George M. knew his credit was bad. But how bad? He wasn’t sure. But in June 2014 he decided to find out, so he ordered his free annual credit reports and requested his free credit scores (available online as part of Credit.com’s free credit report summary, and elsewhere).
As he expected, it wasn’t good. Child support, a tax lien and collection accounts made up the bulk of his report, and a credit score of 520 reflected that.
But instead of just giving up, he decided to see what he could do to turn it around.
First he tackled the child support. His report listed a $168,000 child support case. Although there was a zero balance and it noted “paid as agreed,” he wanted it off his reports. Additionally, his driver’s license had been suspended for some time. He contacted the state, and a week later received a letter indicating that his driver’s license had been reinstated. Then he disputed the item with the credit reporting agencies (CRAs) and it disappeared from his reports.
Next up: a tax lien for $13,800. “I allowed time to pass with the IRS,” he wrote in a comment to the Credit.com blog. “…the IRS only has 10 years to collect a tax debt and after that they can’t collect a penny. There are a few scenarios to avoid but they only have 10 years. I requested a ‘Removal of Federal Tax Lien’ from the IRS and got one. I took that to the Clerk of Court, had it registered in the public system, disputed it with the CRAs and they removed the item.”
Next, he turned his attention to the collection accounts. He had several collection accounts on his reports, as a result of medical bills after a visit to the ER a few years prior. He says he reached out to the collectors and politely offered to settle them in exchange for getting them removed from his credit reports. There was some back and forth involved, and he refused to pay until he received confirmation in writing that the accounts would no longer be reported once he resolved them.
“Every one of the debt collectors accepted, and I paid them, and within 30 days all four were removed,” he wrote. (There was one exception — a collection account that appeared on only one of his reports. He didn’t believe it was legitimate and so he wrote to the credit reporting agency, insisting on proof that he owed the debt. It was removed.)
With these negative items off his reports, his scores jumped to 640.
He knew that removing negative information from his reports was only the first step; he needed to build some positive credit references, as well. He started by getting a secured credit card from Capital One. With a $300 deposit he got a card with a $300 limit. Six months later, they raised his limit by $300 and his credit scores rose about 35 points. He then applied for a Chase Freedom card. “I didn’t think I would get it,” he says, but he was approved, with a credit limit of $1,200, no annual fee and 15 months at 0% interest. (You can read our full review of the Chase Freedom card here.) Again his credit scores rose. Finally he applied for a Discover It card and was given a credit limit of $1,250. That card also carried no annual fee and no interest for 14 months. (This guide explains options if you are looking for credit cards when you have just fair credit.)
“I decided that’s enough,” he says with a laugh.
Less than two years into the process, his credit scores are in the high 600s and low 700s, depending on which report and score is used. (There is still an outstanding issue on one of his reports that he is trying to resolve.) He expects them to be at around 715 the next time he checks.
“I am living proof that you do not have to wait seven years for things to be removed once educated on how their system works,” he wrote. He’s a regular reader of the Credit.com blog, and more importantly, he’s applied what he’s learned. “Education is a parrot, knowledge is power,” he says.
He’s proud of what he has accomplished, as he should be. In just over a year he has gone from bad to good credit, and things are only looking up from here.
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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.