Having a low credit score can be extremely detrimental to your day-to-day life. Whether you're financing a car, renting an apartment or signing up for a new checking account, your credit score matters. Don't let yourself get dragged down by your bad credit score. The best thing you can do to help yourself is do your research. Understand where you stand, what resources you have at your disposal and which would be the best for you. Before you do anything, you need to properly asses your own credit.
How Bad Is My Credit Score?
A lot of things can affect a credit score: late payments, total accrued debt, public records and several other factors. It is a good idea to monitor your credit using online resources. Many sites allow you to track your credit report for free, if you sign up for their online services. Make sure that if you do sign up for these sites, you cancel your account before they charge you for their services. Before you let a third party run your credit score, check and see where you measure up.
- Bad credit: Anything below 600 can be viewed as a bad credit score.
- Moderate credit: Most people have a credit score between 600 and 750.
- Good credit: In general a good credit score is anything over 700.
When Should I Ask For Help?
If you're finding it hard to start new accounts, and you find yourself relying on cosigners for things you should be handling on your own, it might be time to look into credit management. There are several places to start when you're looking into legitimate credit management programs. The Credit Repair Organizations Act must provide you with your "consumer credit rights" before you consent to sign up for their program. This act was created to weed out the fraudulent companies that aim to take advantage of individuals suffering from bad credit. There are resources that can help you fish out the good from the bad.
- Federal Trade Commission: independent government agency that aims to advocate consumer rights.
- Equifax: one of the three major credit agencies that maintains public credit holder records.
- Experian: another one of the three major credit agencies and is a large advocate of public financial education.
- Trans Union Corporation: the last of the three agencies that helps consumers monitor their credit reports.
What Are My Options?
Enrolling in a credit counseling program may be your best bet for improving your personal finances. Since credit counseling is so common, it is becoming easier and more affordable to get in touch with a credit counselor in a variety of ways
- In-person: This is the most reliable form of credit counseling. Military, university and financial institutions offer in-person crediting services that are both reputable and trustworthy. If you already have a relationship with the institution, you will feel more at ease with allowing them access to your personal finances. They will often weigh your debt against your salary and personal bank accounts to forge a plan to repair your credit.
- Online: You can download software to help manage and repair your finances from the comfort of your home office. These services often include 24 hour live-chat services so that someone can field your inquiries. Although they are more affordable, online credit services can only be beneficial if you have the time and patience to sit in front of your computer screen weeding through numbers. They are also much more likely to prove fraudulent, so you need to make sure these companies have been accredited.
- Over the phone: Chances are, both in-person and online services will include a telephone help line. Much like the online services, phone credit repair allows you to have a much more flexible schedule.
Just remember, if you're not looking your credit counselor in the eyes, it is much easier to be taken on a fraudulent ride. Personal finances are prime territory for fraud.
How Do I Avoid Credit Scams?
There are several fraudulent companies that prey on individuals who struggle with poor credit management. However, there are common red flags to look for when considering credit management. No company can guarantee an improvement in your credit score or a decrease in debt, that's up to you. There is also no legal way to clear bad credit from your account without going throw the legal motions to do so. To avoid these companies, look out for scam catch phrases and taglines like this:
- Bad credit? No problem!
- We can lower your debt and raise your credit score in 30 days!
- We can get rid of your bad credit - guaranteed!
- We can wipe your credit report clean!
Can I Fix My Own Credit?
There are ways to fix your own credit without enlisting the help of a credit management company.
- Clip your credit cards: If you can't stop yourself from maxing out every bit of plastic in your wallet, it may be time to break out the kitchen shears. If you're not an advocate of credit violence, you can lock your credit cards in a filing cabinet in your home to prevent yourself from using them when you're out.
- Stop paying the minimum monthly payment: Tack on a bit more money to your monthly credit card payoff. If you've been only paying the minimum payment, you definitely can be doing more to lower your debt, and raise your credit score. Try doubling your monthly payment and watch the debt slowly trickle off.
- Sign up for a free online finance management program: There are several websites that allow you to track your daily, weekly and monthly finances for free online. You can track your spending from both your debit and credit accounts, as well as receive monthly alerts when your accounts near the red.
Keeping track of your credit takes both time and dedication. You have to remain both confident and vigilant to lower and maintain your credit score. Fortunately, there are plenty of free and affordable resources to help you monitor your credit, as long as you make sure to weed out all of the scams. Your credit is in your hands, you're the best resource you've got.