination to the rest of your financial life, you will reach your financial goals. Good luck, and keep taking great care of your credit!

See related: FICO's 5 factors: The components of a FICO credit score

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Updated: 01-19-2019