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Why bad credit doesn’t have to be a life sentence

Expert says don’t pay someone to fix your credit; do it yourself for free

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – No matter if they’re bad or good, credit scores affect everyone’s lives.

Still, for many people, by the time they’ve learned the importance of having good credit, it may be too late.

“If you’ve had late payments, it would take 24 months of on-time payments to rectify the situation,” Jax Federal Credit Union Interim President Mary Svoboda said.

Svoboda said paying someone who claims they can fix your credit quickly is a waste of money.

“It can cost you several hundred dollars, and you can do it yourself,” she said.

Svoboda says those quick-fix businesses check your credit report for discrepancies and then dispute them. She explains how you can do it on your own instead.

“Check your credit report,” she said. “If there is something, it’s very easy to dispute it directly with the lender or through the online process with the credit bureaus. So you don’t need to pay for that.”

If there is any silver lining from the coronavirus pandemic, it is that all three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and Transunion — allow anyone to check their credit every week without any penalties. Before, you could only do that three times a year.

Svoboda added that Experian now offers a credit boosting service that is free and can help boost your score.

“The credit report would be linked up to your bank account and through your bank account they could see you have regular deposits and you pay your utility bill and your mobile bill on time, things like that," she said.

Svoboda said some of the most common pitfalls she sees when it comes to credit is people have too many credit cards. She said that should be avoided when you start building credit.

“Sometimes it’s horrible, you see people that have 20 or 30 credit cards, so that is not a good idea,” she said.

That should all be avoided when you start building credit.

If you want to build credit but need some help living within your means, Svoboda recommends getting what’s called a secured credit card. It’s like a debit card in that you can only spend what’s in your account. But unlike a debit card, a secured credit card builds credit.

What if you’re taking steps to fix your credit but can’t wait and need a loan now?

“Right now, what I would encourage someone to do is if you don’t really have any credit, bring me your bank statements and show me, ‘Look at this. I have made a $600 rent payment for the first of the month for a year.’ I’ll say, ‘Let’s do this loan,’” Svoboda said.

While you’re rebuilding your credit score, Svoboda says you should care about it, make it important, and check it. Because a bad credit score doesn’t have to be a life sentence.

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