If you want to improve your credit, you first need to gather some information and do a little research. You will probably want to focus on the three major credit bureaus--Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion--that most banks use to qualify you for financial products like loans, credit cards, etc. Fortunately, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every year, so this doesn't have to cost you a dime. If you have not already done so within the past year, you can go to Annual Credit Report's website and get your free report there from each of the above mentioned bureaus. You will have to answer a few questions about personal information to confirm your identity; then you will get your full report from each bureau.
However, if you have already used Annual Credit Report to get your free reports this year, and it was more than a month ago, you should get new reports another way. Looking at old reports is a recipe for disaster; trust me, get current ones before you proceed with any credit repair steps. One option is to write a simple letter to each of the bureaus requesting a copy of your report and stating a reason why you need it; for example, perhaps you believe there is an error in the report and wish to review it. They may just send the reports for free or they may send you a letter informing you that it will cost $x.xx to order a report.
If you have been denied credit or had an adverse action taken against you within the past 60 days due to information in your credit report, you are also entitled to a free credit report from the agency that provided the negative information. That covers a wide range of possibilities; a few examples of an adverse action include decreasing your credit limit or increasing your interest rate on a credit card, refusing to grant a credit limit increase that you requested, and denying an application that you made for a loan, mortgage, or credit card. If any of these things happened, you have grounds to request a new free credit report, regardless of whether you have already received a free one within the past year. Just note that in this case, you only get a free report from the bureau that provided your credit report to the bank that subsequently took an adverse action against you. You can request a free report due to adverse action via the credit bureaus' websites, or by calling or writing to them.
Do not obtain your credit report from any other source that requires you to pay for it. There are many, many third-party sources of credit reports and credit monitoring services that will try to sell you your credit report and/or score. They do have a role in the credit repair process, but not at this stage. You want to get your original reports directly from the source! If it did not come directly from Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion, (or Annual Credit Report) then you may run into issues down the road when you start trying to dispute things. So make sure you do this step right and get the report from the proper place.
A final note about obtaining your credit reports. If you do so by sending a letter to the bureaus, they will require several items in order to confirm your identity before they will send your reports. They sometimes ask for different pieces of information but the general standard request they make is for a copy of a government-issued id (such as a driver's license,) your full name, address, date of birth, and social security number, and a recent utility bill for proof of address. You can either send out your request letter first and wait to see what they request, or if you want to get your reports faster you can include all of the items I just mentioned with your initial request letter. I have personally done this every time I requested reports and they always sent them out immediately without asking for further documents but it is possible for them to still request something more so don't be mortified if they do. Identity theft is a huge problem nowadays and the credit bureaus try to lean on the paranoid side to avoid getting sued.
Okay, do you have your credit reports in hand now? You're ready for the next step: Checking Your Credit Reports for Accuracy.