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It's Not Too Late to Have Spotless Credit

The credit score can work for you or against you. Those three little numbers can determine the fate of a job, credit card application, or your ability to buy a home.

If your credit is less than perfect, you're not alone. Credit scores can rage from 300 (very poor) to 850 (excellent) -- most Americans hover around the 500 mark, according to published reports. However, you don't have to stay at the bottom of the barrel, there are ways to leave bad debt behind. Jean Chatzky, the financial editor of the 'Today' show and editor-at-large for Money magazine, developed four ways to help clean up your credit, and get your financial life back on track.

  1. Know how creditors see you. Monitoring your credit report is the first step to understanding how creditors see you. Experian, TransUnion and Equifax all provide one free credit report to consumers. These credits services offer credit-monitoring services for $13 per month. After you've accessed you online credit report, print it out for future reference. However, if AnnualCreditReport.com, offers truly offers free reports, according to Chatzsky.
  2. Make yourself attractive to lenders. Once you've downloaded your free credit report, check it for errors. You would be surprised at how many credit reports have incorrect address or misspelled names. And, there may be a blemish on the report you wish to dispute. If that's the case, you must submit a certified letter disputing the claim. The bureau has 45 days to investigate the error. It 's also helpful to contact the creditor who filed the grievance. Another way you can get back on the creditors good side is to pay your bills on time. Missing a billing date by hours can incur a $39 late fee, according to Chatzky.
  3. Protect your 'rep.' When it comes to identity thieves and your money, you have to protect your turf. Don't give out your Social Security number unless you must. And do not carry your Social Security Card in your wallet. Most people have learned to mistrust putting personal information over the Internet, and rightfully so. However, most computer users have nothing to fear as long as they use a secure Internet connection, not wireless. For example, if you use a wireless Internet connection to do any online banking a thief can capture your data by misdirecting you to a fraudulent network and recording your keystrokes.
  4. Repair your credit.  The final step is the most difficult. If you find that you are the victim of ID theft, or have uncovered errors in your credit report, then it's important to rectify your credit situation. Victims of ID theft should alert all three credit reporting agencies to the theft and then close any accounts that have been tampered with.

If you're just trying to repair your credit and can't seem to pull yourself out of the debt trap, then it may be time to consider credit counseling. It's a better alternative thanfiling for bankruptcy.

Credit repair is a long process and patience is key. You can't pay one bill on time and expect your credit score to go up overnight. If you're diligent about building good credit, the job, house or car of your choice is not far behind.

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