Credit Repair - Self Help

You see the advertisements in newspapers, on TV, and on the Internet. You hear them on the radio. You get fliers in the mail. You may even get calls from telemarketers offering credit repair services. They all make the same claims about magically refurbishing your credit.

Do yourself a favor and don't believe these statements. Only time, a conscious effort, and a personal debt repayment plan will improve your credit report. This article explains how you can improve your credit worthiness and lists legitimate resources for low or no-cost help.

The Scam

Everyday, companies nationwide appeal to consumers with poor credit histories. They promise to clean up your credit report for a fee so that you can get a car loan, a home mortgage, insurance, or even a job. The truth is that they can't deliver. After you pay them hundreds or thousands of dollars in up-front fees, these companies do nothing to improve your credit report; many simply vanish with your money.

If you decide to respond to a credit repair offer, beware of companies that want you to pay for credit repair services before any services are provided. They should also tell you your legal rights and what you can do-yourself-for free; moreover, they should not recommend that you not contact a credit bureau directly.

Other trouble signs of trouble are companies who advise you to invent a new credit report by applying for an Employer Identification Number to use instead of your Social Security Number. If you follow illegal advice and commit fraud, you may be subject to prosecution. Under the Credit Repair Organizations Act, credit repair companies cannot require you to pay until they have completed the promised services.

The Truth

No one can legally remove accurate and timely negative information from a credit report, but the law does allow you to request a reinvestigation of information in your file that you dispute as inaccurate or incomplete. There is no charge for that. Everything a credit repair clinic can do for you legally, you can do for yourself at little or no cost.

You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report if you've been denied credit, insurance, or employment within the last 60 days. If your application for credit, insurance, or employment is denied because of information supplied by a credit bureau, the company you applied to must provide you with that credit bureau's name, address, and telephone number.

You can dispute mistakes or outdated items for free. Ask the credit reporting agency for a dispute form or submit your dispute in writing, along with any supporting documentation. Do not send them original documents.

Clearly identify each item in your report that you dispute, explain why you dispute the information, and request a reinvestigation. If the new investigation reveals an error, you may ask that a corrected version of the report be sent to anyone who received your report within the past 6 months. Job applicants can have corrected reports sent to anyone who received a report for employment purposes during the past 2 years.

When the reinvestigation is complete, the credit bureau must give you the written results and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. If an item is changed or removed, the credit bureau cannot put the disputed information back in your file unless the information provider verifies its accuracy and completeness, and the credit bureau gives you a written notice that includes the name, address, and phone number of the provider.

You also should tell the creditor or other information provider in writing that you dispute an item. Many providers specify an address for disputes. If the provider then reports the item to any credit bureau, it must include a notice of your dispute. In addition, if you are correct-that is, if the information is inaccurate-the information provider may not use it again.

If the reinvestigation does not resolve your dispute, have the credit bureau include your version of the dispute in your file and in future reports. Remember, there is no charge for a reinvestigation.

Reporting Negative Information

Accurate negative information generally can be reported for 7 years, but there are exceptions. Bankruptcy information can be reported for 10 years. Information reported because of an application for a job with a salary of more than $75,000 has no time limitation. Information reported because of an application for more than $150,000 worth of credit or life insurance has no time limitation. Information concerning a lawsuit or a judgment against you can be reported for 7 years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer. Default information concerning U.S. Government insured or guaranteed student loans can be reported for 7 years after certain guarantor actions.

The Credit Repair Organizations Act

By law, credit repair organizations must give you a copy of the Consumer Credit File Rights Under State and Federal Law before you sign a contract. They also must give you a written contract that spells out your rights and obligations. Read these documents before signing the contract. The law contains specific protections for you.

A credit repair company cannot make false claims about their services. nor can they charge you until they have completed the promised services. Your contract must specify the payment terms for services, including their total cost. It must also specify a detailed description of the services to be performed, how long it will take to achieve the results, any guarantees they offer, and the company's name and business address.

Have You Been Victimized?

Many states have laws strictly regulating credit repair companies. States may be helpful if you've lost money to credit repair scams.If you've had a problem with a credit repair company, don't be embarrassed to report them. While you may fear that contacting the government will only make your problems worse, that's not true. Laws are in place to protect you. Contact your local consumer affairs office or your state attorney general (AG). Many AGs have toll-free consumer hotlines. Check with your local directory assistance.

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