Money has partnered with CardRatings.com and ConsumersAdvocate.org, among other companies, for our coverage of credit card products. Money, CardRatings.com, and ConsumersAdvocate.org may receive a commission from card issuers. For example, Money receives a commission from Citi when you apply and are approved for a Citi product through the links on this site.
Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Read more: What Is A Good Credit Score?
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.
Read more: How Do I Get My Free Annual Credit Report
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.