In a previous post we discussed How to Use Credit Wisely. Hopefully, you’ve already been practicing some of the methods and ideals that were mentioned. But if you’re already in some trouble with credit card debt, you’re probably more concerned with digging yourself out. We’ll talk about methods to pay off your debt at another time. Right now we’re talking about improving your credit report and score.
The first step is to obtain your free credit reports. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union). Get them at AnnualCreditReport.com. Reviewing your credit report may have confirmed your fears. Although you can’t erase all of the bad information, there are some steps you can take to make the situation better.
- Correct any errors on your report: It’s common to find that there is incorrect information in your credit report. You have the legal right to dispute and correct this information, and you should. You can send a written dispute to each credit reporting agency that has reported inaccurate information. By law, they must investigate the entry, correct any mistakes, and respond to you within 30 days. Afterwards, you should obtain another copy of your credit report to confirm the corrections. Then, you should also send the results of the investigation to the other credit reporting agencies.
- Get help from your creditors: Filing a dispute with the credit reporting agency can delete unverified information about debt, but not if the creditor insists that you owe them money and verifies that fact with the agency. Now, you have to convince your creditor that there is an error. Supply whatever proof you may have to your creditor. If it’s insufficient, then you may have to agree to pay part or all of the debt, immediately or in installments. If so, be sure to get written confirmation of the agreement, and that the negative information will be deleted. Find out if the creditor will contact the agency to make the correction, or if they will just not verify the information when contacted by the agency.
- Remove student loan defaults: If student loan defaults are hurting your credit, take steps to remove them. If you qualify for certain loan discharges, then the fact that you were ever in default of a student loan can be deleted from your record. You can also rehabilitate or consolidate a defaulted student loan so that you’re no longer delinquent. For more information about resolving defaulted student loans, visit the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project at www.studentloanborrowerassistance.org. The US Department of Education also has some helpful online resources at www.edu.gov.
- Clean up public record information: Information in your public record can sometimes be the most damaging. This includes arrests, convictions, judgments, foreclosures, tax takings, and liens. The best way to remove such information is to start at the source – with the government agency providing the information to the credit bureau. For instance, you might come to an agreement with your creditor to remove a default judgment against you if you enter into a repayment plan. The court will remove the default, you can dispute the information in your report, and the credit bureau will have to remove it.
- Avoid overreacting to threats: Creditors may threaten to report negative information to the credit bureaus, but this is just meant to pressure you to pay. In reality, that information is automatically reported every month no matter what. If the threat is coming from a collection agency, the threat is even less likely to make a difference. That information is also automatic. Furthermore, these threats are probably illegal under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. You can sue the collection agency under that statute. This law does not apply if a creditor itself is making the threats.
- Avoid credit repair agencies: Avoid companies that promise to fix your credit report for a fee. These agencies usually cannot deliver on their promises. You can do a better job yourself by following the tips above, and finding other resources to help you.
- Explain damaging information: You can send a statement to the credit bureaus explaining damaging items. Now, they are not required to include the statement in your report, but they might agree to do so. For example, if you were sick and unable to work, and your creditor agreed to postpone your payments, then the bureau must include a statement as such. Keep your statement short. You can also explain your delinquency to your lender directly. Federal law requires that creditors at least consider your explanation.
- Delete old information: Most bad information has to be removed from your report after a certain number of years.
After 7 years
- Accounts sent for collection or charged off
- Lawsuits and judgments
- Paid tax liens
- Most criminal records
After 10 years
Forever (may be reported indefinitely)
- Criminal convictions
- Positive information
The above steps are a good start to cleaning up your credit report, and ultimately boosting your score. Soon, we’ll talk about ways to dig yourself out of debt.