Do-It-Yourself Credit Repair — Fix Your Credit On Your Own
Written by: Kristy Welsh
DIY credit repair starts with reviewing all three credit reports and then removing negative information that is inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable. Repairing your credit can mean the difference between getting a loan or not. Thousands of our readers have removed negatives and increased their credit score by using our very easy credit repair techniques. By the way, anything a credit repair company can do, you can do for yourself for free.
We know people may feel overwhelmed with the credit repair process. That is why we recommend Lexington Law for anyone considering a credit repair company. We've had a relationship with the Lexington Law Group since 2010 and we have visited their corporate office. They offer a FREE initial Credit Consultation (which includes a Credit Report Summary and FICO Score) and they use the same ethical credit repairing techniques we talk about here on CreditInfoCenter.com.
The credit repair information contained herein is intended to help you fix credit report errors and remove inaccurate information. The law does allow you to dispute inaccurate information and request an investigation of any information in your credit file that could be inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable. It is perfectly legal and there is no charge for requesting an investigation.
The whole key to the credit report dispute process 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 it. Here is all the credit repair information you will need to fix your credit reports on your own.
Order Your Credit Reports
There are a lot of credit report offers out there for ordering your reports. But, if you go to AnnualCreditReport.com you are able to get your three bureau credit reports once a year for free. You are not going to see your credit score, which is a crucial tool in getting your credit in shape, but you can pay an extra fee to see your scores through the credit bureaus. Or you can use free credit monitoring sites that allow you to track your credit scores — and reports — all year long. At the very least, it is a good idea to check your reports once a year, whether you are repairing your credit or not.
Analyze Your Credit Reports
Now that you have your three bureau credit reports, it's 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 off and then highlight everything you see as a negative listing along with what the computer analysis pointed out. If you downloaded these reports online, make sure to save copies of them somewhere on your computer. You are only able to access these reports for 30 days through the bureau websites, so you want to make sure you have both a printed and electronic copy.
Rank Negative Items on Your Credit Reports
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. Or, the same information may be on all three. If this is the case, you will need to write to each credit bureau individually for each duplicate item.
The items below are listed in order of "most damaging" to "least damaging" to your credit score:
- Loan default
- Court judgments
- Past due payments
- Late payments
- Credit rejections
- Credit inquiries
Write Credit Report Dispute Letters to the Credit Bureaus
Now that you have identified all the negative information that could be inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable on your credit reports, it is time to dispute these items with the credit bureaus by sending them dispute letters.
What should you challenge? Again, you should challenge every negative item that could be inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable, 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. Whenever possible, start off the reason for your initial dispute on a negative listing as "not mine." (Scroll down for a complete list of the most common dispute reasons.)
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 tradelines saying "included in bankruptcy." If you want to challenge your bankruptcy, you need to clear off all credit lines mentioning a BK FIRST.
Mail Credit Report Dispute Letters Certified with Return Receipt
This is an important step of the credit repair process because you need to be able to document when your dispute letter was sent and when it was received by the recipient. Take the extra time to mail all letters certified with return receipt requested. This gives you the documentation you will need if the credit bureaus don't respond to you within the time frame required by law. We suggest you do not use the online disputing service provided by the credit bureaus. But, if you do want to use this method, we have heard of some successful results.
Document and Organize Your Credit Repair Efforts
Now that you have ordered your credit reports, copied and mailed out your dispute letters, and kept receipts for mailing them, you need an organizational system to keep track of your credit repair efforts. Getting organized is neither difficult nor expensive. Invest in a notebook, a file folder, or keep it all on an external hard drive; just make sure you write everything down, as you complete each task. Why is this necessary?
- You need to track how long your credit repair disputes take. If the dispute period goes longer than the 30 to 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 of the first removal.
As you proceed through these steps, keep copies and records of all correspondence you send and receive. Copies of all correspondence are a must, as well as notes on all telephone conversations. Also, if you should encounter any special difficulty and would like help in repairing your credit, you will need these records to proceed.
In addition to saving receipts and copies, you need a log book to record conversations you have. Document every telephone conversation: 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 also find sample credit dispute letters here.
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, with two exceptions. If you used the services of AnnualCreditReport.com, then the bureaus can take up to 45 days. They can also take up to 45 days if you send supporting documentation separate from your intitial dispute (but before the 30 days is up). Here is more information on this topic.
- In response to consumers' complaints that documentation in support of their disputes was disregarded, the credit bureaus have to consider and transmit to the data 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 cannot 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 months or more to be resolved. The big three agencies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, are supposed to make sure that all disputes are handled within 30 days (with the two exceptions mentioned above that extend that timeline to 45 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.
How Long Do Credit Bureaus Have to Process a Credit Report Dispute?
Again, 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. The same is true if you sent supporting documentation separate from the intitial dispute. In all other situations, the credit bureaus have only 30 days.
Analyze the Results
You did save the original credit report you ordered, didn't you? And each item you challenged? Good! You will need them to evaluate how well you did. Again, this speaks to the importance of 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 to 45 days, so if they don't, it is highly unlikely 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 used e-Oscar. 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 so the first time. You should also hit them up with the method of verification technique, which is going to force them to expose the fact that they are using e-Oscar. 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," we 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 serves the same purpose 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 Disputes
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 cannot verify this information, they delete the entire listing. Just remember, 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. And 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 that the dispute letter is from a truly wronged and disadvantaged consumer. The checker is only interested in investigating disputes which are truly erroneous and damaging.
- Do Not Bombard the Credit Bureaus with Disputes. 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. You must also wait for them to investigate the last dispute.
- 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, if you suspect they are in violation of the law. For instance, if your request for an investigation goes longer than 30 to 45 days, the credit bureau is acting illegally. 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 these 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 from 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.
- 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. The reason for this mix up? A credit bureau 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 is it can give you an advantage in credit repair. For example, sometimes a disputed account will have an address (like your old address) that no longer appears on your report. 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. You could have someone else's information appear on your report because their current address matches your 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.
- Only 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."
What if a Removed Negative Item Returns to Credit Report?
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 quite common. When a financial institution submits electronically it’s accounts each month to the credit bureaus, old information may be in the submission. It’s up to the bureau to keep track of what was removed. By law, they can reinsert an item, but they have to notify you in writing within 5 days.
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. 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.
How to Keep Your Credit in Good Shape
After 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.
- Review your credit reports once a year
- Use your available credit
- Keep your paid-off credit cards
- Apply for new lines of credit in moderation
- Make on-time payments on your open accounts
- Adjust your spending habits so you do not increase your debt