How do I improve my credit; how long does it take?

Unfortunately, there's no quick fix to improve your credit. It took time to develop a poor credit history, and it'll take a little time to repair it as well. However, the good news is that with a little time, patience and perseverance, anyone can improve his or her credit and be well on their way to creditworthiness.

Besides the tips listed in "How do I Improve my Credit Score?," the following are some easy steps to removing the blemishes on your credit.

  1. Get a Copy of Your Credit Reports. Find out what exactly the three major credit bureas (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) have recorded in your credit history. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, everyone is entitled to one free credit report a year from the three major credit bureaus. Not every bureau will necessarily have the same information, and because of that it's more than likely that each of the credit reports differs slightly. It's very worthwhile to request a report from each of the credit bureaus, and examine each of them individually.

    You can request your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com or by phone at (877) 322-8228.

    Alternatively, here is the contact information for each of the credit bureaus:

    • Experian
      P.O. Box 2002
      Allen, TX 75013
      Phone: (888) 397-3742
      Fax: (972) 390-3809
      www.experian.com
    • Equifax
      P.O. Box 105851
      Atlanta, GA 30348
      Phone: (888) 873-5392
      Fax: (888) 664-4535 or (888) 729-0083
      www.equifax.com
    • TransUnion
      P.O. Box 1000
      Chester, PA 19022
      Phone: (800) 888-4213
      Fax: (714) 830-2449
      www.TransUnion.com
  2. Examine Your Credit Report Carefully. Virtually every consumer will have at least one error on a report from a major credit bureau. The major credit bureaus generate your credit report based on the information reported to them. They don't verify the information, so it is imperative that you perform your own checks regularly. Note any inaccuracies you may see.

    In addition to inaccurate negative information, we would advise noting any inaccurate personal information as well, such as outdated addresses, employers or maiden names. With identity thieves on the prowl for information that they can use to craft a new identity, it is highly advisable to keep all personal information on your credit report to a minimum and current as possible.

  3. Dispute and Document. Complete a dispute form (one may be provided with your credit report) or write a letter to the credit bureau in question. If a credit bureau is reporting inaccurate, incorrect, erroneous, misleading or outdated information, by law the credit bureau must remove the information upon investigation.

    In your report or letter, you don't need to get fancy, but you do need to be clear about what you are disputing and why you are disputing it. Clearly identify each mistake, and address each item individually. An easy way is to send a photocopy of your credit report with each mistake circled, along with any supporting documents you may have.

    Make sure you retain a copy of all forms, letters and supporting documents that you send to the credit bureau, and a record of when it was sent, such as a certificate of mailing or other receipt. The credit bureau must investigate any relevant dispute within 30 days of receipt of your letter. Any item that is not verified as accurate must be deleted from your record.

    Note that under the FRCA, even if you receive a notice that the disputed item has been verified as accurate, you can request the method of verification. The credit bureau must give you this information within 15 days of request.

  4. Patience. If the negative information on your report is accurate and verifiable, time and the conscientious use of credit may be the most effective weapons. Late payments and charged-off accounts roll off of your report after seven years, and bankruptcies after ten. Creditors look at your pattern of payments as well as one-time occurrences, so keep in mind a good pattern of payment can make a positive impact on those blemishes.