- Checking my credit report was the first step to increasing my credit score by 90 points.
- My mom helped me boost my credit by 48 points by making me an authorized user on her credit card.
- Linking recurring bills to a secure credit card has helped me get on-time payments on my credit report.
- Read more stories from Personal Finance Insider.
During a period of financial difficulty, I missed 29 payments on four different credit cards and a personal loan. I thought my credit would never recover and I never wanted to check my credit report again.
Having bad credit can make you lose hope for the future. I put aside my dreams of owning a home and one day starting my own business because I thought that would never happen to me, considering all my past mistakes.
Years later, I learned that the American credit reporting system is designed to perpetuate the economic inequalities experienced by immigrants, people of color, and people of diverse gender identities. Once I finally stopped blaming and punishing myself for my past, I was able to get serious about finding solutions that would fix my credit.
Here are four simple strategies that helped me increase my score by 90 points after 29 late payments.
1. I checked my credit report
I know this sounds really basic, but a lot of people just focus on their credit score instead of combing through their actual credit report. Your credit report contains detailed information about why your score is what it is, and it can help you focus on solutions instead of obsessing over numbers.
According to Consumer Reports research, a third of Americans have found errors in their credit reports. You can view your full credit report once a year for free, but during the pandemic the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, are allowing consumers to check their credit report on a weekly basis until in April 2022.
Getting absolute clarity of what’s on my credit report helped me come up with a detailed game plan. It also helped me understand which spending habits were the most toxic to my financial health. I was surprised to learn that a $1,000 debt on a store credit card did more damage than a five-figure student loan.
I also learned that late payments will decrease my credit score seven years after the original delinquency date. It seems like a long time, but I just reframed those seven years as a deadline to save for a down payment for a house and learn more about getting a mortgage.
2. I declared my rents
When I lived in New York, I paid rent to my landlord through a digital platform. There was a little box that said “Report my rent payments to credit reporting agencies” that I checked every month.
I honestly didn’t really know what that phrase meant until recently when I found out that mortgage lenders will now take on-time rent payment history into account when considering applying for a borrower. Checking a simple box on my digital rent payment platform helped me build credit without borrowing more money.
If you pay your rent digitally, chances are that reporting your rent payments to credit reporting agencies is already an option available to you. Alternatively, or if you pay your rent by paper check, you can use services like Hire reporters and Esusu to add your rent payments to your credit report for less than $10 per month.
3. My mom made me an authorized user on her credit card, which lowered my credit utilization rate
One of the factors that can significantly reduce credit scores is your credit utilization ratio: the amount of credit you use compared to the amount of money you are allowed to borrow.
For example, if your credit limit is $10,000 and you have a balance of $1,000, your credit utilization rate is 10%. On the other hand, if you spent $9,500 of your $10,000 limit, your credit utilization rate would be 95%. A high credit utilization ratio can lower your credit score.
After a medical emergency, my mom made me an authorized user on her credit card, which meant I had a new card in my name under her line of credit. Because my mom has good credit and a higher income, the card in my name had a limit of $12,000. I don’t use credit card at all. My credit report now shows that my credit usage is 2%.
My mother’s help increased my credit score by 48 points – the biggest increase of these four strategies. I know asking a family member or friend isn’t an option for everyone, but I hope this will encourage those of you who see a family member or friend struggling with bad credit to reach out.
4. I used a secure credit card for recurring expenses
After all those late payments, getting a regular credit card with great rewards was no longer an option for me. I did my research and learned that secured credit cards, credit cards backed by a security deposit up front, would be a great way to help me rebuild my credit.
My secure credit card has a limit of $200, and I linked it to automatically pay for my internet and
Invoice. I religiously pay off these balances, and my credit report now contains one-time payments to make up for past arrears. Using a secured credit card increased my credit rating by nine points in three months.