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Fixing bad credit, building new credit, and how to be the tail that wags the dog

Well, the floodgates are officially open.  Since I wrote the article on fixing your credit, if my email were normally a like sprinkle like a seattle afternoon, it has now reach Atlantic hurricane status.  It seems that a lot of people are struggling with bad credit from past bad decisions, bad luck, and bad ex’s.  Lets start with the great news; you are reading The Penny Saved so your decision making is obviously taking a turn for the better and soon your credit will be following right along.  The part about bad ex’s I can’t help you with, though I have some excellent whiskeys I can recommend.

So you fixed any mistakes on your credit score but now you need to deal with the mistakes that aren’t by credit bureaus or banks but rather by that good looking person in the mirror.  Here is our goal, you are going stop being slaves to credit, the tail on the dog getting whipped everywhere with no control.  Some people, such as David Ramsey espouse that you should snowball payments, pay off debt and cut up credit cards for the rest of eternity.  WRONG ANSWER.  You are going to be methodical.  You are going to fix the bad credit, build new great credit, you are going to become the tail that wags the credit dog.

What does this mean?  It means improving credit score, using it to your advantage and actually profiting off it.  Here are the steps to take;

Part One: Credit Damage Control

Do not hire a thief credit counselor
You do not need a credit counselor.  I am your credit counselor, this site is your credit counselor and you are your own credit counselor.  I promise you that free trifecta right there is better than any $100/hr pipsqueak you will find in the yellow pages (oooh here comes the hate mail from credit counselors).  If you see any credit counseling ads in my sidebar, don’t click them.  Or click them to satisfy your itchy finger, and then close them and come back.  I have had many different emails from people on the verge of hiring a credit counselor.  Don’t, don’t don’t.

Get everything current and pay off liens/judgments/collections
This is sort of the self explanatory step but you cannot start to rebuild until you have taken care of the worst of the worst.  I had several people ask about waiting and letting things get written off and then fall off the credit report.  There are several problems with this.  The first is that just because a credit card company writes off your debt does not mean that is the end of the ordeal.  There is a lot of misinformation going around about this,  the main thing to remember is, that unless it is not possible that you will be able to make any progress at all on your debt, pay it off.  One thing to remember is that once you are this far in trouble, the debtors are expecting less and less that they are going to be able to recoup money.  Use that to your advantage, tell them that you plan to pay it off, and would like help reporting the positives to the credit bureaus or removing all reporting about the collections.  If it increases the odds they will be able to collect, they will be happy to oblige.  Use this as much to your advantage as possible and you will be able to avoid the “reset the clock” problem you may have heard about.  The best bet is to get things in writing, so just be careful when dealing with collections.

Part Two: Steady as she goes aka the repair

The Paydown
If you have credit cards with balances get them on auto-payment, pay as much as you can per month but keep in mind the important thing is that you need to make consistent payments on-time.  That’s the key, consistently paying, and improving your credit to debt ratio.

Keep all payments on time
This means everything, including mortgage, car payments, utilities, and of course revolving (aka credit) debt.

Redistribute debt load
I know this one sounds a bit weird but here is the skinny;

First off, make sure any creditors report your credit limits to bureaus. When no limit is reported, credit scoring software scores the account as though your current balance is “maxed out”. For example, if you know that you have a $10,000 limit on your credit card, make sure that the limit appears on the credit report. Otherwise, your score will be damaged as severely as if you were carrying a balance of the entire available credit. Credit scoring software likes to see you carry credit card balances as close to zero as possible. If it is difficult for you to pay down your balances, read the following guidelines to maximize your score as much as possible under the circumstances:

  1. There are different degrees that scoring software can impact your score when carrying credit card balances.
  2. Balances over 70% of your total credit limit on any card damages your score the most. The next level is 50% of your balance, then 30% of your balance.
  3. In order to maximize your score without having to pay down your balances, evenly distribute your credit card balances among all of your credit cards, rather than carry a large balance on one credit card. For example, if you are carrying a $9000 balance on a credit card with a $10000 limit, and you have two other credit cards with a $3000 and $5000 limit, transfer your balances so that you have a $1500 balance on the $3000 limit card, a $2500 balance on the $5000 limit card and a $5000 balance on the $10000 limit card. Evenly distributing your balances will maximize your score.

If you do not have a credit card, get one, charge something on it, and pay it off
If you have no cards at all, find a low balance card and get it. Having a card that is paid on time will help your credit in the long run.  No card means you are not building credit.

Part Three: Wag the dog aka make money

Use a cash back credit card
By getting a card that gives a good cash back, you can actually make money on regular spending.  The steps are
1) Pay with card
2) Pay card off immediately
3) Repeat
4) Receive cash back

Use a points card
The usage is the same as above, however sometimes you can get better return when you use a points card.  The trick is get one that gives you extra points on things that you actually want and use.  An example would be the frontier visa if you fly frontier often (as I do).

Set up auto-pay
You get all the rewards without having to do anything at all after initial setup.  Pretty awesome!
1) Find a card that will let you use it to automatically pay bills.  American express is one such example.
2) Setup auto-pay for all of your bills
3) Setup your bank account to auto-pay that one credit card
Plus you get to save on ATM fees, Stamps, Letters etc.

Interest Free Loans
This is where we get even trickier.  If you have a credit card with a billing cycle that ends the first of each month, your payment may not be due until the fifteenth. Finance charges (interest) are typically assessed only on the previous balance on your card, meaning that if you pay it off in full each month, you pay no interest. This means that all the charges you make between August 1st and September 15th are interest-free, which is like getting a 0% loan from your bank.  Even banks pay interest on overnight loans from the Federal Reserve (albeit not much right now), so you’re really getting a great deal.

Protection from Theft
As anyone who has ever lost a lot of cash knows, carrying around cash is risky.  When I had my wallet stolen, the person immediately started racking up bills.  Imagine if I had had cash in there.  I was able to cancel my credit cards quickly.  Cash however would have been gone forever.

If you haven’t read part one, Fixing your credit score – Fight for your score go read it now!  Also featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance

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