The Wealth Makeover: 7 Tips to Financial Wellness

by LaShanda Pitts
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Overhauling your financial and credit situation is a bit like losing weight; it will take time and there is no quick way to fix a credit score. The best advice for rebuilding your credit is to manage it responsibly over time.  Here are some tips to being well on your way to a more solid financial condition.

1. Setup Payment Reminders
Making your credit payments on time is one of the biggest contributing factors to your credit scores. You could also  consider enrolling in automatic payments through your credit card and loan providers to have payments automatically  debited from your bank account, but this only makes the minimum payment on your credit cards and does not help instill a sense of money management.

2. Reduce the Amount of Debt You Owe
The first thing you need to do is stop using your credit cards. Use your credit report to make a list of all of your accounts and then go online or check recent statements to determine how much you owe on each account and what interest rate they are  charging you. Come up with a payment plan that puts most of your available budget for debt payments towards the highest interest cards first, while maintaining minimum payments on your other accounts.

3. Payment History Tips
Contributing 35% to a FICO Score calculation, this category has the greatest effect on improving your scores, but past problems like missed or late payments are not easily fixed. Pay your bills on time. Delinquent payments, even if only a
few days late, and collections can have a major negative impact on your FICO Score. If you have missed payments, get current and stay current. The longer you pay your bills on time after being late, the more your FICO Scores should increase.  Older credit problems count for less, so poor credit performance won’t haunt you forever. Be aware that paying off a
collection account will not remove it from your credit report.  It will stay on your report for seven years.

4. Amounts Owed Tips
This category contributes 30% to a FICO Score’s calculation and can be easier to clean up than payment history, but that requires financial discipline and understanding the tips below:
• Keep balances low on credit cards and other “revolving credit”. High outstanding debt can affect a credit score.
• Pay off debt rather than moving it around. The most effective way to improve your credit scores in this area is by paying  down your revolving (credit cards) debt. In fact, owing the same amount but having fewer open accounts may lower your scores.
• Don’t open a number of new credit cards that you don’t need, just to increase your available credit. This approach could  backfire and actually lower your credit scores.

5. Types of Credit Use Tips
• Apply for and open new credit accounts only as needed. Don’t open accounts just to have a better credit mix – it probably won’t raise your credit score.
• Have credit cards – but manage them responsibly. In general, having credit cards and installment loans (and paying timely payments) will rebuild your credit scores. Someone with no credit cards, for example, tends to be higher risk than someone who has managed credit cards responsibly.
• Note that closing an account doesn’t make it go away. A closed account will still show up on your credit report, and may  be considered by a score.

6. Check Your Credit Report
Repairing your credit score begins with your credit report. If you haven’t already, request a free copy of your credit report and check it for inaccuracies. Check to make sure that there are no late payments incorrectly listed for any of your accounts  and that the amounts owed for each of your open accounts is correct. If you find errors on any of your reports, dispute them  with the credit bureau.

7. How to Dispute Inaccuracies on your Credit Report
First, tell the credit bureau what information you believe is inaccurate. The credit bureau must investigate the item(s) in  question – usually within 30 days – unless they consider your dispute frivolous. Include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. In addition to providing your complete name and address, your letter should:
• Clearly identify each item in your report you dispute.
• State the facts and explain why you dispute the information.
• Request deletion or correction. Second, write to the appropriate creditor or other information provider, explaining that you are disputing the information provided to the bureau.

Again, include copies of documents that support your position. Many providers specify an address for disputes. If the provider again reports the same information to a bureau, it must include a notice of your dispute. Request that the provider copy you on correspondence they send to the bureau. Expect this process to take between 30 and 90 days.

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