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Repair Your Credit and Fix Your Credit Score by Disputing Negative Items with our Free Do-It-Yourself-Advice
How to Repair My Credit - Free Information to Fix Your Credit
Last Updated: March 7, 2013
Repair your credit on your own? Yes you can! Thousands of our readers have removed negatives and increased their credit score by using our ethical "How to Repair Credit" techniques. By the way, everything a credit repair company can do for you, you can do for yourself at a fraction of the cost.
However, we know sometimes people feel overwhelmed with the credit repair process and want to ask a live person a question if they get stumped. If you do, we recommend Lexington Law. We've had a relationship with them since 2000 and we have visited their corporate office. They offer a FREE initial Credit Consultation (which also includes a Credit Report Summary and Credit Score) and they use the same ethical credit repair techniques we talk about on our website.
Now, before you get started, it's important to know the methods that don't work and can actually hurt your credit repair efforts. We suggest you read these articles: "Myths about Credit Repair" and "Innocent Ways You Can Ruin Your Credit". We might also suggest you watch our credit repair video.
The information provided on this page is mainly intended to help you fix ERRORS on your credit and clean up those "questionable" items. However, the law does allow you to request an investigation of ANY information in your file that you dispute as inaccurate or incomplete. It is perfectly legal to challenge ANYTHING in your credit bureau file and there is no charge for requesting an investigation.
The whole key to the credit repair procedure is that if a credit bureau cannot verify information on your credit report within the time allowed by law, they must remove it. For instance, if a collection agency is reporting a collection on your report and they cannot verify the information, the credit bureau must delete the entry.
Credit Repair Strategy
Review Your Credit Report
There are a lot of offers out there where you can order your credit reports and get your credit score. Our comparison chart of credit report services will help you decide which one is right for you. Please note: If you go to AnnualCreditReport.com and get your yearly free report, you are not going to see your credit score, which is a crucial tool in getting your credit in shape. You can pay an extra fee to see your scores.
Analyze Your Credit Report
Now that you have your credit reports in your hands, time to figure out what it all means. Our articles "Getting and Reading Your Credit Report" and "Decoding Your Report" are excellent resources to turn to as you start to fix your credit.
You can use the free analyzer which may have been provided to help you figure out which items are lowering your credit score. After reviewing your credit reports, print them out (it's worth the cost of the ink) and then highlight everything you see as a negative listing along with what the computer analysis pointed out.
Rank Negative Items
The article we linked to in the above paragraph showed you how to decode your report. It covered how to identify items as being either positive or negative. Now that you have your list of negative items, you should rank each item according to the amount of damage it is doing to your overall credit score. Rank the most damaging first, followed by the next most damaging, followed by those items which are neutral. Do this for each report, and remember, they may not all have the same information on them. They may even have duplicate information on them. If this is the case, you will need to write to each credit bureau individually for each duplicate item.
The items here are listed in order of "most damaging" to "least damaging" to your credit:
- Loan Default
- Court Judgments
- Past due payments
- Late Payments
- Credit Rejections
- Credit Inquiries
Write Dispute Letters to the Credit Bureaus
What should you challenge? Everything - and you should always shoot for a complete deletion. In your initial challenge, don't dispute the information within a collection listing, charge-off, court record, repossession, foreclosure, or settled account. Save disputing the information within the listing for the next round of disputes. Start off the reason for your initial dispute on a negative listing whenever possible as "not mine". There is a complete list of the most common dispute reasons further below.
What items are the toughest to get off your report? You will have the toughest time getting bankruptcies, judgments, child support and foreclosures off of your credit report as these things are so easy for the credit bureaus to verify electronically through e-Oscar. In the case of a bankruptcy, you most likely will have a few trade lines saying "included in bankruptcy". If you want to challenge your bankruptcy, you need to clear off all credit lines mentioning a BK FIRST.
Mail Letters Registered or Certified
This is important, as you must be able document when the letters were sent and received. This gives you some leverage with the CRAs if they don't respond in the time frame required by law. Here are some certified mail tips. DON'T USE THE ONLINE DISPUTING SERVICE PROVIDED BY THE CREDIT BUREAUS. You need to be documenting everything, and you want to make sure that you have a complete record of your disputes.
Document and Organize Your Credit Repair Efforts
Now that you have ordered your credit reports, photocopied your dispute letters, kept receipts for mailing them, you need an organizational system to keep track your credit repair efforts. Getting organized is not difficult nor expensive. Invest in a notebook, a file folder and some pens. Write everything down, as you complete tasks. Why is this necessary?
- You need to track how long your credit repair disputes take. If the dispute period goes longer than the 30-45 days specified by law, but you can't prove it, you've missed your chance to delete an item from your report.
- Unfortunately, credit items you have worked so hard to remove sometimes mysteriously reappear. If this happens, it is usually easy to have the items deleted permanently if you show your complete records on the first removal. Why take a chance? (There's more about reappearing items on your report later in the article.)
Back to the point on documenting telephone conversations: every time you talk on the phone with a creditor or credit reporting agency, you must document the conversation by recording the name of the person to whom you spoke, his or her position, their direct line or extension, the date and time of the conversation, what was said in the conversation, and what was agreed upon. If they don't offer up all the information you need, politely ask for it.
What Information Do I Need to Put in My Dispute Letter?
Our article entitled "What Should I Provide When Requesting a Report or Disputing an Item on My Report" lists all the information you will need to include in your letter. You can use this sample credit repair letter and just fill in all of your information.
Where Do I Mail My Credit Repair Dispute Letter?
Here are all the mailing addresses for the credit bureaus.
Wait for the Credit Bureaus to Investigate
Once the credit reporting agency has received your dispute letter, they are obligated to investigate. This obligation is not contingent upon you having been denied credit. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the credit bureaus must take the following steps:
- The credit reporting agencies must resolve consumers' disputes within 30 days, unless you have used the services of annualcreditreport.com, then the bureaus can take up to 45 days.
- In response to consumers' complaints that documentation in support of their disputes was disregarded, the credit bureaus have to consider and transmit to the furnisher all relevant evidence submitted by the consumer the first time.
- Consumers will receive written notice of the results of the investigation within five days of its completion, including a copy of the amended credit file if it changed based on the dispute.
- Once information is deleted from a credit file, the credit bureaus can not reinsert it unless the entity supplying the information certifies that the item is complete and accurate and the credit bureau notifies the consumer within five days.
The FTC says that inaccurate credit reports are the number-one source of consumer complaints, and it is quite common for problems to take six or more months to be resolved. The big three agencies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, are working on making sure that all disputes are handled within 30 days.
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 last six months. Job applicants can have corrected reports sent to anyone who received a report for employment purposes during the past two years. However, this is unlikely to repair any damage done when your credit report was first pulled, so don't waste your time or energy on this approach.
Do the Credit Reporting Agencies Have 30 or 45 Days to Process My Credit Challenge?
Good Question. The answer lies in how you obtained your last credit report. If you went through annualcreditreport.com to get your free yearly report, the credit bureaus have 45 days to process disputes. For all other methods, the credit bureaus have only 30 days.
Analyze the Results
You did save the original credit report your ordered, didn't you? And each item you challenged? Good, you will need them to evaluate how well you did. That is all part of step above, documenting your efforts.
When you get your updated credit report back from the credit bureaus, they will summarize what changed on your credit report due to your challenges. You can compare this report to your notes or to the previous credit report.
The results of each item will have been resolved in one of the following ways:
- If the listing is not mentioned in the results list, you must have forgotten to include it, or your request was not sufficiently clear. You will need to dispute that item again in your next dispute letter. The bureaus are legally obligated to respond in writing within 30 days, so if they don't, it is highly unlike they are ignoring you.
- The disputed item was investigated but verified. If the item was not removed, most likely, the credit bureaus just gave you a cryptic reason like "item verified". We know the credit bureau never actually talked to the information furnisher, but has used eOscar. The law states the bureaus can accept any proof you would like to submit and they will pass this documentation on to your creditor for consideration. So, be sure to send any and all documentation, if you didn't do it the first time. I would also hit them up with the method of verification technique, which is going to force them to expose the fact that they are using eOscar. You could also try disputing the listing again at a future time. Who knows, you may get lucky, and a different employee of the creditor may not be able to verify the item. If the account does come back as "verified", I recommend you try disputing the listing with the original creditor immediately.
- The disputed listing was investigated as to the correctness of the information within the listing (such as late pay notations) and the listing was found to be inaccurate or unverifiable. Remember, if the creditor doesn't respond to the bureau at all, this is the same as the listing being unverifiable. In this case, the negative listing will now show up as a positive listing, or it will be deleted from your report all together. This is the best possible outcome.
Repeat Your Credit Bureau Dispute
Keep disputing negative listings with the credit bureaus. If you hit on the right dispute, the listing could get completely removed from your report. For instance, if you dispute the date the account was opened, and the credit bureaus can not verify this information they delete the entire listing. You will need to change the reason for the investigation so the credit bureaus will have something new to investigate. The order of the reasons should be:
- Not mine or not my account.
- I didn't pay late that month.
- Wrong amount.
- Wrong account number.
- Wrong original creditor.
- Wrong charge-off date.
- Wrong date of last activity.
- Wrong balance.
- Wrong credit limit.
- Wrong status - there are about 20 of these.
- Wrong high credit - the highest amount you used.
For example, the first time you challenge a listing, you might say the account is "not mine." The second time through, you could say "never late."
Tips for resubmitting your credit dispute
- Be Persistent - Become more insistent, but not more threatening, with each dispute. Make sure your letters are clear and to the point. Remember, an employee at one of the credit bureaus has about 4 minutes to enter the dispute into the computer for analysis by e-Oscar. Remember if you call the company, this resets the clock on how long they have to get back to you. If you are on day 29 of the 30 days they have to get back to you and you call, the clock resets and they have 30 more days because you "provided them with more information".
- Be Creative - Create and utilize other techniques that may help further the idea the dispute letter is from a truly wronged and disadvantaged consumer. The checker is only interested in investigating disputes which are truly are erroneous and damaging.
- Do Not Bombard the Credit Bureaus With Disputes (about the same listings, that is) - Sending one dispute right after another is wasteful and counterproductive, even if you do use a different reason in your dispute. Again, you must remember to change the REASON for the dispute each time you submit. Otherwise, the dispute can be deemed frivolous and the credit bureau is under no legal obligation to take action. Also remember, credit repair is a time consuming operation requiring great patience. The rule of thumb is to wait 60 days between disputes of the same listing WITH A DIFFERENT REASON FOR DISPUTING.
- Be Assertive - If you feel the credit bureaus are ignoring your credit repair letters or handling them incorrectly, you can mention that you are thinking of hiring an attorney. For instance, if your request for an investigation goes longer than 30 days, the credit bureau is in violation of the law. Educate yourself on other possible violations of the law you may encounter during the credit repair process.
Specialize Your Credit Repair Techniques
Depending on the type of negative listing, you may also want to try these specialized techniques:
- Collections - This is actually an easy type of listing to deal with. We recommend five different methods for removing collections.
- Charge-Offs - Try disputing the information within the listing, like the date the account was opened, the high balance, the amount owed, etc. If any of the information is incorrect, you have a good chance of getting the whole thing deleted off of your report.
- Judgments - If you were never served for a judgment, you may have a chance of getting it vacated (voided), or there may be other technicalities that you can use. Check out our article, "Vacating Judgments" on how to do this.
- Dispute Directly with the Original Creditor - If well-spread out disputes with the credit bureaus does not work, dispute the listing with the original creditor.
Should You Dispute Personal Information?
Absolutely! Making sure your name and address are correct is critical in credit repair and prevents getting someone else's information on your report. Getting someone else's information on your report is called credit report merging and happens more than the credit reporting agencies like to admit - it's happened to me. The reason for this mix up? A credit bureaus matched can match wrong information on your report (like a misspelled name or address) with someone else's and their items suddenly appear on your credit bureau file.
The other reason you should clean up your personal information as it can gain you an advantage in credit repair. For example, sometimes a disputed account will have an address (like your old address) that does not appear on your report any longer. This can be reason enough for the bureau to delete the disputed account.
Some Helpful Tips:
- You should make sure only your current address is shown on your report. I had someone else's information appear on my report because their current address matched my former address.
- Only your full legal name should be on your report. This is especially important if your name is a common one.
- Check to make sure your social security number is correct. Incorrect SSNs are the number one reason reports get merged.
- Your current employer only should appear on your report, not your full employment history.
- When disputing this information, use words like "I've never lived here before", "This is not my address", "I've never worked here", or "My Social Security is not correct".
Free Sample Letters
- Requesting Removal of Inaccurate Information
- Follow-Up Letter to Send to the Credit Bureaus
- Removing Inquiries From Your Credit Report
- Complete List of Sample Letters to Use to Repair Your Credit
What if a Removed Negative Item Comes Back on my Credit?
Ok, you've removed a negative listing and are breathing a deep sigh of relief. Then you get a letter in the mail from a credit bureau telling you the item has been added back on. What happened?
When a removed item comes back, it has been reinserted. Unfortunately, this is actually becoming more common. Since the new credit laws require that the bureaus investigate and resolve your disputes within 30-45 days, they will sometimes remove the negative information temporarily until they get the information verified as true. Then they will put back any information verified to be true and notify you of this. By law, they can reinsert an item, but they have to notify you in writing within 5 days. (Another reason to document your credit repair efforts!)
If they DO NOT notify you in writing, it is an instant violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) with a $1,000 fine PAYABLE TO YOU. Many of our readers have had great success earning some easy cash by suing the credit bureaus for reinserted listings. Not only do you earn thousands, but the listing is removed from your report as well!
Keeping Your Credit in Good Shape
After the all the time and effort you have put into repairing your credit, the last thing you want to do is see your credit score go back down. Maintaining good to excellent credit is an ongoing process and requires continuous monitoring and work. Here are six easy steps to follow to ensure your credit score will stay in the healthy range:
- Keep An Eye On Your Credit Report
- Use Your Credit
- Keep Your Paid-Off Credit Cards
- Apply For New Lines of Credit in Moderation
- Make On-Time Payments on Your Current Loans
- Adjust Your Habits Accordingly
Feeling Overwhelmed With the Credit Repair Process?
Think you don't have the time? You do! Here is a sample credit repair time table to follow when repairing your credit yourself. You can also watch our credit repair video, starring Nookie, which talks about finding time to fix your credit.
Or, you can fill out the form below and get a FREE credit consultation and credit score from Lexington Law.
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