Credit repair involves removing or correcting inaccurate information from your credit report to provide a fair and complete picture of your finances, taking steps to boost your credit score, and resolving to avoid credit problems in the future. You can do this yourself or hire a company that specializes in credit repair to do it for you. Either path can present opportunities for error. Be sure you know your rights and avoid the 16 mistakes listed below.
- Know your rights under applicable credit laws.
- Obtain and read your credit reports once a year and look for errors.
- Only dispute information that you believe is wrong.
- Keep records of everything and get everything in writing.
- Avoid disreputable credit repair companies.
Know Your Rights
Several laws protect consumers when it comes to credit. These include the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA); the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA); the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) of 2003; and the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) of 2010. Among other things, these laws stipulate that:
- You must have free access to your credit reports once a year.
- You may dispute errors on your credit reports, and credit agencies must correct them if proved.
- You must be informed when your credit report has been used to, for example, deny you a loan.
- You must give permission for your credit information to be provided to someone else.
- The amount of time negative information remains on your reports is regulated.
- Creditors must follow rules when it comes to contacting you about debt, including staying within certain hours and not making threats or informing family members about your debt.
- Credit repair agencies cannot lie to your creditors or encourage you to lie, alter your identity, or misrepresent their services. They also must provide you with a contract and a three-day cooling off period.
Knowing your rights is only part of the picture. You must also avoid making mistakes along the way. Here is what to watch for.
Mistake #1: Failing to Check Credit Reports
Step one in repairing your credit involves knowing what your credit reports say. If you have never requested your reports, or it has been at least 12 months since you last looked them over, you can check your reports by going to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Free Credit Reports page and following directions. Other websites sell access to credit reports and a few even offer select reports for free, but the FTC gateway ensures you get the reports guaranteed by the FCRA. Read all three reports carefully, looking for information you believe to be false or inaccurate.
Mistake #2: Procrastinating
Don’t put off credit repair. If you discover negative information on any of your credit reports and believe it to be wrong, you should try to correct the record as soon as possible. Although most negative information comes off after seven years, that’s a long time to live with an inaccurate credit report.
Mistake #3: Avoiding Credit Education
Whether you are attempting to remove or correct bad information on your credit reports or simply trying to reduce debt and forge a new financial path forward, the more you know, the better. This includes knowing how to dispute wrong information in your credit report as well as knowing you probably need to pay down high-interest credit card debt before installment loans.
Mistake #4: Not Keeping Documentation
Complete and accurate documentation regarding all debt is essential to disputing wrong information, protecting your rights, and keeping spending within parameters that make sense for you. You should know the penalties for missing a payment as well as the optimum conditions for requesting a credit increase. Be able to show payments were made on time and always be prepared to back up your claims with paperwork.
Approximate number of "credit report" complaints reported to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau in 2018.
Mistake #5: Disputing Too Much
Obviously, you should only dispute things you honestly believe are inaccurate. Some credit repair companies like to dispute everything in the hope that one or two things “stick.” The problem is that credit bureaus are not likely to take such an approach seriously. Even if they do, you could end up removing positive information that helps your credit score. It’s also important to take your dispute to the right entity. In most cases that will be the credit agency, not the creditor.
Mistake #6: Disputing Online
All three credit agencies provide online dispute systems, but critics say using those systems may rob you of some of your rights under FCRA. The online systems allow credit agencies to avoid doing things—for example, forwarding your information to creditors, providing you with written responses to your disputes, and providing you with the “method of verification” of the item you disputed. Instead, you should file your dispute using paper “hard copies” and certified snail mail, critics say.
Mistake #7: Disputing with Boilerplate Language
Along with not disputing “everything” it’s also wise to individualize the language in your dispute filing to avoid having the credit agency “red flag” your paperwork for being repetitive. Instead, use the template as a guide and make sure the words are your own.
Mistake #8: Sending Uncertified Mail
Any paperwork you send to a credit agency, collection agency, or creditor should be sent certified mail with return receipt requested. This provides you with the documentation mentioned above as well as proof the agency received your letter. The same “proof” rule applies to any communication to you from any of the above entities. Do not verbally agree to anything unless it is also in writing. That way you will know what the agency has agreed to and, more important, will have written proof.
All communication should be in writing; you shouldn't verbally agree to anything unless it is also in writing.
Mistake #9: Falsifying Documents
Offering false and misleading statements or written communication isn’t just illegal for creditors and credit agencies. If you lie, chances are you will be prosecuted. Documentation you provide as part of a dispute or question about an issue of credit must be accurate. You need not elaborate, but what you say must be true.
Mistake #10: Transferring Credit Card Balances
Transferring a balance from one credit card to another is not a good credit repair tactic. You will still owe the same amount and in most cases the balance transfer fees will outweigh whatever interest advantage you may get. The same applies to consolidating debt onto a single credit card, especially if you close the other cards, thereby losing any available credit they would show.
Mistake #11: Missing Payments
Another credit repair mistake some people make happens when they miss payments on some accounts to make payments—or larger payments—on others. The only exception might be if the account in question has either already been charged off or gone to collections. If choosing between paying a collection account and one that is current, always pay the current account to keep it that way.
Mistake #12: Canceling Credit Card Accounts
Since 35% of your credit score is based on your credit history, it’s seldom a good idea to close a credit account. It may be much better to keep a small balance and pay it off monthly instead of canceling the account or cutting up the card. It will take discipline to keep from going into debt, but your credit score will be higher for the effort.
Mistake #13: Applying for New Credit
If you’re trying to repair your credit, the chances of being approved for additional credit, especially unsecured credit, is not great. You could be wasting a hard inquiry that ends up lowering your credit score right at the time you’re trying to raise it. It’s best to save applying for new credit for later—after your credit has been repaired.
Mistake #14: Paying Debt Collectors
It may sound counterintuitive, but paying a debt collector can cause unforeseen damage. If, for example, you have old debt that has outlived the statute of limitations, making a payment on that debt could update the debt. If you are unsure about the validity or status of the debt, it’s important not to pay until and unless the debt collector proves the debt is legit and current. It’s important to remember that debt collectors are expert at trying to frighten you into paying up. Don’t pay based on anything verbal. Written communication is the only acceptable form of communication.
Mistake #15: Hiring a Shady Credit Repair Company
Some people don’t feel they have the time or expertise to do their own credit repair. For those people, hiring a credit repair company can be beneficial and convenient although the convenience comes at a price. According to Credit Karma, the cost of professional credit repair services could include a flat fee or “per deletion” charge of $35 or more. Total cost could go up to $750 or more. Some companies charge a monthly fee ranging from $50 to $130 or more. Only you can decide if the cost of paying someone else to repair your credit is worth it. It’s worth noting that credit repair companies in general don’t have a great reputation, so review your rights above and as spelled out in the CROA.
Mistake #16: Filing for Bankruptcy
Some people think they need a fresh start and decide to “repair” their credit by filing for bankruptcy. Unfortunately, bankruptcy will not improve your credit rating, it will remain on your credit report for up to 10 years, and even when it’s gone, many lenders will ask if you’ve ever filed for bankruptcy as part of the loan application process, and use that as a reason for not approving a loan.