Grads, Clean Up Your Credit
College is coming to an end, and the only credit you've ever thought about is the kind you need to graduate. If you're lucky, you came out unscathed. Otherwise, you're likely to be in one of two boats. Find out where you stand by getting your credit report and score from myfico.com, and then proceed with a plan.
Bad-case scenario: You have no credit
You don't need a credit report to know that you never used a credit card and never took out any loans. Unfortunately, now that you've left school, getting a line of credit is slightly more difficult than it was before.
Apply for a secured credit card, which requires a deposit at first but if chosen correctly can eventually be converted into a regular credit card account. The deposit may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, which also determines your credit line. In the secured credit card business, there are plenty of lenders out there looking to take advantage of desperate borrowers, so do your research. Many of these cards have unnecessarily high fees and interest rates. Check Bankrate.com's list of issuers, or better yet, check your credit union for more reasonable card offers. In general, look for a card with no application fee and a low annual fee (every secured card has one). Also make sure the card reports to the credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Like any card, make sure to follow the general rules of good creditpay on time, don't spend more than you have, and pay as much as you can each month. Then, once you've established a bit of good credit, after six months or so, call the creditor and ask for a better rate, says Michael Furois, a financial planner in Phoenix. Most creditors will be accommodating. "They want these customers for life," he says.
A retail or department store card, which is typically easier to get than a regular credit card, is also an option, but it also usually has extremely high interest rates. You shouldn't have more than two store cards, and never keep a month-to-month balance. Another credit-builder is a small personal loan from a credit union. Take out the loan if you need it, but don't get it just to build credit. It might not be worth it in the end.
Worst-case scenario: bad credit. Really bad credit
So you've completely mismanaged your financial life. Now you want to clean up, move on, and learn from your mistakes. Unfortunately, at least for the first point, it's going to take some time. Typically, it takes seven years for black marks to fall off your credit report. The only real way to improve your score is by proving your responsibility over time, showing that the mistakes of the past won't be repeated.
The one thing you shouldn't do is pay someone to improve your credit score. No one can make a couple of phone calls and instantly repair your credit, says Furois. The only way to increase your credit score is by not getting more credit, punctually paying your balances, and letting time run its course. "There is no quick fix," he says.