Good credit is the foundation of a healthy financial life. Without it, you’ll pay more to borrow money, get locked out of the best offers and even struggle to rent an apartment or get a job.
Unfortunately, one colossal mistake can ruin years of careful credit-building for even those with the highest scores.
Lamine Zarrad, a former national bank examiner for the United States Treasury, is the CEO and founder of StellarFi, a credit-building tool that helps struggling users rebuild.
He cautions anyone who cares about their financial well-being to avoid the one massive misstep that can instantly tank your score by 100 points or more.
By the time the three credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — find out that you’ve fallen behind on loan payments, you’re already a month late. That’s because creditors must wait at least 30 days to report missed payments to protect consumers from severe consequences for something as benign as forgetting a due date or mixing up their calendar days.
Creditors can impose late fees or penalty interest rates as soon as you miss a payment, but a full billing cycle will pass before the real trouble starts.
“Even a single missed payment can lead to immediate consequences,” said Zarrad.
Those consequences can include a hit to your credit score of 100 points or more. LendingTree says you could lose up to 180 points, although that’s unlikely for those with all but the highest scores. The lower your score, the fewer points a late payment will cost you — but everyone faces a credit catastrophe when they blow a deadline by 30 days or more.
“On-time payments make up 35% of your credit score,” said Zarrad.
No other category weighs heavier on your score or can have a more significant impact on your credit health. For context, the next biggest section is amounts owed, which makes up 30%.
There Are Other Paths to Triple-Digit Doom
Missing a payment by 30 days is the only “mistake” that can cost you 100 points or more. There are other roads to the same fate, but they’re not one-off missteps. They’re the culmination of long periods of financial trauma that are often beyond the control of the people whose scores they crush.
Few things are worse for your credit than filing for bankruptcy, the consequences of which are even worse than being 30 days late with a payment.
“You can expect your credit score to drop anywhere between 100 to over 200 points, depending on where your score started,” said Zarrad.
According to Debt.org, high scores of 780 and up can fall by up to 240 points.
Additionally, filing for bankruptcy will remain on your credit score for seven to 10 years.
By contrast, a missed payment lingers for seven years at most.
Defaulting on a mortgage, auto loan, personal loan, student loan or other debt typically occurs after 90 days without payment, although it can be longer for some kinds of loans.
“When you default on a loan, the lender typically reports the delinquency to credit bureaus, which results in a severe negative impact on your credit score,” said Zarrad.
By this time, however, there usually isn’t much farther to fall since your score has already absorbed massive damage from the devastating 30-day and 60-day late marks.
“This can make it difficult to qualify for new credit, lead to higher interest rates when you do get approved, and potentially result in collection efforts, including legal action by the lender to recover the owed amount,” said Zarrad. “Defaulting can also result in the loss of the asset or collateral securing the loan, such as your home or car, depending on the type of loan.”
Like bankruptcy and default, the third and final way your score can take a triple-digit hit usually indicates serious and long-term underlying financial dysfunction — having a new collection account hit your credit report.
“When an account goes to collections, it is reported to credit bureaus and appears as a derogatory entry on your credit report,” said Zarrad. “This can significantly lower your credit score and remain on your report for up to seven years, even if you pay off the collection account. For lenders, accounts in collections indicate that you have a history of not repaying debts as agreed, which suggests a higher likelihood that you may not repay new debts.”
If your credit score took a bruising from a missed payment or anything else, don’t panic. There are actions you can take to start the rebuilding process.
First, avoid any new damage by adhering to the basic rules of credit building — and don’t make any further errors.
- Don’t apply for any new credit until you rebuild.
- Pay all bills on time. If you can’t pay, contact your creditors immediately. They’ll work with you if you’re proactive.
- Choose a debt-reduction strategy like the snowball or avalanche method to begin paying down your most toxic accounts.
- Consider seeking credit counseling, but be leery of for-profit companies that make bold promises about fixing your credit quickly.
Several platforms offer ways to rebuild your credit. They aren’t free or instant, but they offer legitimate paths back to healthy credit.
Zarrad’s platform, StellarFi, helps users improve battered scores without a credit check or interest payments at three different price tiers:
- Lite: $4.99 per month
- Prime: $9.99 per month
- Premium: $19.99 per month
Users link their checking accounts and pay their monthly bills like rent, streaming subscriptions and utilities — which typically don’t appear on credit reports — through StellarFi. The platform then reports those successful, on-time payments to the three credit bureaus to improve your standing and document a growing history of financial responsibility, which lenders like to see.
CreditStrong offers credit-builder tools to help you work toward a healthy score. For example, CreditStrong’s Revolv is –in the most basic terms — a savings account where savings deposits get reported to all three credit bureaus as on-time credit payments.
With this tool, you decide how much you want to deposit each month and the length of the term you want. Your funds stay locked in an account, while you build up your credit. At the end of the term, you get access to all of your deposited funds, plus interest. Revolv costs $99 per year.
Self combines several credit-building tools in a hybrid format. Like StellarFi, it also offers a bill-pay reporting tool that informs the bureaus about your on-time payments for rent, utilities and other services that wouldn’t otherwise show up on your record.
Another option is a secured Visa credit card. You pay a deposit that represents your credit limit, and when you use it and make payments, Self reports those payments to the three bureaus to establish a growing credit history. It’s important to note that you can access a secured card for building credit on your own. Discover, CapitalOne, First Progress, First Latitude, Open Sky and others offer similar cards directly to consumers looking to rebuild their credit.
Self’s price tiers are:
- $25 per month
- $35 per month
- $48 per month
- $150 per month
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