Repair your own credit

How to Repair Your Own Credit

5 Steps to Do-it-Yourself Credit Repair
By Dani Arthur • Bankrate.com
Blotches on your credit report cost you. But, don't despair. It's never too late to become credit worthy -- just get started, and remember that it won't happen overnight. Here are 5 steps for improving your credit rating:
1. Order your credit reports
 
Find out what the top three credit bureaus -- Equifax, TransUnion and Experian -- are saying about you. It's likely that they're all slightly different. Yes, different! Creditors don't have to report to all three credit bureaus, so they typically report to the credit bureau to which they also subscribe.


Useful phone numbers
and addresses

 

Federal Trade Commission 
consumer response center 
(877) 382-4357

Equifax
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
(800) 685-1111

Experian (formerly TRW)
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013-0949
(888) 397-3742

Trans Union Corp.
760 W. Sproul Rd.
Springfield, PA 19064-0390
(800) 888-4213

Time and money is wasted, says Steve Rhode, president and co-founder of Myvesta.org, if you only order a report from one credit bureau. You can order a credit report from each bureau for free once a year through annualcreditreport.com.
If you've been denied credit, insurance or employment because of your credit report, you are entitled to a free copy of your report from the reporting agency. The company you applied to must supply the credit bureau's name, address and telephone number. You have 60 days after receiving the denial notice to request your copy.

2. Examine your reports carefully
Nearly every consumer has an error on at least one credit report from one of the major credit bureaus, says Rhode. Credit bureaus generate your report on information they receive from your creditors; they don't verify. 
Keeping your credit report a true reflection of you is-like it or not-your job. Get ready to clean and polish. Carefully look for everything from typing errors, outdated and incomplete infor-mation to inaccurate account histories. You'll want to make a thorough list of items you dispute and why. Be meticulous.
Here's how to read and understand your credit report.
If the negative information in your report is true, only time and improved habits can change that. Late payments, such as credit cards, and charged-off accounts remain on your report for seven years; bankruptcies for 10. Most creditors, however, look for a pattern of payment rather than focusing on one-time or rare occurrences; so consistent on-time bill payments will improve those blemishes.

3. Double-D strategy -- dispute and document
Remember, a bad report costs you money. So, it pays to be thorough! You can either complete the dispute form provided with your credit report or write a letter. Clearly identify each mistake and state why it's wrong. A recommendation is to send a photocopy of your credit report with the mistakes circled to the reporting credit bureau. Include copies of supporting documents.

Document, document, document. Keep copies and records of all the forms, letters and documentation that you send the credit bureaus, plus dates sent. The credit bureau must investigate any relevant dispute within 30 days of receiving your letter. Any item that is not verified as accurate by a creditor is removed. Sometimes it's necessary to contact your creditors to resolve mistakes. Bankrate's 7 steps to fixing your credit report will help you tackle the serious errors.

If the credit bureau makes any changes to your credit file, it will send you the results and a free, updated copy of your credit report. Once a negative item is removed from your report, the credit bureau cannot put it back on unless a creditor verifies its accuracy and completeness -- and sends you written notice.

4. Solve and dissolve debt
Now's the time to devise a spending plan that reduces your debt and sets you up to pay on time, every time. 
If you're having difficulty making payments, be proactive. Call your creditors and negotiate to keep your accounts current and from being reported as delinquent or "bad debt." You can ask for reduced monthly payments, or even change due dates to balance out your monthly bills.

The same strategy can be used for fixed-loan payments. Remember, though, that this is a short-term strategy. You'll pay more interest to extend the repayment schedule, but it allows you to stay current and save your credit rating. Use the extra money to pay off debts one at a time, gradually increasing payments to other debts.

Check out Bankrate's 10 steps to paying off credit cards for more ideas.
Deal with any collection accounts. Unpaid collections are worse than paid collections. You can negotiate a pay-off settlement that reduces your bill, plus demand that all derogatory remarks are removed from your credit report or at least reported as paid in full. Be sure to get verbal agreements in writing before sending off your payment.

Slowly close out unneeded or unused credit accounts. Most experts recommend carrying between two and four credit cards. But, be cautious when canceling because closing accounts can negatively impact your credit score, commonly called a FICO score. FICO considers the ratio of total debts to total available credit. A good rule of thumb is to keep your revolving debt to 50 percent of your available credit. 

Remember that cutting up the card doesn't close out the account. Here's a step-by-step guide to smartly close out your account. 
Other tips:

  • Close out your newest accounts so that you don't lose your longer credit history.
  • Close out accounts slowly over several months.
  • Verify that all accounts you've closed are reported as "closed by consumer" for
  •  the best report.
  • Even if creditors offer to raise credit limits, allow yourself only moderate credit
  •  limits.
  • Keep your balances low and avoid revolving balances.

5. Add stability to your credit file
You can also work to add positive information and show stability in your credit file.
You may have been denied credit because of an insufficient credit file, yet you have credit. Some creditors -- such as, travel, entertainment, gasoline card companies, local banks and credit unions -- may not report your credit history to the credit bureaus. You can try asking the credit grantors to report your account information and monthly payment history to a credit-reporting agency. Not all will do that. So, in the future, before opening a new account, ask if your on-time payments will be reported monthly to a credit-reporting agency, recommends Myvesta.org.

If you have really bad credit -- perhaps even filed bankruptcy -- don't let your credit status go dormant. "The faster you begin to re-establish good credit, where you pay on time, every time," says Craig Watts, consumer affairs manager of the Fair Isaac Corp., "the faster you'll improve your credit score."

Build a solid credit history. Secured credit cards offer people with no credit and those repairing their credit this opportunity. Shop around for the best deal available, but limit your applications. Credit bureaus look at how many new accounts you've opened, and the number of "inquiries" for new accounts that are listed. A sudden flurry of "inquiries" results in a lower score, because many times consumers anticipating money problems increase their credit lines. Inquiries made by creditors wanting to make "prescreened" credit offers are not counted.

Lastly, open a savings account at your bank. This shows creditors that you are working to save and that you have reserves to repay debts.

How To Repair Your Credit
By LaToya Irby, About.com Guide

Get the latest copies of your credit reports
Before you can start repairing your credit, you have to know what you need to repair. Your credit report will contain all the information you need to start repairing your credit. You’re entitled to free credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus each year. You can also order your credit reports directly from the credit bureaus for a fee.

Why should you order all three credit reports? Some of your creditors and lenders might report only to one of the credit bureaus. And, since credit bureaus don’t typically share information, it’s possible to have different information on each of your reports. Ordering all three reports will give you a complete view of your credit history.

Make an extra copy of each report in case you need to dispute information.

Review your reports
Read through your reports once you get them. Become familiar with the information contained in each. Using different color highlighters or pens, highlight what you need to repair:

  • Incorrect information, including accounts that aren’t yours, payments that have
  • been incorrectly reported late, etc.
  • Past due accounts that are late, charged off, or have been sent to collections.
  • Maxed out accounts that are over the credit limit.

Dispute inaccurate information
You have the right to dispute any information in your credit report that isn’t correct. When you ordered your credit reports, they should have come with instructions for disputing credit report information. If not, you can send a letter to the credit bureau detailing the inaccurate information. It’s often helpful to send a copy of the report with incorrect information highlighted.

Tackle past due accounts
Since payment history makes up such a large part of your credit score, several past due accounts have a significantly negative effect on your score. Taking care of these is crucial to improving your credit score. Your goal is to have all your past due accounts being reported as “current” or “paid.”

  • Get current on accounts that are past due, but not yet charged-off. Do what you
  • can to keep accounts from getting charged off.
  • Pay off charge-offs.
  • Work with debt collectors to take care of your collection accounts.

Bring maxed out accounts below the limit
Your credit utilization – your total debt compared to total credit – makes up 30% of your credit score. Having maxed out credit cards costs credit score points (not to mention costly over-the-limit fees). Bring maxed out credit cards below the credit limit, then continue working to pay the balances off completely.

Get new credit
After you’ve resolved the negative items on your credit report, work on getting positive information added. If you have some credit cards and loans being reported on time, good. Continue to keep those balances at a reasonable level and make your payments on time.
On the other hand, you might have to reestablish your credit by opening up a new account. Since past delinquencies can keep you from getting approved for a major credit card, only make one application. This will keep your credit inquiries low. If you get denied, try applying for a department store credit card. Still no luck? Consider getting a secured credit card.

Tips

  • Salvage what you can. Don’t sacrifice accounts that are in good standing for
  • accounts that are not. Continue making timely payments on all your current accounts.
  • Get consumer credit counseling. If your debts are overwhelming, creditors

aren’t willing to work with you, and you can’t seem to come up with a payment 
plan on your own, consumer credit counseling is an option for getting back on track.

Helping Yourself

Step 1: Tell the consumer reporting company, in writing, what information you think is inaccurate. Include copies (NOT originals) of any documents that support your position. In addition to providing your complete name and address, your letter should identify each item in your report you dispute; state the facts and the reasons you dispute the information, and ask that it be removed or corrected. You may want to enclose a copy of your report, and circle the items in question. Send your letter by certified mail, “return receipt requested,” so you can document that the consumer reporting company received it. Keep copies of your dispute letter and enclosures.

Your letter may look something like the one below.

 Sample Dispute Letter
Date
Your Name 
Your Address,
City, State, Zip Code
Complaint Department
Name of Company
Address
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Sir or Madam: 

I am writing to dispute the following information in my file. The items I dispute also are encircled on the attached copy of the report I received.

This item (identify item(s) disputed by name of source, such as creditors or tax court, and identify type of item, such as credit account, judgment, etc.) is (inaccurate or incomplete) because (describe what is inaccurate or incomplete and why). I am requesting that the item be deleted (or request another specific change) to correct the information.

Enclosed are copies of (use this sentence if applicable and describe any enclosed documentation, such as payment records, court documents) supporting my position. Please investigate this (these) matter(s) and (delete or correct) the disputed item(s) as soon as possible.

Sincerely, 
Your name 
Enclosures: (List what you are enclosing.)

 Consumer reporting companies must investigate the items you question within 30 days — unless they consider your dispute frivolous. They also must forward all the relevant data you provide about the inaccuracy to the organization that provided the information. After the information provider receives notice of a dispute from the consumer reporting company, it is required to investigate, review the relevant information, and report the results back to the consumer reporting company. If this investigation reveals that the disputed information is inaccurate, the information provider has to notify the nationwide consumer reporting companies so they can correct it in your file.

When the investigation is complete, the consumer reporting company must give you the results in writing, too, and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. If an item is changed or deleted, the consumer reporting company is not permitted to put the disputed information back in your file unless the information provider verifies that it is accurate and complete. The consumer reporting company also must send you written notice that includes the name, address, and phone number of the information provider. If you ask, the consumer reporting company must send notices of any correction to anyone who received your report in the past six months. You also can ask that a corrected copy of your report be sent to anyone who received a copy during the past two years for employment purposes.

If an investigation doesn’t resolve your dispute with the consumer reporting company, you can ask that a statement of the dispute be included in your file and in future reports. You also can ask the consumer reporting company to provide your statement to anyone who received a copy of your report in the recent past. You can expect to pay for this service.

Step 2: Tell the creditor or other information provider, in writing, that you dispute an item. Be sure to include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. Many providers specify an address for disputes. If the provider reports the item to a consumer reporting company, it must include a notice of your dispute. And if you are correct — that is, if the information is found to be inaccurate — the information provider may not report it again.

Reporting Accurate Negative Information
When negative information in your report is accurate, only the passage of time can assure its removal. A consumer reporting company can report most accurate negative information for seven years and bankruptcy information for 10 years. Information about an unpaid judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer. To calculate the seven-year reporting period, start from the date the event took place. There is no time limit on reporting information about criminal convictions; information reported in response to your application for a job that pays more than $75,000 a year; and information reported because you’ve applied for more than $150,000 worth of credit or life insurance.

How to Repair Your Credit and Improve Your FICO Credit Score
It's important to note that repairing bad credit is a bit like losing weight: It takes time and there is no quick way to fix a credit score. In fact, out of all of the ways to improve a credit score, quick-fix efforts are the most likely to backfire, so beware of any advice that claims to improve your credit score fast. The best advice for rebuilding credit is to manage it responsibly over time. If you haven't done that, then you need to repair your credit history before you see credit score improvement. The tips below will help you do that. They are divided up into categories based on the data used to calculate your credit score.

3 Important Things You Can Do Right Now

Check Your Credit Report – Credit score repair begins with your credit report. If you haven't already, request a free copy of your credit report and check it for errors. Your credit report contains the data used to calculate your score and it may contain errors. In particular, check to make sure that there are no late payments incorrectly listed for any of your accounts and that the amounts owed for each of your open accounts is correct. If you find errors on any of your reports, dispute them with the credit bureau and reporting agency.

Setup Payment Reminders – Making your credit payments on time is one of the biggest contributing factors to your credit score. Some banks offer payment reminders through their online banking portals that can send you an email or text message reminding you when a payment is due. You could also consider enrolling in automatic payments through your credit card and loan providers to have payments automatically debited from your bank account, but this only makes the minimum payment on your credit cards and does not help instill a sense of money management.

Reduce the Amount of Debt You Owe – This is easier said than done, but reducing the amount that you owe is going to be a far more satisfying achievement than improving your credit score. The first thing you need to do is stop using your credit cards. Use your credit report to make a list of all of your accounts and then go online or check recent statements to determine how much you owe on each account and what interest rate they are charging you. Come up with a payment plan that puts most of your available budget for debt payments towards the highest interest cards first, while maintaining minimum payments on your other accounts.

Payment History Tips
Contributing 35% to your score calculation, this category has the greatest effect on improving your score, but past problems like missed or late payments are not easily fixed.

Pay your bills on time.
Delinquent payments, even if only a few days late, and collections can have a major negative impact on your FICO score.

If you have missed payments, get current and stay current.
The longer you pay your bills on time after being late, the more your FICO score should increase. Older credit problems count for less, so poor credit performance won't haunt you forever. The impact of past credit problems on your FICO score fades as time passes and as recent good payment patterns show up on your credit report. And good FICO scores weigh any credit problems against the positive information that says you're managing your credit well.

Be aware that paying off a collection account will not remove it from your credit report.
It will stay on your report for seven years.

If you are having trouble making ends meet, contact your creditors or see a legitimate credit counselor.
This won't rebuild your credit score immediately, but if you can begin to manage your credit and pay on time, your score should increase over time. And seeking assistance from a credit counseling service will not hurt your FICO score.

Amounts Owed Tips
This category contributes 30% to your score's calculation and can be easier to clean up than payment history, but that requires financial discipline and understanding the tips below.

Keep balances low on credit cards and other "revolving credit".
High outstanding debt can affect a credit score.

Pay off debt rather than moving it around.
The most effective way to improve your credit score in this area is by paying down your revolving (credit cards) debt. In fact, owing the same amount but having fewer open accounts may lower your score.

Don't close unused credit cards as a short-term strategy to raise your score.

Don't open a number of new credit cards that you don't need, just to increase your available credit.
This approach could backfire and actually lower your credit score.

Length of Credit History Tips

If you have been managing credit for a short time, don't open a lot of new accounts too rapidly.
New accounts will lower your average account age, which will have a larger effect on your score if you don't have a lot of other credit information. Also, rapid account buildup can look risky if you are a new credit user.

New Credit Tips

Do your rate shopping for a given loan within a focused period of time.
FICO scores distinguish between a search for a single loan and a search for many new credit lines, in part by the length of time over which inquiries occur.

Re-establish your credit history if you have had problems.
Opening new accounts responsibly and paying them off on time will raise your credit score in the long term.

Note that it's OK to request and check your own credit report.
This won't affect your score, as long as you order your credit report directly from the credit reporting agency or through an organization authorized to provide credit reports to consumers.

Types of Credit Use Tips
Apply for and open new credit accounts only as needed.
Don't open accounts just to have a better credit mix – it probably won't raise your credit score.

Have credit cards – but manage them responsibly.
In general, having credit cards and installment loans (and paying timely payments) will rebuild your credit score. Someone with no credit cards, for example, tends to be higher risk than someone who has managed credit cards responsibly.

\Note that closing an account doesn't make it go away.
A closed account will still show up on your credit report, and may be considered by the score.
To summarize, "fixing" a credit score is more about fixing errors in your credit history (if they exist) and then following the guidelines above to maintain consistent, good credit history. Raising your score after a poor mark on your report or building credit for the first time will take patience and discipline.

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