Credit and debt go hand in hand. If you’ve faced challenges with debt, then it’s probably affected your credit, too. In many cases, you need credit repair to correct mistakes and errors in your credit report that you may have picked up along the way while getting out of debt. Just by removing these errors, you can raise your credit score instantly with each successful dispute. There are a few ways to repair your credit and a few things you should know before you get started.
What is Credit Repair?
Credit repair refers to the process of disputing mistakes and errors in your credit reports. Each credit bureau maintains their own proprietary version of your credit report. They strive to maintain accurate information, but errors can occur. Credit repair is the process you use to correct those errors by submitting a dispute to the credit bureau that issued that report. If the information cannot be verified within 30 days, the credit bureau must remove the item you disputed.
A brief history of credit repair
Credit reporting started in the 1960s in the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. Small local agencies kept profiles on consumers to track their borrowing and debt repayment habits. Local banks used this information to help them during underwriting, to decide if a person should be approved for a new loan.
In 1970, Congress passed the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This law protected the rights of consumers and guaranteed the right to a fair and accurate credit report. Part of that protection was the right to dispute information that the consumer found inaccurate. Thus, credit repair was born.
Over the next decade, credit reporting agencies went from localized companies to the nationwide credit reporting agencies we know today. Almost all lenders and creditors go through the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) to get consumer credit reports. That’s good for consumers because it means they only need to worry about three credit reports. As long as you review those three reports regularly and make sure they’re error-free, you can present the best possible credit profile when someone checks your credit.
Historical Source: Philadelphia Federal Reserve, https://www.philadelphiafed.org/-/media/consumer-finance-institute/payment-cards-center/publications/discussion-papers/2002/CreditReportingHistory_062002.pdf
What does credit repair do?
Credit repair allows you to correct negative items in your credit report that could be hurting your credit score. If you’ve been working to get out of debt, there are a wide range of errors it can potentially create.
- Missed payments that you made on time, which often happens when you arrange a repayment plan with reduced payments.
- Incorrect account statuses, such as an account saying Settled in Full instead of Paid in Full.
- Collection accounts that you settled with a pay for delete clause during debt negotiation.
- Penalties that should have expired, since negative information can only remain on your credit report for a set period.
- Accounts that were not re-aged as agreed, which is another credit benefit you can get through debt negotiation
Which of the following types of information is not included in your credit report?
a) Missed rent payments
b) Tax liens
c) Court judgments
d) Medical collections
Rent payments are not included in your credit reports unless a special allowance is made to include them. In most cases, rent along with utility payments, never appear on your reports. So, a missed rent payment won’t negatively impact your credit. Court judgments, such as unpaid child support, collection accounts and tax liens all appear as public records in your credit report.
a) Missed rent payments
Return to question
Credit repair does not give you a way of removing negative information that’s accurate and verifiable. So, this isn’t a magic bullet that can guarantee you a clean credit report with no negative items. If a negative item can be verified by the creditor or lender, then credit repair can’t help you remove it.
But mistakes and errors happen in credit reporting. In fact, they happen more often than you might think, especially when you face challenges with debt.
It’s worth noting here that credit repair is not guaranteed to raise your credit score. First, if there’s nothing to correct in your credit report, then credit repair can’t help you. In addition, credit repair is intended to fix your credit report. Any positive change in your credit score that results is really a happy side effect of correcting your report.
In many cases, people who have errors in their credit reports that they correct see their scores improve. However, the amount your score increases varied based on:
- Where you score started — high scores tend to increase slower than low scores
- How many other negative items you have and how long ago you incurred them
- When you incurred the negative item that you disputed
But for people who’ve recently face debt problems, the potential credit score boost from credit repair can be huge. It just depends on your unique financial situation.
How to Repair Your Credit
There are a few different ways to repair your credit. Which path you choose depends on:
- Your budget — i.e. how much you can afford to pay
- Your confidence level in making disputes on your own
- The number of negative items you want to dispute
The more mistakes that you need to correct, the more potential it has to boost your credit score. If you have more than few mistakes to correct, it could be worth the money you spend on a professional credit repair service. The money you save through lower interest rates long-term may justify a little money spent now.
However, it is possible to repair your credit on your own for free. That’s also part of the rights protected under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Just be warned that do-it-yourself results can vary, even if you think you know what you’re doing.
Still, whether you use the free credit repair process or work with a credit repair company, the steps to repair your credit are basically the same.
- Obtain your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus.
- Review your reports to identify potential errors and mistakes.
- Dispute any errors you find with the credit bureau that issued the report.
- Wait 30 days while the credit bureau attempts to verify the information with the credit issuer.
- If the credit bureau cannot verify the item, it must be removed.
- The bureau must provide a new copy of your credit report so you can confirm it has the correct information.
The free credit repair process
If you go through the credit repair process for free, you do all of the above steps on your own. Here’s what your part of the process will look like in practice:
- You can download your credit reports for free once every twelve months. Simply go to annualcreditreport.com to get your free copies each year.
- Then you review your reports for errors focus on the section that details negative information since those are the items that are hurting your score.
- Submit your disputes online or through physical mail, making sure to provide documentation that proves your case.
It’s important to note that there’s a certain art to do-it-yourself credit repair. So, if you decide to repair your credit on your own, you’re going to need some additional guidance. Debt.com provides full instructions and tips on how to repair your credit successfully in our Free Guide for Repairing Your Credit.
How do credit repair services work?
Although you can repair your credit on your own, we don’t recommend it. If you have the funds to pay a professional credit repair service, you should use one. You’re more likely to get the results you want and it’s going to be far less hassle. So, just like people opt to hire professionals to manage their retirement funds or to buy or sell their home, we recommend you opt for professional credit repair, too.
Here’s how professional credit repair services work:
- You find a reputable credit repair company with state-licensed attorneys on staff. A company must have an attorney licensed in your state to legally make disputes in your name.
- Then you authorize said state-licensed attorney to pull your credit reports and make disputes on your behalf. This usually comes with a setup fee of around $15-$20.
- The credit repair company has their team review your reports and gather the necessary documentation.
- They make disputes on your behalf and keep you updated on the progress. There is usually a monthly fee that ranges from $80-$120 per month.
- Once all disputes have been closed, they provide a free copy of your credit report so you can review it.
Ready for professional help so you can get the results you want from credit repair without any hassle? Let Debt.com match you with an accredited service now
There is one other path through the credit repair process that often gets billed as a “happy medium.” Credit repair software claims to reduce the hassle of free credit repair and avoid the higher cost of a “concierge” credit repair service. Credit repair software has a one-time cost that generally ranges from $30-$399. They generally give you a nice dashboard to track disputes and template letters to use so you can file them.
But make no mistake, this doesn’t do any of work for you. You still need to identify potential errors in your reports. You enter them into the software and then tell it when you file a dispute (in other words, the software isn’t connected to the online dispute portals for the credit bureaus). So, this is basically a high-tech way to track progress.
As far as templates go, there are plenty of free credit repair letter templates online. Debt.com offers a free credit repair template letter that you can use if you want to repair your credit on your own. Template letter archives just change a few words based on common situations. But if you aren’t confident about making disputes and how to word the important stuff (which is the stuff you must fill in with any templates), then all the templates in the world won’t help.
Top of the line software offers features like autofill templates. But the cost of this software is comparable to the cost of a credit repair service. This is why we recommend going straight for a service if you’re not confident about making disputes yourself. You can try the software, but you may still find yourself unsure about how to proceed. If you’re going to pay for credit repair, it’s best to get it right the first time!
Step by step credit repair plan comparison
StepFree Credit RepairCredit Repair SoftwareCredit Repair Service1. Obtain your credit reportsDownload them for free from annualcreditreport.comDownload them for free from annualcreditreport.comAuthorize credit repair company to obtain your reports; pay $15-$20 fee2. Review your reports for errorsNote the errors so you can make your disputesEnter errors you identify into software dashboardTeam reviews your reports for you and brings you their findings3. Dispute errors to the credit bureausSend letters or submit disputes online and wait 30 days for a responseNote in your dashboard when you send disputes to track your progressState-licensed attorney sends disputes on your behalf and keeps you updated
Avoiding Credit Repair Scams
One of the reasons that people are wary of credit repair companies — and credit repair, in general — is that the industry has a reputation for being scammy. It isn’t all that surprising. Scammers love to prey on people’s desperation. The more panicked you are about a situation, the easier it is to convince you to make a hasty decision.
That’s why so many scams revolve around consumer debt and credit problems. It’s not just credit repair. There are debt relief scams, debt settlement scams, credit score scams — the list just goes on and on. People are desperate to get out of debt and fix their credit, so they’ll jump at any opportunity presented.
Warning: The Better Business Bureau doesn’t rate credit repair companies
One of the easiest ways to tell if a financial service is legit is to check with the BBB. If a company is A+ rated, then you can have more confidence that they will provide legitimate help. Unfortunately, this protection isn’t available with credit repair companies. The Better Business Bureau doesn’t rate any company whose primary service offering is credit repair.
The reason that the BBB gives is that they will not rate companies given the number of complaints received from the industry, as a whole. They don’t feel confident giving ratings, so they avoid the credit repair industry altogether.
Doesn’t that mean credit repair is bad?
No! And it’s bad that consumers think that credit repair is bad because of the scams. A few bad apples make it seem like the credit repair process, as a whole, is fraudulent. But credit repair is a federally protected consumer right. And if you avoid credit repair because you’re worried about scams, you could miss out on the chance to easily boost your score.
The solution is not to avoid credit repair entirely, or even to avoid professional credit repair services. You simply need to take extra steps to ensure the service you choose is legitimate. And you can do that even without a BBB rating.
Tips for avoiding credit repair scams
- Check the company out on the Rip Off Report and Consumer Reports
- Look at independent third-party review websites for unbiased customer reviews
- Use an accredited referral service, like Debt.com, that independently verifies reputable credit repair services
- Make sure the company has an attorney on staff who is licensed to make disputes on your behalf in your state
- Check to see when they charge any fees and if the company offers a money-back guarantee
- Review all company claims and be cautious of absolutes, such as a company guaranteeing that they can improve your credit score by a certain number of points.
Most companies offer a free evaluation to answer any questions you have. Use this to your advantage to get a feel for the company and make sure they’re the right fit. If you don’t get a good read, thank them for their time and say you need some time to decide. Then you can continue to research your options and talk to other companies. Don’t make a decision unless you feel comfortable.
And don’t worry. As long as you don’t authorize the company to get your credit reports, these initial consultations won’t affect your credit.
Want to avoid getting scammed? Debt.com will only match you with legitimate credit repair services that we vet ourselves.
Credit repair FAQ
A: For the most part, people use credit repair to correct mistakes and it works well for that purpose. However, the law states that the credit bureaus must remove any information that can’t be verified. And mistakes aren’t the only information that’s potentially unverifiable.
Another big class of information that often has problems with verification is debts in collection. Debt buyers purchase and resell debts in collection constantly. They purchase charged-off debts, often with incomplete information. That means they may not have enough information to verify that you owe the debt and how much you owe.
That means that you can also use credit repair to verify if a collector has complete information about your debt. If they don’t, then the bureau removes the collection account from your credit report. If the bureau doesn’t think the collector has enough information to collect, a court is unlikely to either. When you want to use credit repair for this type of strategy, you should work with a professional credit repair service.
A: The amount of time varies depending on how fast the credit bureaus respond to your disputes. They have 30 days to respond per dispute. If you have multiple disputes to make with more than one bureau, you may decide to handle a few at a time. As a result, the process generally takes about 3–6 months if it’s your first time going through credit repair.
A: The cost varies based which path you take through the credit repair process. If you do it yourself, you can repair your credit for free. Professional credit repair services tend to have setup fees plus monthly administration fees. The setup fee is typically around $15–20 to obtain your credit reports and review them. Then you pay a monthly fee while they make disputes on your behalf. This fee is generally around $80-$120 per month. Credit repair software generally has a one-time cost that ranges from $30-$399.
DIY Credit RepairCredit Repair SoftwareCredit Repair ServicesFree$30-$399$15-$20 setup fee
$80-$120 monthly fee
A: Credit repair is legal under federal law. So, you can legally repair your credit on your own no matter where you live in the United States. Federal law also protects your right to retain legal representation to make disputes on your behalf. This means as long as you retain the services of a state-licensed attorney that you authorize to make disputes on your behalf, then credit repair services are legal, too. Just make sure a credit repair company has at least one attorney on staff that’s licensed to work in your state.
A: Full disclosure: credit repair companies don’t do anything that you can’t do on your own. But they usually do it better than what you can do on your own. Legitimate credit repair companies have state-licensed attorneys and experience making disputes. They know how to make disputes to get results. So, working with a professional repair service often means more mistakes corrected and a bigger boost to your credit score.
At Debt.com, it’s our mission to connect you with the services you need, right when you need them. We also want to help you avoid paying for services when you don’t need them to help you save money. So, we’ve developed this year-round credit repair plan to keep your credit profile squeaky clean 365 days a year.
- Use free credit reports to your advantage. It only takes about 10–15 minutes to download them for free. Then it takes another 30–60 minutes to review them. That way, you can see if you even need help.
- If you find errors, assess how difficult the disputes will be. Decide if it’s something you can handle on your own. If you have any concerns that you can’t, contact a credit repair company.
- Take steps to build credit as you correct any errors. Positive actions now can help raise your credit score faster if you still have negative items left after credit repair.
- Download one of your credit reports again one year later. Check to make sure any disputed items haven’t reappeared and that you don’t have any new issues to dispute.
- Download another report every four months. Since you have three reports, you can space the downloads out throughout the year to enjoy year-round credit control.
- Whenever you find errors that you need help disputing, contact your credit repair company. You generally only need credit repair services when you have negative items to dispute.
There are also key times when you may want to use credit repair before you make key financing decisions. Always review your credit reports and repair your credit, as needed:
- Before you apply for any loan
- Before applying for a new credit card
- Prior to refinancing or interest rate negotiation
- After a period of financial hardship
Credit repair for mortgage approval
Making sure your credit is mortgage-ready is an essential first step in the home buying process. A few percentage points more in a mortgage interest rate can equal out to thousands over the life your loan. A lower interest rate can also lower your monthly payments. That means it’s in your best interest to make sure your credit is as clean as possible. You should review and repair your credit before you prequalify for a mortgage.
12 Good Reasons to Repair Your Credit
Getting approved at the right interest rate on a mortgage isn’t the only reason you should review and repair your credit regularly. We explain the twelve ways that credit repair makes it easier to get the right financing while saving money on everything from utilities to car insurance. Learn all the ways that fixing your credit can help you get to a better place financially.
Originally published at www.debt.com.