After filing bankruptcy, you need to be proactive about rebuilding your credit.
A credit card can be a useful tool for rebuilding credit, but some people with a history of bankruptcy have a hard time getting approved – even if they can put a security deposit down on a secured credit card.
Does this mean you’ll never enjoy the convenience of a credit card again? Not necessarily.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to get credit cards after bankruptcy and other options you might consider for rebuilding your financial stability.
Is it possible to get approved for a credit card after a bankruptcy filing? Absolutely, according to Marshall Slayton, Managing Attorney and Owner of Slayton Law, PLC of Charlottesville, VA.
“Contrary to popular belief, after bankruptcy, many of my clients are inundated with credit card offers,” Slayton says.
Technically, you can start applying for credit cards as soon as your bankruptcy is discharged.
That usually takes around three months from the filing date for Chapter 7 bankruptcies. Chapter 13 bankruptcies take longer because they involve repayment plans that can take anywhere from three to five years to complete.
Still, just because you can get approved for bankruptcy-friendly credit cards quickly doesn’t mean you should accept any credit offer you receive from a card issuer.
“The vast majority of the offers are terrible deals with predatory interest rates,” Slayton says. “I counsel my clients to throw them in the trash.”
If you’re not getting pre-approved offers or getting turned down from a credit card company after bankruptcy, check your credit report.
Don Petersen, a consumer lawyer with the Law Office of Donald E. Petersen in Orlando, FL, says your ability to get credit after bankruptcy depends on a lot of factors, including:
1 - Your credit score before the bankruptcy.
“The higher your credit score was before you filed bankruptcy, the higher your credit score will be after bankruptcy – although still lower than it was before you filed,” Petersen says. It is very likely that a credit card company will check your credit history before approving you.
2 - Whether you filed a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
“If you received a discharge under a Chapter 13 repayment plan, you’re typically able to reestablish credit very soon after receiving your discharge.”
3 - Whether you reaffirmed secured debt.
“If you reaffirmed secured debts such as a car loan or mortgage, you can restore your credit much quicker than someone who did not reaffirm such debts,” Petersen says.
While a bankruptcy case will remain on your credit report for seven to 10 years, the discharged debts are supposed to be removed from your credit report. But that doesn’t always happen.
“Many creditors sell discharged debts and continue to leave balances, including charge off amounts and past due balances, on a consumer’s credit report,” Petersen says.
Around 60 to 90 days after receiving your Order of Bankruptcy Discharge confirming you are no longer responsible for paying back the debts that were discharged in your bankruptcy case, order a copy of your credit report from annualcreditreport.com.
Review the reports to ensure that the balance on all discharged debts is zero.
If any of your creditors are still showing a balance, you’ll need to dispute the report with the credit reporting agency: Experian , Equifax , or TransUnion . The FTC has a sample letter for disputing errors  on your credit report that can help.
You might want to send a copy of the dispute letter to the creditor who is reporting inaccurate information as well as the credit reporting agency. The credit reporting agency then has 30 days to investigate the items in question. The credit reporting agency will then send you the results of their investigation in writing. They’ll also send you a free copy of your credit report if the dispute results in a change to your file.
Even if you checked your credit report a couple months after bankruptcy, Petersen recommends continuing to monitor it. Incorrect information can reappear – sometimes even years after the bankruptcy court discharged the debt.
After you’ve ensured your credit report is accurate, it should be a little easier to get approved for a credit card. Still, you likely won’t be approved for an unsecured credit card with low rates, no annual fee, and generous rewards.
The interest rate on a secured credit card is typically lower than the rate charged on subprime cards that are designed for people with bad credit. This is because you have to give the credit card issuer cash to hold as collateral in exchange for the line of credit.
“The key,” Slayton says, “is to find a secured card that also reports to the three major credit reporting agencies. This is important so that you can demonstrate to other potential creditors that you’re making regular and timely monthly payments, which will, in turn, improve your credit score and allow you to get more credit with more favorable terms in the future.”
For example, the Self credit builder card uses the savings you’ve built up with a Credit Builder Account as a security deposit and reports to the credit reporting agencies monthly. There’s no hard pull on your credit either.
As long as you monitor your spending activity and make in-full timely payments, it can be an excellent tool for building credit after bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy relief is designed to give you a fresh start with your finances. So you want to make sure you take advantage of this opportunity by using credit cards responsibly going forward.
Here are three ways to use your credit card responsibly post-bankruptcy:
Credit cards allow you to spend money you don’t have, which creates more debt. To avoid going into debt again, use your credit card to cover a few small purchases each month, then pay off your balance in full.
Making timely payments can show a credit card company that you are responsible and care about your credit score. Do not spend beyond your available credit or too close to your credit limit. Otherwise, you might not be able to afford your monthly payment. Check your credit card account regularly so you can stay on top of your finances and avoid any late payment troubles.
By not carrying a balance, you’ll avoid paying interest on your purchases while building credit. Here’s one example of building credit by paying for subscription services
Your credit utilization is an important factor in your credit score, and financial experts recommend keeping your credit utilization ratio under 30% at all times.
That means if you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit, you’ll never charge more than $300 on that card – even if you pay the balance in full each month.
Your payment history is one of the most important factors in your credit score. Making on-time payments will help you avoid late fees, penalty interest rates, and negative items on your credit report.
Enroll in automatic payments or payment alerts to ensure you don’t accidentally miss a payment.
When working on credit repair after declaring bankruptcy, it is imperative that you make your monthly payment on time. Enroll in automatic payments or payment alerts to ensure you don't accidentally miss a payment.
Before filling out a credit card application, consider the reasons you got into financial trouble in the first place.
If your bankruptcy was the result of medical debt, divorce, job loss, or other unforeseen event, a bankruptcy credit card can be a useful tool for rebuilding credit after bankruptcy.
However, if you tend to spend outside of your means or your credit limit, you might want to work on budgeting and saving first.
In the meantime, there are other steps you can take to rebuild your credit without getting bankruptcy credit cards.
If you want to reverse your bad credit or start saving, here are four ways to get started. (Read our guide for a more complete list of ways to build your credit.)
A credit builder loan is an installment loan that exists solely to help people build credit.
It works like this:
Typically, utility companies and cell phone carriers only report your payment history to the credit rating agencies if you default on your payments or get sent to a collection agency.
However, it’s possible to use your on-time bill payments to improve your credit score.
Few lenders and property managers report rental payment history to the credit bureaus, so paying your rent on time usually has no impact on your credit. If you’re currently renting, you can ask your landlord or property manager to report your rental payment data.
Read our guide to help you decide if reporting rent to the credit bureaus is worth it.
Did you know you can build credit as an authorized user on a credit card? If you have a family member or close friend with a good credit score, consider asking them to add you as an authorized user on their account.
They can do this with or without giving you a physical card, all that matters is they make payments on time, the account is used responsibly, and the card issuer reports authorized user activity to the credit bureaus. If so, the positive activity on the account will be added to your credit reports which could improve your credit score.
A bankruptcy filing has a major impact on your credit and your ability to borrow in the future, but it doesn't last forever. Getting a credit card after bankruptcy can be tricky. However, if you work towards a better credit rating and are smart about how you use your credit accounts, you'll be able to establish good credit over time.
By understanding what it takes to qualify and using a new credit card wisely going forward, you can demonstrate that you're a responsible borrower. Eventually, the bankruptcy will be less of a factor in your credit history until it's gone from your file forever.
Experian. “Dispute credit report information at Experian” https://www.experian.com/disputes/main.html Accessed March 24, 2021
Equifax. “Dispute information on your Equifax credit report” https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/credit-dispute/ Accessed March 24, 2021
Transunion. “Dispute credit report information at Transunion” https://www.transunion.com/credit-disputes/dispute-your-credit Acccessed March 24, 2021
Federal Trade Commission. “Sample Letter for Disputing Errors on Your Credit Report” https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0384-sample-letter-disputing-errors-your-credit-report Acccessed March 24, 2021
Experian Boost. https://www.experian.com/consumer-products/score-boost.html Accessed March 24, 2021
eCredable Lift. https://www.ecredable.com/transunion Accessed March 24, 2021
Experian. “Does paying utility bills help build your credit score?” https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/does-paying-utility-bills-help-your-credit-score/ Accessed March 24, 2021
Experian. “Build credit history by paying your rent on time” https://www.experian.com/rentbureau/rental-payment Accessed March 24, 2021
Janet Berry-Johnson is a Certified Public Accountant and freelance writer with a background in accounting and insurance. Her writing has appeared in Forbes, Freshbooks, The Penny Hoarder, and several other major outlets. See Janet on Linkedin and Twitter.
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