When it comes to managing your finances, thoroughly researching any company you work with is of the utmost importance. This couldn’t be truer than with credit repair companies.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), credit repair scams are incredibly common. There have been several recorded cases of criminals setting up false credit repair schemes designed to steal Social Security numbers, and some completely legitimate companies have been accused of violating consumer rights by charging illegal fees and making false promises to customers.  Even those with a clean record often face high volumes of consumer complaints for a variety of reasons, such as overpriced services and failure to deliver results.

The FTC makes it clear that no credit repair company is authorized to perform any action you can’t do on your own for free. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you’re legally entitled to access your credit report for free once per year or if you’ve been the victim of identity theft. Additionally, the law dictates that you can dispute inaccuracies on your report and have negative information removed after a certain number of years. The FTC offers a clear, step-by-step guide on how to do this without paying a credit repair company.

At the end of the day, many people still choose to work with a credit repair company because they feel overwhelmed by the dispute process and are willing to pay for expert help. There are a number of ways in which credit repair companies can provide value, such as spotting errors on your report that you might otherwise miss. The FTC advises that reputable companies will also help you achieve long-term financial success that goes beyond your credit report by providing budgeting help and free educational materials.

So how do you tell a legitimate credit repair company from a scam? That’s the question we set out to answer in our series of credit repair reviews. We looked at some of the most popular companies and closely examined their services, pricing structures, and reputations to determine whether or not they offer value. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the methodology we used to evaluate each company and explain why each factor that we examined is important when dealing with credit repair.

Credit Repair Methodology

Credit repair is a complex service that involves many moving parts. What’s more, no two credit repair companies offer the exact same approach. To get a fair evaluation of each company we reviewed, we broke our scoring sheet down into five categories as listed below.

Within each category, we ranked each company on specific aspects of their service on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). We then took the weighted average of all scores according to the importance of each in deciding whether or not to work with a credit repair company. The percentages used to weigh each category are outlined in the following table.

Stability 2%
Reputation and Customer Satisfaction 11%
Customer Experience 7%
Services 30%
Costs and Fees 50%

In the end, each company received an overall rating from 1.0 to 5.0, with 5.0 being the best possible score and 1.0 being the worst.

The following sections will give a more detailed breakdown of the specific data points we used to evaluate credit repair companies in each category.

Evaluating Stability

Unlike other financial industries such as insurance, there is no authoritative body that rates the stability of credit repair companies. With this information unavailable, we used the next best measure of evaluating stability: number of years in business.

The number of years a credit repair organization has been in business is important because it demonstrates that the company has achieved long-term stability. Not only does this mean the company isn’t likely to go out of business before completing the services you paid for, it also means they’ve gained years (or even decades) of experience helping others in your situation. A credit repair company that has been around for a long time is likely to have earned enough respect from customers to continue attracting business.

Based on industry averages, we scored each company’s number of years in business using the following scale:

Excellent (5) More than 25 years in business
Great (4) Sixteen to 25 years in business
Good (3) Eleven to 15 years in business
Fair (2) Six to 10 years in business
Poor (1) Five or fewer years in business

Company Reputation and Customer Satisfaction

In credit repair, a company’s reputation says a lot about the type of experience it provides to customers. There are many channels for regulating authorities and consumers to file complaints about a credit repair company, both official and unofficial. We looked at complaint data from three of the most recognized third-party sources:

  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau complaints and actions
  • Better Business Bureau reviews
  • Google reviews

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Complaints and Actions

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a government agency that acts as a consumer advocate in financial markets related to banks, loans, and credit. One of the CFPB’s core functions is to field complaints that result from unfair practices. Complaints are published in a database on the CFPB website that anyone can access.

While the CFPB doesn’t verify the specific facts in complaints, the bureau does refrain from publishing those that don’t meet strict criteria. If a credit repair company has accumulated many complaints, it’s usually a good sign that something in the business’s practices doesn’t sit well with consumers. The CFPB has the power to take enforcement action against the company if it investigates a complaint and finds that the law has been violated.

In reviewing each credit repair company, we looked up the number of complaints they had received in the CFPB database and assigned a score based on the following ranges:

Excellent (5) No complaints within the past three years
Great (4) No complaints within the past year
Good (3) One to five complaints within the past year
Fair (2) Five to 10 complaints within the past year
Poor (1) Ten or more complaints within the past year or enforcement action

Better Business Bureau Reviews

Contrary to what many consumers believe, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is not an official government agency, but a private nonprofit that independently evaluates companies and fields customer complaints. The BBB allows companies to pay a fee for official accreditation and assigns ratings to all businesses, regardless of accreditation status.

In recent years, the validity of BBB ratings has been called into question by journalistic investigations that found discrepancies based on whether the business had paid for accreditation. Knowing this information, it’s important to take BBB ratings with a grain of salt.

Ultimately, we chose not to include BBB accreditation status or agency ratings into consideration when calculating companies’ overall score. However, we did include each company’s average customer review score. Customers can leave a review for businesses on the BBB website without filing a complaint, giving a score of 1 to 5 based on their experience with the company. We factored in these reviews based on the following point system:

Excellent (5) 5 stars
Great (4) 4 stars to less than 5 full stars
Good (3) 3 stars to less than 4 full stars
Fair (2) 2 stars to less than 3 full stars
Poor (1) Less than 2 full stars or no reviews

Google Reviews

A company’s Google profile is a common place for customers to go when they want to leave a review for a business they’ve interacted with. These reviews often appear when you search a company’s name using the Google search engine. Reviews consist of a star rating on a scale of 1 to 5 and an optional section for the customer to write a more detailed explanation of the score they gave.

In our methodology, Google reviews were assigned scores based on average star rating as follows:

Excellent (5) 5 stars
Great (4) 4 stars to less than 5 full stars
Good (3) 3 stars to less than 4 full stars
Fair (2) 2 stars to less than 3 full stars
Poor (1) Less than 2 full stars or no reviews

Customer Experience

A credit repair company’s dedication to customer experience is often a strong indicator of the quality of services they provide. When credit repair organizations don’t put enough effort into providing a good experience, customers tend to have difficulty contacting the company and getting updates on their case status. Since most credit repair services are now offered digitally, this generally means providing a helpful, easy-to-use website and virtual tools like an app or customer portal.

Taking all of this into account, we evaluated customer experience by looking into these three areas:

  • Website content
  • Website usability
  • Digital accessibility

Website Content

In the digital age, your first interaction with any company is often through its website. Credit repair companies use their websites to attract customers by providing information about their services and the benefits of credit repair. Unfortunately, not all companies are honest, and some publish inaccurate information that may mislead customers into thinking the company can do more than it really can.

While reviewing credit repair companies, we looked for three key items that illustrate the quality of information being presented:

  • Price disclosure
  • Online resources
  • FAQ page

Price Disclosure

One of the most common complaints about credit repair companies is that they aren’t upfront about their pricing, leading some customers to inadvertently accrue charges they weren't aware of. Companies that value transparency should publish their pricing clearly online so that customers know exactly what they can expect to pay for services before they call.

For each credit repair company, we looked for pricing information on their website and assigned the following points:

Excellent (5) Price disclosed online
Poor (1) Price not disclosed online

Online Resources

A truly reputable credit repair company should approach fixing your credit as a multi-stage solution. In addition to disputing credit errors, the best companies will also provide resources that cover big-picture financial planning and debt management. Most companies that offer resources do so for free, demonstrating value to potential customers who are thinking about signing up for services.

We evaluated credit repair companies’ online resources based on this scale:

Excellent (5) Free app or interactive tool
Great (4) Free e-books and/or videos
Good (3) Blog
Fair (2) Basic information
Poor (1) None

FAQ Page

Credit repair can seem daunting for those who have never disputed an error on their report before. It’s completely normal to have questions about how the process works and what to expect along the way. To answer these questions transparently, credit repair companies should have an FAQ page that provides in-depth answers to questions not only about the credit repair process, but also the company’s specific practices such as pricing and policies.

Companies were given the following points depending on whether or not they had an FAQ page:

Excellent (5) Has an FAQ page
Poor (1) Does not have an FAQ page

Website Usability

The information included in a credit repair company’s website is important, but it won’t do you any good if you can’t locate it. We gave companies more points if they had dedicated resources to designing a responsive website that made it easy to find what you’re looking for.

We made our website usability analysis as objective as possible using these criteria:

Excellent (5) Intuitive design, interactive tools, easy to locate information
Great (4) Well-designed, highly informative but few tools
Good (3) Average design, includes useful information
Fair (2) Design lacking, information is difficult to find
Poor (1) Outdated design, poor experience, missing key information

Digital Accessibility

The technology available today enables companies to offer much more than just a website. We rewarded credit repair businesses for making additional technologies available that help customers more easily navigate the credit repair process. These technologies are:

  • Online customer portal
  • Mobile app
  • Web chat

Online Customer Portal

An online customer portal is a tool that customers can access using a username and password. Upon logging in, customers might find information such as important documents, dispute status, and updates from the credit repair specialist handling their case.

The credit repair companies we reviewed earned the following points for the presence or absence of a customer portal:

Excellent (5) Has an online customer portal
Poor (1) Does not have an online customer portal

Mobile App

Mobile apps are another trend in technology that make a big difference in the credit repair experience. Since most consumers spend more time on their phones than their computers throughout the day, a mobile app can make it easier to receive information and access resources.

Our rubric assigned points to companies with mobile apps using this scale:

Excellent (5) Has a mobile app
Poor (1) Does not have a mobile app

Web Chat

Not everyone wants to pick up the phone or wait for an email every time they have a question. Web chat is a convenient customer service channel that tends to be much faster and more efficient than traditional contact methods.

The companies we reviewed were rewarded for having a web chat as follows:

Excellent (5) Has a web chat
Poor (1) Does not have a web chat

Credit Repair Services

Credit repair isn’t a one-size-fits-all service. Most companies offer several different options which might include different credit repair options, tiered service levels, and additional non-credit repair offerings. To further explore the scope of services available, we broke them down into two main categories:

  • Credit repair service packages
  • Additional services offered

Credit Repair Service Packages

No two credit repair services are the same. Credit repair organizations often split their services into tiered packages that vary by the number or type of services included. For example, some companies may ask you to pay more for unlimited disputes per month, while others exclude services like credit monitoring from base packages but offer them in premium plans.

Some companies offer just one service package while others let customers choose from several different options. No matter how many choices a company makes available, not all of them include the same scope of services in their monthly fee.

To create a standardized method of evaluating credit repair service packages, we looked at data in three main areas:

  • Variety of service packages offered
  • Whether credit monitoring is offered
  • How many monthly disputes are included

Service Packages Offered

Every credit repair customer has a different set of needs. While some only have one or two minor errors to remove from their report, others require significant help with a major discrepancy. Ideally, a credit repair company will offer packages at various price points so that customers don’t overpay for a full-service option they don’t need.

The credit repair companies we reviewed were given points for the number of service packages they offered according to this scale:

Excellent (5) More than three service packages
Great (4) Two or three service packages
Good (3) Single service package

Credit Monitoring

Credit monitoring is a type of service that tracks your credit report and notifies you if there are any significant changes you should know about. If you need credit repair services, chances are you should also enroll in credit monitoring so that you’re always up to date on changes to your report as they happen.

Unfortunately, not all credit repair companies include credit monitoring in their service packages. Some even make credit monitoring mandatory but require customers to pay an additional fee for this service, often through a third party.

We used the following points system to grade credit monitoring availability from each company:

Excellent (5) Credit monitoring included
Great (4) Additional charge
Good (3) Not offered or not disclosed

Monthly Disputes Included

Each time a credit repair company contacts a credit bureau on your behalf to contest inaccurate information, the company counts this as a dispute. Some credit repair companies place a limit on the number of disputes they’ll file on your behalf in a given month. If you have a lot of information to dispute on your report, this could mean it takes much longer than planned to have it all corrected.

Keep in mind that there are three major credit bureaus, each of which requires disputes to be filed separately. Credit repair companies almost always count disputes per credit bureau, even if the same information is being called into question. For example, if the same misspelling appears across all three of your credit reports, the credit repair company will count that as three individual disputes.

We looked at the number of disputes included per month with each credit repair company and rated them using this scale:

Excellent (5) Unlimited with all plans
Great (4) Unlimited with higher-tier plans
Good (3) Limited number of monthly disputes (>30)
Fair (2) Limited number of monthly disputes (<30)
Poor (1) None or not disclosed

Additional Services

As we’ve discussed, credit repair is often a single part of a much larger effort to repair your finances. This might involve debt management and/or refinancing your current loans, both of which are offered by certain credit repair companies. If a company offers this, you may find it easier to come up with a more comprehensive financial plan for your personal credit issues.

Oftentimes, credit repair services are required by someone's business, which falls outside the scope of what credit repair companies offer to individuals. To meet this demand, some credit repair providers have additional services tailored to business owners who need help improving their business’s credit.

Companies were awarded a point if they offered the following additional services:

  • Debt management
  • Financing and loans
  • Business services

Costs and Fees

Costs and fees made up 50% of our overall weighted score when evaluating credit repair companies. This is because cost is one of the main pain points for credit repair customers who may already be in a difficult financial situation.

We evaluated the cost of credit repair services based on five key points:

  • Fee structure
  • Cost of services
  • Money-back guarantee
  • Discounts
  • Cancellation policy 

Fee Structure

There are generally three different types of fee structures with credit repair companies. Some ask for a one-time fee that covers the entire cost of all agreed upon services, no matter how long they take. Others charge customers by the month for the duration that it takes to address all disputes. However, some companies charge both a one-time fee to get started (often called a “discovery fee”) and a monthly fee as services continue.

Since customers tend to pay more when companies charge both types of fees, we graded fee structure using the following system:

Excellent (5) Either a one-time or monthly fee
Poor (1) Both a one-time and monthly fee or not disclosed

Cost of Services

Once a credit repair company’s fee structure has been determined, it all boils down to how much they charge for services. We gathered pricing information from all the companies we evaluated and compared them to one another, creating separate tiers for both one-time and monthly fees. 

One-Time Fees

Average one-time fees usually fall in the range of $51 to $100, although some companies charge more and others less. Points were assigned for pricing using this scale:

Excellent (5) $0
Great (4) $1 to $50
Good (3) $51 to $100
Fair (2) $101 and up
Poor (1) Not disclosed

Monthly Fees

Typical monthly fees we saw started between $71 and $90 for the most entry-level service package, although some are cheaper and others more expensive. Companies were rated based on the following price brackets:

Excellent (5) $0
Great (4) $1 to $70
Good (3) $71 to $90
Fair (2) $91 and up
Poor (1) Not disclosed

Money-Back Guarantee

There are certain claims that credit repair companies cannot legally make according to the Credit Repair Organizations Act. For example, companies can’t guarantee results in their marketing materials in order to attract customers. This is because there’s no way to completely guarantee a certain outcome from the credit dispute process, even if you hire a credit repair company.

However, some companies offer money-back guarantees if no results are seen within a certain period of time. This is essentially a way for the company to stand by their services and give customers their money back if no successful disputes are made.

We looked into the money-back guarantees advertised by each company we reviewed and gave points using these criteria:

Excellent (5) Results guaranteed within 30 days
Great (4) Results guaranteed within 31-60 days
Good (3) Results guaranteed within 61-90 days
Fair (2) Results guaranteed within 91+ days
Poor (1) No money back guarantee or not disclosed

Discounts

As with most services, some credit repair companies offer discounts to those who qualify. Discounts vary by company, but common ones include military discounts and reduced pricing for couples who sign up for services together.

Our credit repair review methodology rewarded the companies that offered discounts based on this points scale:

Excellent (5) Discounts available
Poor (1) No discounts available or not disclosed

Cancellation Policy

If you’re enrolled in credit repair services and want to cancel your monthly subscription, there are generally two factors to note. First, some companies charge a fee to those who cancel before a certain period of time has elapsed. Second, many require customers to give notice a specific number of days before their next billing period, typically 30. If a credit repair company has this type of policy, you may be charged for an additional month after you cancel.

By law, credit repair companies must allow customers to cancel and have all their fees refunded within the first three days of signing up for service. Since this is required of every company, no additional points were given to those that advertised this type of policy.

Our rating system gave points to companies based on how customer-friendly they made their cancellation policy. Points were assigned using the following guide: 

Excellent (5) No cancellation fee or notice required
Great (4) No cancellation fee, notice required
Good (3) Cancellation fee, no notice required
Fair (2) Cancellation fee and notice required
Poor (1) Legal minimum (first three days) or not disclosed

Shopping for Credit Repair Companies

No consumer financial industry is immune to pitfalls, but credit repair is particularly known for being rife with scams. While there are plenty of respectable credit repair companies, you should use extreme care when shopping for a service provider.

The FTC maintains up-to-date information regarding the credit repair industry on its website, including specific warnings as potential scams come to light. The agency recommends avoiding companies that show any of these five red flags:

  • Asking for payment before any work has been performed
  • Instructing you not to contact the credit bureaus
  • Suggesting that you dispute information you know to be accurate
  • Telling you to provide false information to a lender or financial institution
  • Failing to explain your legal rights during the credit repair process

When dealing with a credit repair company, you are entitled to certain rights outlined by the Credit Repair Organization Act. The company should provide a written contract up front that includes the following information:

  • The full cost you will pay
  • How long services will take
  • Any guarantees the company offers
  • A clause entitling you to cancellation and a full refund within three days

If a credit repair company doesn’t meet the above guidelines, the safest bet is to walk away and look for a more reputable organization. However, if you’ve already paid and are unhappy with the services provided, you can file a complaint with the FTC.