Friday, October 7, 2011

FAQ #25: After bankruptcy, what steps need to be taken to rebuild my credit?

First and most importantly, time heals all wounds. Only time can fully repair the damage from a bankruptcy (and being significantly behind on a lot of credit card debt beforehand).

The best thing you can affirmatively do right now is to start developing a history of on-time payments to creditors that report to your credit bureaus. Pay your bills early, or at worst, pay them on time.

Because of the way the bankruptcy system works and the way creditors report reaffirmed debts, you will not get credit for on-time mortgage payments or car payments. Therefore, it is necessary to establish a new account that you can make solid, on-time payments on. We recommend applying for a secured credit card or gas card. Before you apply, take the time to confirm that the card management company reports to all three credit bureaus every month. If they don’t report every month, or if they do not report to all three, go elsewhere. Use the card, but pay it off early or on time, every month. Carrying a small balance (less than $100 is OK), but never utilize more than 50% of the available credit.

If you have a mortgage, then as soon as feasibly possible, refinance your mortgage. Paying off the current loan and keeping a new loan current will, once again, give you credit for on-time mortgage payments.

In addition, as soon as you feasibly can, refinance your car loan, or sell your car and purchase a new car. Again, the key is to obtain a new loan that will report to the credit bureaus. Post-bankruptcy, many current secured lenders will not report payments to the credit bureaus. Of course, be sure to keep that loan current.

Obtain copies of your credit reports approximately 90 days after receiving your discharge. Ensure every debt is reported as “Discharged in Bankruptcy” or something similar. If they are not, send a letter to the creditor and the credit bureau requesting that information be reflected accurately. Remember, your credit report is a list of your “debts”, and right now, you have no debts aside from your house and car (and any non-dischargeable debts). Make sure your credit reports accurately show that, although you had debts discharged in bankruptcy you should not currently owe any money to dischargeable creditors.

Besides paying the above-described loans on time there are also a number of things you should avoid doing:

1. Avoid opening credit accounts with co-signers, if possible. Having a co-signer on an account indicates you are a greater credit risk.

2. Avoid financing with finance companies or sub-prime lenders, if possible. Doing business with these companies can actually lower your credit score.

3. Avoid future financial risk. Bulk up your savings account. Develop a budget, and stick to it. That way, when emergencies or unexpected expenses come up, you can pay in cash, rather than increasing your debt.

4. Some industry experts recommend that you obtain a small personal loan, and use the funds to open a CD account. Pay the loan on time, and when the loan is paid off, you will have some funds in savings, which you can take out once the CD matures. Of course, this only works if you can fit these payments into your budget. Setting up a workable budget should be your first priority.

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