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Last month, Changing Gears teamed with authors and CNN anchors Ali Velshi and Christine Romans to collect your questions on the personal finance issues that you’re facing because of the recession.

Here’s the final question in our series of Midwest Money answers from Ali and Christine, based on their new book, How To Speak Money: The Language and Knowledge You Need Now. (Each person whose question was used will receive a copy of the book.)

Imran KahnĀ of Chicago writes,

My father was a realtor. So, during the housing boom, I purchased two homes and rented them. Then the housing bubble blew up. My property was worth a quarter of what I paid for it. I stopped making payments. The banks harassed me and then eventually disappeared.

Now, a couple years later, I am trying to build my damaged credit score back up. I got a credit card that was sent to me in the mail. I am paying on time. Why is my score still so low? How can I get this score up fast? I need to move on.

Ali and Christine reply,

Imran, we all need to move on from the housing crisis. But sadly, it is still with us. There is no fixing it fast, and there is no fixing your credit score fast. We’re not going to pass judgment on your foray into speculative real estate or on deciding to walk away. That’s a conversation for another place. But in the eyes of the banks, you are a terrible credit risk. That’s why your credit score is so low.

According to Greg McBride of Bankrate.com, 35% of your credit score is based on your pattern of paying bills. “Regardless of whether it is a rental property or a primary residence, defaulting on a mortgage (or two, in this case) will torpedo your credit score,” McBride says.

You say you want “to get this score up fast.” That’s probably not going to happen. In the credit score business, a mistake will nail you quickly, but it takes time to heal the wounds once inflicted.

“He’s got a long way to go before his credit score gets back to the point where he can secure a low credit card rate or much higher credit limit,” McBride says. “And he could be locked out of the mortgage market altogether for anywhere from 3-7 years.”

(It will stay on your credit report for many years longer than that.)

Still, the credit agencies and the lenders are probably eying you not as a permanent risk, but as a strategic defaulter. In their eyes, there is a difference. That’s why you got a credit card offer in the mail. They are working hard to find new customers who are able to pay their bills again and they are testing the waters with you.

You are doing the right thing to use the card. Pay your bills on time and don’t fall for the misconception that you should carry a balance. In your case, you want to look solid as a rock. Every month you pay on time, is another month in the “time heals all wounds” world of the credit scoring business.

You say “the banks harassed me and then eventually disappeared.” We’re not so sure they are just going to go away. Ryan Mack of Optimum Capital Management says the banks you borrowed from “can still sue you over your two delinquent homes, so long as it is within the statute of limitations for suits in your state.” In New York, Mack says, suits are limited to within 6 years.

But he agrees you are doing the right thing trying to build up a credit history again. Here are Mack’s tips for doing what you can — outside of the housing mess — to look responsible in the eyes of lenders:

  • Keep using your new credit card.
  • Do a thorough cleaning of your credit. (Go to www.annualcreditreport.com)
  • Resolve disputes
  • Correct erroneous entries on your credit reports
  • Pay down additional debt; the more you pay, the better.
  • Pay bills on time
  • Keep up activity on accounts-even pay for your groceries on your card, and then pay down the bill at the end of the month

Good luck!

You can read all of our Midwest Money questions and answers here.