Worried man © Corbis

Woody Allen famously said, “My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.” If you’re dealing with the stress of bad credit after making a series of money mistakes, you might be feeling much the same way. Improving a poor credit score is difficult, so it’s easy to get caught up in feelings of regret about what went wrong in the first place.

Although it’s impossible to go back in time and make different money choices, there are ways to bounce back. Take a look at the four common credit regrets below. We’ll show you how to deal with them and chart a course to a better financial future.

No. 1: I wish I’d … stayed out of credit card debt

It’s understandable that credit card debt makes you want to turn back the clock and snatch the plastic out of the hands of your younger self. Not only are you paying a sky-high interest rate, your credit is likely suffering, too. That’s because 30 percent of your credit score is influenced by your credit utilization – the percent of credit limits your using. Carrying so much debt that you’re using more than 30 percent of your available credit is probably costing your points.

The best way to cope with this regret is to work hard to eliminate the balance. Here are a few ideas for shaking your debt as fast as you possibly can:

  • Stop charging. Put your cards away, and switch to cash.
  • Cut unnecessary expenses from your budget to free up money for extra payments on your card.
  • Track your spending, and avoid temptations to break your budget.
  • Consider taking on extra work, and devote your surplus funds to debt payoff.
  • If you have debt on more than one card, pay off the card with the higher APR first; this way, you’ll save the most money on interest.
  • If your credit is good, consider a balance transfer, which could save you money on interest.

No. 2: I wish I’d … opened a credit account sooner

People who put off opening a credit account until they’re well into adulthood often find that it’s tough to get lenders to approve them. Although only 15 percent of your credit score comes from the length of your credit history, without a long and strong record of making on-time payments, many lenders aren’t willing to take a risk on a new borrower.

To overcome this obstacle (and your intense regret), do what you can to start using credit right now. The easiest way to do this is with a credit card. There are some cards on the market that are fairly easy to qualify for even if your credit history is limited. If that route doesn’t work, consider a secured card. Since using this type of plastic involves tapping a credit line, you’ll be able to build good credit as you use your card responsibly. As a reminder, this means paying your balance on time and in full every month.

No. 3: I wish I’d … paid my bills on time

Failing to pay your bills on time is a significant credit misstep. The largest portion of your credit score (35 percent) comes from your history with making on-time payments to your creditors. If you have a spotty record in this arena, your score might be in bad shape. Moreover, if you have accounts that have been sent to collections, this information could hang around on your credit report for years.

Again, you can’t rewind time, and turn late payments in on time. The best way to move forward is to make a commitment to paying your bills by their due dates from here on out. Set up text or email alerts with your lenders, mark a calendar or set reminders on your phone – whatever works for you. Over time, the negative marks on your credit report from collections and late payments will be replaced by the positive information you’re creating.

No. 4: I wish I’d … made smarter borrowing choices.

Applying for too many credit accounts (loans, credit cards, etc.) over the course of just a few months can hurt your credit score. Ten percent of your score comes from new credit inquiries – too many indicate that you’re a risky borrower, and your credit score will drop as result.

Unfortunately, many people don’t know this until after they’ve already done it and later regret that they bounced from application to application too quickly. Luckily, the damage from this mistake isn’t too hard to undo. Simply ease up on new borrowing, keep up with good credit habits and your score will improve over time. You can also take comfort in the fact that this slip-up affects a relatively small portion of your credit score, so you didn’t do too much harm.

In the future, be sure to borrow sparingly and put several months of space between new credit applications.

The takeaway: Regretting past credit mistakes is normal, but it’s important to learn from them and move forward.

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