Do You Need to Improve Your Credit?
When negative information in your report is accurate, only time can make it go away.
A credit reporting company can report most accurate negative information for 7 years and bankruptcy information for 10 years.
Information about an unpaid judgment against you can be reported for 7 years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer.
The 7-year reporting period starts from the date the event took place.
Why You Need Good Credit
A good credit rating is essential. Businesses inspect your credit history when evaluating your applications for credit, insurance, employment, and even leases.
They can use it when choosing to give or deny you credit or insurance, provided you receive fair and equal treatment.
Sometimes, things happen that can cause credit problems: a temporary loss of income, an illness, even a computer error.
Solving credit problems may take time and patience, but it doesn’t have to be an ordeal.
The Federal Trade Commission enforces the credit laws that protect your right to get, use and maintain credit.
These laws do not guarantee that everyone will receive credit.
Instead, the credit laws protect your rights by requiring businesses to give all consumers a fair and equal opportunity to get credit and resolve disputes over credit errors. (Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information).
Your Credit Report
The Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) promotes the accuracy and privacy of information in the files of the nation’s credit reporting companies.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. You are entitled to a Free Credit Report if a company takes “adverse action” against you, like denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment.
You have to ask for your report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action. The notice includes the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting company.
You are also entitled to one free report a year if you’re unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days if you’re on welfare; or if your report is inaccurate because of fraud, including identity theft.
3 Major Credit Reporting Agencies
Each of the nationwide credit reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—is required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months if you ask for it.
To order, visit annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. You may order reports from each of the three credit reporting companies simultaneously.
Note: Your credit scores do not come with the free reports.
Your credit report contains information about where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you have filed for bankruptcy.
Credit reporting companies sell the information in your report to businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting an apartment or a home.
Working on Your Credit Issues
Upon receiving your credit reports from the three credit bureaus, your priority is analyzing the reports for errors, negative, and incorrect items that need to be addressed. Identify items to be disputed:
- Incorrect personally-identifying information
- Inaccurate credit limits and balances
- Late payments you believe you paid on time
- Paid-off accounts listed as open or delinquent
- Credit accounts you do not recognize
- Negative items that should have fallen off by now
- Incorrect judgments, defaults, liens, or bankruptcies
Negative items: Past-due accounts, Charged-off accounts, Accounts in collections
After receiving and reviewing your credit reports, here are some additional tips:
As you go through the credit repair process, it is crucial to track your progress.
So, before you do anything else, sign up for a monthly credit monitoring service.
This way, you can view the status of your 3 Credit Reports and 3 Credit Scores from the 3 Credit Bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) online and track updates regularly.
How to Dispute Inaccurate Items on Your Credit Report
Send Goodwill Letters to Original Creditors. Even if you know you were late with a payment, there is one way you might be able to get the original creditor to have it removed from your credit report as a courtesy.
For example, if you’ve been making on-time payments consistently, but you were late one month, you can ask that this one late payment be removed.
Not because it is inaccurate, but because 1) it was a long time ago, 2) you’ve built up a history of timely payments ever since, and 3) the one late payment is not a good indication of your overall creditworthiness.
Send Credit Dispute Letters to the 3 Credit Bureaus
If you find incorrect items in your credit report, send a credit dispute letter to the appropriate credit bureau (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax).
The same mistake could be on all three reports. Data furnishers are not required to report to all three bureaus. So, you may not need to dispute with them all.
3 Steps to Challenge or Dispute Inaccurate or Negative Items
STEP 1: Write letters to the 3 credit bureaus. Tell the credit reporting company, in writing, what information you think is inaccurate.
Include copies (NOT originals) of any documents that support your position.
In addition to including your complete name and address, your letter should identify each item in your report that you dispute; state the facts and the reasons you are disputing 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 credit reporting company received it.
Keep copies of your dispute letters and enclosures.
Credit Bureau’s Investigation of Your Dispute
Credit 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 credit bureau, it must investigate, review the relevant information, and report the results back to the credit bureau.
If the investigation reveals that the disputed information is inaccurate, the information provider has to notify the nationwide credit reporting companies so they can correct it in your file.
When the investigation is complete, the credit bureau 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 credit bureau cannot put the disputed information back in your file unless the information provider verifies that it is accurate and complete.
The credit bureau also must send you written notice that includes the name, address, and phone number of the information provider.
If you ask, the credit 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 does not resolve your dispute with the credit bureaus, you can ask that a statement of the dispute be included in your file and future reports. You may have to pay for this service.
STEP 2: In your letter, tell the creditor or other information provider that you dispute an item.
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 the information is found to be inaccurate, the provider may not report it again.
STEP 3: Send Follow-Up Letters. If you do not receive a response to your initial letters, send follow-ups.
Just be sure to give it at least 30 to 45 days from the date your return receipt shows that your letter was received.
Repeat the Above Process Until You Get Results
Are You Unable to Pay Your Bills?
If you are having problems paying your bills, contact your creditors immediately.
Try to work out a modified payment plan with them that reduces your payments to a more manageable level.
Don’t wait until your account has been turned over to a debt collector.
Your Debts and Debt Collectors
You are responsible for your debts. If you fall behind in paying your creditors, or if an error is made on your account, you may be contacted by a “debt collector.”
A debt collector is any person, other than the creditor, who regularly collects debts owed to others, including lawyers who collect debts regularly. You have the right to be treated fairly by debt collectors.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) applies to personal, family, and household debts. This includes money you owe for purchasing a car, medical care, or charge accounts.
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices while collecting these debts. Under the FDCPA:
- Debt collectors may contact you only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.
- Debt collectors may not contact you at work if they know your employer disapproves.
- Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you.
- Debt collectors may not lie when collecting debts, such as falsely implying that you have committed a crime.
- Debt collectors must identify themselves to you on the phone.
- Debt collectors must stop contacting you if you ask them to do so in writing.
How to Build Positive Credit
While addressing the negative and inaccurate issues on your credit reports, you can be building up a positive credit history. What you can do:
- Pay all your bills on time, every month
- Don’t use more than 30% of your revolving credit.
- Try to pay off your credit card balances every month
- Pay attention to your credit mix of loans and credit cards
- Minimize too many new applications for credit
If you do not have a credit card—consider applying for a Secured Credit Card with a $200.00 deposit. Make timely payments and build a positive credit history.
Be Persistent in Resolving Your Credit Issues
Resolving credit problems can take time and patience. Remember that you will be dealing with 3 credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) to dispute negative and inaccurate items.
Depending on the level of your credit issues and the credit bureaus’ response time for each disputed item, it could take 3 to 6 months for low-to-moderate issues or up to one year for more serious problems before you see the results you want.
It all depends on how much negative information you have to address on your credit reports and how committed you are to the credit repair process and good credit-building practices.
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