Ask Stacy: What’s the Fastest Way to Rebuild My Credit?

This reader filed for bankruptcy and wonders if a secured credit card will help him rebuild his credit. Here’s the answer for him, as well as anyone looking to build, or rebuild, their credit.


This week’s question will be familiar to millions of Americans …

My wife and I filed for bankruptcy due to high medical bills we were unable to pay. We purposefully didn’t add our Wells Fargo credit card to the bankruptcy so we could keep using it. The day it was final, Wells Fargo canceled it and won’t give us another one.

I’ve applied to other companies and have been turned down.

If I get a credit card that is savings-based, does my credit score know the difference between a credit card with or without a savings-based account? And, will a credit card of this type help my score?
Thanks for your help,
Steve

Rebuilding credit after a bankruptcy isn’t easy, but it is simple. I’ll answer Steve’s questions as I lay out the steps.

Step 1: Recognize you’re on a long road

While there are techniques you can use to begin re-establishing credit immediately after a bankruptcy, getting back to a great history and score is going to take time.

Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcies remain on your credit history for up to 10 years, while a discharged Chapter 13 will fall off after a maximum of seven. That doesn’t mean you won’t get credit for 10 years; you might be able to get it today. And as time passes and the negative effect on your credit fades, it will get easier.

But it’s important to know there’s no trick that will magically erase your bankruptcy or instantly give your credit score a significant boost. Rule of thumb: If anyone promises a quick fix, they’re lying.

Step 2: Get whatever credit you can

It’s no surprise Wells Fargo canceled Steve’s credit card the instant his bankruptcy became final. But that doesn’t mean getting new credit will be impossible, even right away.

When you’re ready to get back in the saddle, a secured card will be your easiest ride. As the name implies, secured cards require a security deposit matching your credit limit. So if you get a card with a $500 credit limit, you’ll put $500 in a savings account as collateral. This is what Steve referred to in his question when he used the term “savings-based account.”

Since your deposit guarantees your credit line, it’s very low risk for the bank, which means you’ll have high odds of being approved. After successfully using a secured card for a period of time, that issuer or another one may offer more traditional plastic.

Before you get a secured card, however, make sure it will report your transactions to credit reporting agencies like Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. No bank is required to report your payment history, and some secured credit cards don’t, which makes them useless in rebuilding credit.

You can search a list of secured credit cards here. Under “Type of Card” along the left, just click on “Secured.”

Now, for Steve’s questions: “Does my credit score know the difference between a credit card with or without a savings-based account?” Answer: No. Your credit score will improve as on-time payments are recorded in your credit history. Next: “Will a credit card of this type help my score?” Answer: Any credit accounts reflecting on-time payments will improve your credit score, just as any accounts reflecting late payments will lower it. So if you use this account and make on-time payments, a secured card will help your score.

Another thing Steve might consider is opening an account with a credit union. In addition to offering lower rates on loans and higher rates on savings (See 12 Great Reasons to Drop Your Bank and Join a Credit Union), credit unions sometimes (but not always) are more flexible with lending standards. So it might be easier to get a credit card, car loan or signature loan there than at a big national bank. Don’t expect miracles, however, and do expect to begin your credit union relationship with a savings deposit.

Step 3: Try with a little help from your friends

There are ways you can improve your credit by piggy-backing on the credit of others. Warning: Doing this will put your friend or family member’s credit at risk. If you don’t pay, they’ll be responsible for your debts. If you don’t pay on time, their credit will be trashed. This is a big favor and something I’ve recommended against many times. So don’t be hurt or surprised if you’re turned down.

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