You see the ads on late-night television promising to fix your credit, "guaranteed." Don't bother. They can't do anything that you can't do yourself, and if they're not a reputable company, they could do more harm than good.
Here's how to DIY.
1. Understand credit scoring. Once you know what metrics matter, you can build a step-by-step plan for restoring your credit, says Wanda Strickfaden, author of "Credit Repair: Real Answers to Your Credit Problems." Find out what makes a credit score at bit.ly/191JwxC.
2. Pay bills on time. To avoid paying late, automate your payments, or sign up for email or text alerts through your bank to notify you when payment is due, says Linda Descano, president and CEO of Women & Co., a service of Citibank.
3. Less is more. Limit the number of credit lines you have open and use them sparingly. "If you have $1,000 available to you, never carry more than $300 in credit use," says David Flores, a credit counselor for GreenPath Debt Solutions in Jericho. Or go further still: "Cut up your credit cards, use cash only," says Adelphi University business school professor Rakesh Gupta.
4. Monitor your credit report. At least once a year, check your report at annualcreditreport.com. Be sure there are no errors. Write a letter to the credit reporting agencies to inform them of any mistakes.
5. Stop the madness. Says Strickfaden, "Develop a plan for paying down your debt. Create a budget to keep on track. The less you owe and the more you make regular, on-time payments, the better your score."