If you’ve recently been denied for credit, you may be looking at a poor credit score for any number of reasons. You might have been late with your credit card payments, have an outstanding judgment or have even been an identity theft victim. Whatever caused your poor credit, you’re probably looking for ways to get it back on track. Be careful! There are a lot of dishonest companies looking to make a quick buck. Don’t become the next victim of a credit repair scam. In fact, there’s nothing a credit repair company can do for you that you can’t do yourself.

This probably has you wondering where to start. Look no further! Our handy guide of credit repair dos and don’ts will help get you on the road to improving your credit score.

Do: Determine Your Actual Credit Score

If a recent credit application has been denied, don’t take it at face value. Find out why it happened. The three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, are each required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once a year. To order yours, visit annualcreditreport.com, or call 1-877-322-8228.

If you already requested a report from each of the agencies in the last 12 months, you can still get one free of charge. You are entitled to a free report whenever a company takes adverse action against you. For example, they denied your application for credit, insurance or employment. To qualify, just request a report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action.

Do: Review Your Report and Dispute any Errors

Once you get your report, review it for mistakes. If you spot any fraudulent purchases or wrong information, dispute them in writing. In your letter, identify every item you are disputing and the reason for your claim. Include copies of documents that support your stance. Ask that the errors be removed or corrected. It’s best to send your letter by certified mail so you can be sure the credit reporting company actually received it if that is necessary. Also, keep a personal copy of your letter and all supporting documents for your own records.

You’ll also need to dispute the charge with your actual creditor, taking the same steps you did above.

Don’t: Expect any Quick Fixes

You may be anxious to improve your score. However, know that there is no “quick fix” for credit repair. Fixing your score takes time, a lot of hard work and creating and sticking to a realistic debt repayment plan.

If your credit score is poor, you may be bombarded with promotional material from credit repair companies.  Typically, they promise to increase your score by 100 points in less than a month. If you think these claims sound too good to be true, you’re absolutely right. There are some legitimate credit repair companies out there. As we said, there’s nothing they can do for you (other than charge you a hefty fee) that you can’t do on your own or with the help of the Credit Union’s financial coaches.

Do: Take Steps Toward Fixing Your Credit

If you determined that your credit report is accurate, you want to take a careful look at the habits that may be leading to your poor score.

Are your credit card payments on time? If you’re consistently late, consider setting up automatic payments in Bill Pay so you never forget to send one on time. Are you making headway on your debt? If you’re paying bills on time but your debt is not going anywhere, it’s time to rethink your spending habits. Don’t shop with credit cards. Only use your debit card or cash. Look for ways to trim your expenses. For example, couponing, planning dinner menus around sale items, and finding cost-free ways to relax instead of eating out or shopping.

Are your monthly bills unmanageable? If you can’t make it through the month and meet all of your minimum payments, your debt may need an overhaul. Consider debt consolidation. This way, your debt is transferred to one low-interest account. A lot of open credit cards is not considered favorable by creditors. Therefore, close as many accounts as you open, but leave your oldest one open as it shows a longer period of credibility.

Also, no card is interest-free forever. When the introductory period ends, you may be hit with high interest rates.

If these options don’t sound feasible, try finding ways to increase your income instead. Use all extra cash exclusively for paying down your debt.

Don’t: Expect to See any Changes Immediately

Don’t worry if you made strides toward credit repair but haven’t seen an increase in your score yet. Creditors will only report to the credit reporting agencies on a periodic basis, usually once a month. It may take upward of 30 days or more for your account to be updated and your score to improve.

Do: Ask us for Help

At Money FCU, we’re all about helping you improve your financial life. If you’re in over your head, we can help! Ask about our financial coach program and assistance with creating and sticking to a budget. We even offer debt consolidation loans, providing you with the opportunity to transfer your debt to one low-interest loan. This way, the prospect of paying down your debt is a lot more manageable.