You're bankrupt. You're doing all the right things to improve your credit and recover from your bankruptcy (i.e., managing your money and credit well, increasing your credit scores, paying your bills early or on time, and re-establishing credit).
So when does the dark cloud that's been over you since you filed bankruptcy leave?
The answer is, "it depends."
With some lenders, as long as your bankruptcy remains on your credit reports you will be denied credit. The good news is, there are many "normal" lenders who are willing to work with you after bankruptcy. You just need to know where to find them.
It's NOT about working with lenders that are convenient for you. It's about finding lenders that will work with you without taking advantage of your situation. Each lender sets their own "credit guidelines." What are credit guidelines? They are simply the minimum requirements you must have in order to qualify for credit with that lender.
The three common credit guidelines for most lenders who work with people after bankruptcy are:
(1) the amount of time you have since your discharge
(2) How you pay your bills after discharge
(3) Your FICO credit scores.
Time will heal.
The maximum amount of time the dark cloud of bankruptcy follows you is up to 10 years. Remember, this dark cloud is only for a season in your life, not forever. Bottom line: the more time you have after your bankruptcy is discharged the more opportunities you'll have to get credit.
But lenders also need to know you've recovered. Late payments after a discharged bankruptcy are bad news. Lenders need to see an early or on-time payment history to feel comfortable with you after bankruptcy.
There is no escaping a lender who will judge us on our credit scores. This is why it is so important to increase your scores by deleting inaccurate, outdated, and unverifiable information from your credit reports. Your FICO scores are just too important to ignore. You need to make it a priority to keep your FICO credit scores as high as they can be. High credit scores are the key to unlocking opportunities that have been hidden from you.
Let's look at how lenders use credit scores so you can understand what I mean.
GETTING A MORTGAGE
Mortgage companies are pretty forgiving when it comes to lending money to someone who's filed bankruptcy. In fact, after bankruptcy, it's actually easier to get a mortgage on a new home than get approved for an unsecured credit card.
As long as your middle FICO credit score is 580 or above you will qualify for mortgage financing with no money down...just maybe not at the interest rate and terms you want. (This assumes you haven't had a foreclosure in the last 24 months and you have a good payment history since your discharge.)
To get better terms and a lower interest rate, you need a higher middle credit score. A middle score of 600 will give you a lower interest rate and better terms. (This assumes you haven't had a foreclosure in the last 12 months.) A middle score of 620 or above opens up even better options once you have two years after discharge.
PURCHASING A NEW CAR
A FICO credit score over 700 on the credit reporting agency the manufacturer uses will open up the floodgates for you. A score between 600 and 620 seems to be the bare minimum you need to qualify with most lenders for a good interest rate. Slimy lenders (the kind that wear lots of gold chains, polyester suits, and broadcast a hairy chest to the world) will help you if you have a lower score.
Remember, many car dealers use only one FICO score to make their lending decisions. So, you're always better off going to a dealer who uses the credit reporting agency where you have your highest FICO score.
UNSECURED CREDIT CARDS
Some lenders just don't want to do business with a bankrupt person.
Interviewing lenders BEFORE you apply for credit is so important. You need to determine their credit guidelines before you apply. (Read that sentence again!) Many unsecured credit card providers are 100% FICO credit score-based. That's how they can offer you an answer so quickly if you apply by telephone or over the internet.
The only thing they look at to make their credit decision is one of your FICO scores. A FICO score over 700 seems to be what they're looking for.
Don't expect too much from your banker until four years have passed and your FICO scores are above 680. However, all bankers are different. Find out what the possibilities are with your banker. Do they have any authority to make credit decisions?
After my bankruptcy I felt lucky to have a bank checking account, savings account, debit card (now they're called Visa/MasterCard check cards), a secured Visa credit card, and a few secured bank loan.
A CREDIT LIMIT INCREASE
You need to be on a constant hunt for higher credit limits. Even if you don't think you need them. It's good for your scores, especially when your spending patterns remain the same.
You "earn" a higher credit limit by paying your bills early or on time. Your next step is requesting a credit limit increase every six months. Credit limit increases are usually based on how long you've been a customer; your payment habits; how long from the last time your credit limit was increased; and your FICO scores.
Again, anything over 700 opens the floodgates of options from most lenders. One key point to remember, when YOU request a credit limit increase the credit inquiry lowers your credit scores. When your lender does it in their normal course of doing business it does NOT lower your credit scores.
If you ask for credit limit increases from banks or credit unions, (I repeat, only banks or credit unions) apply for them all within a 14-day window. All credit inquiries from these sources during the 14-day period will only count as one credit inquiry.
If there was a magic FICO score to aim for (and there really isn't) it would be 720. This score won't open all the credit doors for you...but it will certainly open enough doors at normal interest rates to accomplish your goals.
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Stephen Snyder is the founder of the After Bankruptcy Foundation a non-profit organization that helps people recover after bankruptcy. He has helped thousands of people understand how to read their personal credit report and what to do to improve their credit score.
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