During her college years, Tonya Rapley, 30, found herself in an abusive relationship. The man she was dating mistreated her both physically and financially. He ran up her credit cards and left her with $15,000 in bills long after their relationship ended.
“Everything became too much, so I just ignored all the bill collectors and swept everything under the proverbial rug,” said Rapley, now a certified financial educator and founder of My Fab Finance. “I had a combination of credit card debt, medical bills, broken leases and utility bills.”
She decided to take back all that bad relationship stripped from her and found the strength to face the fears of a low credit score of 542. No matter the nature of your personal history that has impacted your credit history, like Rapley, you too can increase your credit score, take control of your life and secure your financial destiny. Our experts offer tips for those with poor to fair credit and even those with good credit.
• Order your FREE credit report. It’s understandable if you, like Rapley, find it easier to be unaware of your report’s contents. But to have a clear and complete understanding of what potential leaders and landlords see, obtain your report from Equifax, Experian and Transunion through AnnualCreditReport.com or CreditKarma.com. “Although the three nationwide credit reporting agencies use similar methods to determine a credit score, each formula is not exactly the same and your credit score will vary between them,” says Demetra Wilson, senior director of Public Relations for Equifax, Inc.
• Zero in on the FICO score. “FICO is the most widely used credit score, which is a number that represents your credit worthiness or likelihood to pay back a loan,” says Teri Williams, president and CEO of OneUnited Bank and author of I Got Bank: What My Granddad Taught Me About Money. It is a calculated compilation of past due debts you owe, frequency of past due debts, type of debt, bankruptcy and other information. Williams says the biggest influencer of your credit score is the frequency of payments.
• 300 – 600 Very Poor/Poor Securing a loan difficult
• 601 – 700 Fair/Good Higher interest rate offered
• 701- 850 Very Good/Excellent You get the best loan rates
• Go for the immediate score boosters. Rapley negotiated with companies and made a few “pay for delete” deals. She disputed incorrect information which was promptly removed. “Get rid of credit report errors. Twenty-five percent of Americans have an error on the credit report that could be impacting their scores,” shares Christina Ra, director of Public Relations for Credit Karma, Inc.
• Get a secured credit card. To reestablish a positive credit history, Rapley opened up a sub-prime card. Bankrate.com can help you with these type cards. “We introduced the UNITY Visa aka ‘The Comeback Card’ for those who have hit a financial bump in the road. Its mission is to help black and brown communities rebuild credit,” says Williams.
• Commit to doing these things today. Set up payment plans to bring payments current, open new accounts as needed only and manage your credit card responsibly. “Keep your balances low on credit cards and other revolving credit. Shop for rates for a given loan within a short period of time,” says Wilson.
• Shoot for the A+ credit rating. For individuals that have an excellent payment history, Ra suggests asking for a higher credit card limit. If you have several credit cards with various rates, transfer your credit card balances to an introductory offer with no interest for a year or two. “The added benefit is lowering your credit card utilization rate, which is a contributing factor to your credit score,” says Ra.
Rapley now has an average score of 707 and teaches others to be “financially fabulous” with MyFabFinance.com. “This economic recession has really hurt many of our credit scores. We are not alone. It’s important that we not be so ashamed that we don’t take action. Everyone can rebuild credit. By following some simple steps over time, it’s very doable,” says Williams.