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Can you simply repair bad credit? No, only time and consistent payments can repair bad credit. However, you can correct inaccuracies in your credit report, if you know what to do.
It's important to understand that you can't erase a bad credit history. Accurate information, both positive and negative, cannot be removed from your credit report. In fact, most correct information stays on your credit report for seven years, and bankruptcies can stay on your credit report for up to 10 years. Over time, you can replace negative credit information with positive information by always making your payments on time. For purposes of this article, credit repair means identifying and correcting inaccurate information on your credit report.
The first thing to do is to obtain a copy of your credit report. Under a 2003 amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report once a year. Visit the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website on credit for more information. Not all "free" credit reports are really free, as explained in this FTC article about free annual credit reports. To get an annual free copy of your credit report, visit the authorized website www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
Some consumer groups are recommending that you order your credit report via telephone or by postal mail. That is because several websites with names similar to the official annual credit report website are imposters. Read the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse article Call Don't Click, which explains the dangers of ordering credit reports online.
Here is the contact information for AnnualCreditReport.com if you prefer not to order over the Internet:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
There are other cases when you can get a free copy of your credit report. If you have been the victim of identity theft, you can receive a free credit report. Also, if in the past 60 days you have been denied credit, insurance, a job, or rental housing, because of the information in your credit report, you are entitled to a free copy. For these types of free credit report, you must contact the major credit reporting agencies listed below.
When not entitled to a free copy, you can buy a copy of your credit report from any of the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion). Be aware that each of these reporting agencies will try to sell you a package deal, such as a monthly credit report service. If you just want a copy of your credit report and nothing else, the cost is approximately $10.
Here is the contact information for the three credit bureaus:
Equifax Information Services LLC
Once you have ordered and received your credit report, read it carefully. You should make sure all the information listed is accurate. Examples of information to review include:
Your date of birth
The listing of your creditors
Your payment history with each creditor
It's possible that your credit report could contain mistakes. Credit reporting agencies handle a tremendous amount of information each day and errors can occur. What should you do if your credit report has an error? Your credit report includes instructions on how to file a dispute. It's basically as simple as calling or writing the credit bureau that provided the report to you.
Before you contact the credit bureau, take some time to write down the error you found. You need to be clear and precise when disputing an item on your credit report. For example, it's better to say you never made a late payment rather than saying a creditor's payment history is incorrect. All credit bureaus must act on your request within 30 days. If it is determined that an error does exist on your credit report, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that the inaccurate information be properly removed or corrected. See Acorn Housing's tipsheet How To Correct Your Credit Report.
After you file a dispute, the credit bureau has 30 days to investigate the situation and correct the error (45 days if you supply additional information during the investigation time). To investigate your dispute, the credit bureau contacts the source of the information, usually a creditor. If the creditor doesn't respond to the inquiry, and the information can't be verified, it must be deleted from your credit report.
Correcting credit reports for all three credit bureaus is as easy as correcting one. You only have to file a dispute with one credit bureau, since creditors share information with all three credit bureaus via the Automated Consumer Dispute Verification (ACDV) system. The ACDV, which was developed in 1995 by the Associated Credit Bureaus (now the Consumer Data Industry Association), is designed to speed the investigation process as it eliminates mail delay. It also makes life easier for you since you may not have to contact all three credit bureaus. After your dispute is filed, however, it's a good idea to follow up with each credit bureau individually to make sure the information has been corrected. For more information about the online version of ACDV, see the article Understanding E-OSCAR.
What if the creditor doesn't agree with your dispute? The credit bureau won't make any changes to your credit report if a creditor doesn't verify your information. If you still believe the information is inaccurate, you can provide a statement that tells your side of the story and ask the credit reporting agency to permanently add it to your credit file. If you choose to do this, be brief and stick to the facts. Describe only why you believe the information is inaccurate. It is not necessary to describe the circumstances that caused the situation to occur. By attaching the statement, future creditors will see the situation was under dispute and it may not be considered detrimental to your credit history.
What if this sounds like too much work? There is another option. You can use the services of a reputable credit repair organization, sometimes known as credit clinics. Typically, credit repair organizations can:
Get copies of your credit report
Send letters to the credit bureaus disputing inaccurate information
Attach a statement to your credit report which gives additional information on a specific issue
Sound familiar? They provide the same service that you can do for yourself. The difference is that they charge a fee. If you want more information on credit repair organizations and the Credit Repair Organizations Act, read the related articles in our Library.
It may take some time and effort, but a critical part of maintaining good credit health is to regularly verify the accuracy of your credit report. Start by reviewing a copy of your credit report today. Remember, if you have bad credit, you can't erase it, but you can replace it with a positive credit profile. See the U.S. Federal Trade Commission article Building a Better Credit Report.
Don't be the victim of a scam! Know what credit repair organizations can and cannot do with your credit, and make an informed decision when deciding to use one.
The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is now accepting consumer complaints about credit reports. Learn how to lodge a complaint with the bureau if you think you've found an error.
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