Start Prepping Early
If you're someone who has bad credit but wants to buy new, it is best to start planning for it well in advance, as you would with any major purchase.
You need to start with your credit report to see how it would look to a lender. Run it at least three months before you plan on buying so you can take action on any outstanding items, recommends Rod Griffin, director of public education for credit reporting company Experian.
Annual Credit Report.com gives you one free report a year on each of the major credit reporting companies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Take advantage of it.
Getting your actual credit score typically costs money, but your score will give you an idea of the credit tier into which you fall. Experian defines subprime (which includes deep subprime, as low as you can go) as a 619 score or below on its Vantage scale.
Once you get the free credit report, pay close attention to the section that points out potentially negative items, also called risk factors. Risk factors could be anything from an old debt that went to collection to a fine you had to pay in a civil court case.
Rather than viewing them as black marks on your credit, "these risk factors can empower you as a consumer to help rehabilitate your credit," Griffin says. The risk factors are present in all reports, so if you fix an issue you found on one credit report, the action will be reflected on all the other reports.
Experian says it offers an added benefit with its credit report and score. For $40, you get your credit score from Experian and a 35-minute session with a credit educator. This person will go over your report and point out items that need attention and give you tips on how to address it.