You made it! The tassel has been moved to the other side of the cap and the diploma is in the mail. And unlike the rest of your friends who moved back home, you, mon frère, landed a job and you’ve got your eye on a sweet studio apartment.
But there’s just one hitch—you can’t get the apartment because you just found out that your credit score is terrible—524 to be precise. In fact, those credit cards that came with that free t-shirt (Oops! you never got around to paying any of the bills!) have gone to collections.
What can you—the recent graduate—do to boost your credit score? While paying bills on time is a surefire way to get your numbers up (since it counts for 35% of your credit score), here are a few tips to understanding and raising your score.
Make sure it’s yours. If this is your first time pulling your free credit report from Annualcreditreport.com, the No. 1 thing you want to do is make sure all the information is yours and that it’s accurate, says Patricia Stallworth, author of Minding Your Money (BookPartners; $14.95). Look at the name, address, Social Security number, and creditors to make sure everything is correct. “If something is off, the first thing you need to do is make some notes and then go to the Website of the credit agency to dispute it,” says Stallworth. False information can also be a sign of identity theft, so don’t ignore these inaccuracies.
Negotiate with your creditor. Though you may not have as much room to negotiate with creditors as you would have pre-recession, there is no harm in trying. Call the creditors and ask if they will remove the blemish once the debt is paid in full, either through a payment plan or a lump sum payment. “If you negotiate with a creditor, get it in writing on their letterhead,” says Stallworth.
This will protect you if the creditor reneges on the deal. “That way, if you go to the credit bureau and say, ‘This is what the company said,’ at that point the [agency] has no choice but to take [the blemish] off because you have it in writing.” Remember, delinquencies stay on your credit report for seven years.