How to Repair Your Credit for Free
Don’t be overwhelmed by the credit repair process or pay for pricey repair services! Consolidated Credit is here to help.
Welcome, contestants, to an exciting round of the Game of Good Credit. If you’ve ever lost big in the Game of Good Credit, it can feel like you’ll never be able to win again. But if you take the right moves you can get back to winning score faster than you think.
A winning game plan often starts by cleaning up your credit report. It helps you clear the board so you can move forward effectively. Negative items can linger longer than necessary. You may have actually made some bad moves, but some negative items that show up may not be real at all.
So, the first step in your game plan should be to order your credit reports through annualcreditreport.com. Answer a few security questions, pass through the portal and access your profile from each credit bureau. After a bad credit loss, you’ll want to play through three rounds of review – one for each bureau.
As you work through each round, look for trouble spots that could set you back. Make sure those items are legitimate. But keep an eye out for errors, such as mistakes in your personal information. But take note if your report shows duplicate accounts or accounts that shouldn’t be there.
Detail any information that’s not correct: Look for late payments that you actually made on time and identify bad account statuses that might be outdated. See if there are any hard credit inquiries that you didn’t authorize.
Now you can dispute these errors to the credit bureau to have them verified or removed. They have 30 days to respond to a dispute. Once that clock expires, the item must be verified or, by law, it must be removed from your report.
This is how you clean up your credit so past issues don’t affect your current game. If you’re ever unsure of any credit rules, call the toll-free number for the bureau listed on the report. They’re required to explain any rules you don’t understand so you can play with confidence.
For more tips on how to win the Game of Good Credit, visit ConsolidatedCredit.org.
Repairing your credit is not as difficult or as dangerous as you might have heard. Third-party repair services get a bad rap, because some companies prey on people’s desire to quickly improve their score. As a result, they off them less-than-legal advice that can cause more harm than good.
The good news is that you can fix your credit on your own at no cost. This page explains how to repair your credit for free on your own. If you have questions or need to eliminate debt before you work on your credit, we can help.
Important credit repair update for 2019
If you’re reviewing your credit report this year, make sure to check that it does not list any tax liens. In early 2018, the three credit bureaus announced that they would no longer include tax liens on consumer credit reports. This means that even if you have an unpaid tax lien that you need to pay, it should not appear on your report. If you see any tax lien, make a dispute with the credit bureau to have it removed.
What is credit repair?
Credit repair simply refers the process of disputing mistakes and errors that can appear in your credit report. If you think an item that appears on your report is inaccurate, you can ask the credit bureau to verify the information. They have 30 days to respond. If the information cannot be verified then it must be removed.
This process protected under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and it’s often necessary to ensure you have the best credit possible. Many mistakes, such as late payments, can negatively impact your credit score. This makes it harder to get loan and credit approvals at good interest rates.
How to Repair Your Credit for Free Step by Step
Step 1: Get a copy of your report
First, you need to get your report from the reporting agencies. There are three credit bureaus in the U.S. – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Each maintains their own proprietary copy of your report. So, you actually have three reports instead of just one.
You can download one, two or all three reports through a federally-mandated free website: annualcreditreport.com. If you’ve never checked your credit report, it’s best to do all three at first to make sure your profile is as clean as possible. However, if you repair your credit regularly, you may choose to do just one at a time.
To get your reports, you just need to answer a few security questions to verify your identity. Then the portal will direct you to the right place to download your reports from each bureau. You can complete this step in about 15 minutes.
If you prefer hard copies, you can send a letter or request it by phone:
Mail to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281 Atlanta, GA 30348-5281 Phone: 877-322-8228
Step 2: Review your report for errors
Next, you need to review your reports to make sure all the information is accurate. For the most part, you want to focus on any errors that appear as negative items in your report. However, other discrepancies may occur, too.
This is everything you want to look for:
- Mistakes in personal information, including aliases and name variations that you don’t use; also verify your Social Security number and previous addresses.
- Payment history errors that indicate that you missed payments when you actually made them on time.
- Inaccurate balances and outdated account statuses that show that you have more debt or delinquent debt that’s really current.
- Negative items that already expired, such as bankruptcies, foreclosures, judgements or liens that should have been removed from your file.
- Hard credit inquiries that you did not authorize. There are two types of inquiries listed in your report, but you must authorize hard inquiries, and they can affect your score.
- Duplicate accounts, where your report lists an account like a mortgage more than once. This is bad for your debt-to-income ratio, because it makes it seem like you have more debt than you do.
Write any mistakes you find down in a list. You can use a table like this or download the PDF at the bottom of this page for a printable worksheet.
|Item||Issue (missed payment made on time, duplicate account, expired penalty)|
It’s important to note that some negative items listed in your report may be legitimate. If so, you can’t change them. Luckily, the penalties will eventually expire.
When Do Negative Credit Report Items Expire?
Learn how long negative items remain in your credit report to understand when penalties expire.
Welcome back, contestants, to the Game of Good Credit!
Do you have the right strategy to win? The game of good credit is easy to win with the right moves. And winning means you achieve a good credit score that helps you get approved with low rates. But some actions you take can set you back.
By law, filing for bankruptcy hits you with a penalty that sets you back 10 years from the date of filing. Except if you file for Chapter 13 – the bureaus stop the penalty after 7 years. This minimizes the setback so it’s easier to recover.
Things that happen outside your credit file can also affect your game – civil suits, court judgments and records of arrest can come up. These public records remain for 7 years from the date of entry OR as long as the current governing statute of limitations allows – whichever is longer.
Unpaid taxes can also set you back. A paid tax lien sets you back seven years from the date the lien was paid. On the other hand, if you leave a lien unpaid it can stop you in your tracks and remain indefinitely until you pay it off. That is, except in Experian’s game where the penalty for unpaid tax liens ends after 15 years.
Every time you pay on time it creates a positive space that stays on your credit forever and pushes you ahead. But each time you pay more than 30 days late, it sets you back 7 years from the date the payment was missed. And the longer a debt goes unpaid, the more it sets you back. If you let it go unpaid too long, the creditor writes off the account and changes the status to charge-off. Charge offs also set you back 7 years.
There is one exception to that rule… If you default on a federal student loan and then bring it current, any negative actions from the late payments disappear. But for all other debts, charge-offs are usually sold to collections, which creates ANOTHER trouble space that causes issues for 7 years. So, letting a debt slip into default is almost a double or triple whammy to your game.
However, don’t believe a collector if they say they have ways of ruining your credit game forever. That’s just not true. Nothing you do can get you kicked out of the credit game forever. Any penalty you encounter will only set you back. But you can offset these setbacks by taking positive actions that help you move forward. So even if your period of financial distress puts you back at Square One, you can start again and get right back in the game.
For more information on winning the Game of Good Credit, visit ConsolidatedCredit.org
Step 3: Disputing mistakes
This step is the most labor-intensive and the most important. In order to get mistakes removed, you must make disputes correctly. Otherwise, your dispute may be rejected, which would mean the negative item remains on your report.
All complaints should be submitted in writing to the credit bureau, although you may decide to call the original creditor before you make the formal dispute if you want to attempt to quickly resolve the issue.
If that doesn’t work, the Federal Trade Commission offers a sample letter you can use as a template to make disputes. Include copies of any documents that support your dispute (always keep the originals for yourself). State only the facts in your letter and concisely express why you are making the dispute. Send the letter by certified mail with “return receipt requested: to verify when the bureau received your dispute.
Once received, the bureau has 30 days to respond. They will contact the original creditor or issuer of the information to ask them to verify the item. If it can’t be verified, then it must be removed. If that happens, the credit bureau will provide a free copy of your report so you can confirm the item no longer appears. You can also request the credit bureau to notify anyone who inquired about your credit in the past six months. And, you can ask them to send a copy to any employers who checked your report within the past two years.
If the dispute is not resolved in your favor, you have the right to add a 100-word statement to your file explaining the issue. This is called a consumer statement. This may not be very helpful, however, since many creditor’s either won’t see or won’t read the statement. You may be better off hiring a consumer law attorney or contacting the Federal Trade Commission.
Step 4: Repeat as needed
If you have a number of mistakes that appear in your report, you may want to only include a few disputes at a time. We recommend a maximum of five disputes in a one ltter. This means that you may need to go through several rounds of disputes if you’ve never repaired your credit before. If you do this process regularly, then it typically takes one round, at most.
In addition, it’s important to note that you must make disputes with each credit bureau individually. They do not share corrections, since errors may or may not occur across all three reports. So, if the same error appears in all three reports you have, you must go through the dispute process three times.
Always keep a log of disputes you make and where they stand. Keep any correspondence you receive, in case you run into any trouble.
This publication is designed to help those who have had credit problems in the past. Many people feel frustrated and worried that a damaged credit history will remain with them forever or at least for a very long time. In almost every case there are strategies and concepts that one can use to put their credit back on track.
How to Avoid Getting Scammed
According to the Credit Repair Organizations Act, it’s entirely legal to hire a state-licensed attorney to make disputes on your behalf. However, as we mentioned at the top of this page, credit repair scams do occur. In fact, the repair services industry is so fraught with scams that the Better Business Bureau doesn’t even rate repair services.
In order for a third-party to fix your credit, they must have at least one state-licensed attorney on staff. That means a lawyer who is licensed to work in the state where you live. Then you must authorize that attorney to make disputes on your behalf.
The Federal Trade Commission requires that service providers must explain:
- Your legal rights in a written contract that also includes details about the services they perform
- A three-day right to cancel without charges
- How long it will take to get results
- The total cost you must pay
- Any guarantees, such as money-back offers
Recognize the signs of a repair scam!
Always thoroughly vet a service provider before you sign up or pay any fees! The following tips can help you avoid getting scammed:
- Make sure the company has an attorney licensed to make disputes in your state.
- Be cautious of any guarantees to improve your credit score by a certain amount; this is not something any company can guarantee!
- Never take advice that sounds illegal, such as using a fake Social Security number or using an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to start a new profile.
- Be wary of any upfront fees that don’t come with a money-back guarantee.
Credit Repair FAQ: Other Frequently Asked Questions
Can I make disputes directly to the original creditor?
Yes, but it’s usually advisable to go through the credit bureaus instead for most disputes. If you think the original issuer of the information made a clerical mistake and would correct the error easily, you can contact them directly.
However, the process described above is the best way to ensure disputed information is removed promptly. If you decide to make a dispute to a creditor, keep detailed records. Note anyone you talked to on the phone, with time, date and what was discussed.
And, if this method doesn’t work, you can still go to the credit bureaus to make a formal dispute.
Can I make disputes online or by phone?
You can make disputes online. All three credit bureaus provide online portals on their websites where you can make disputes. Some people choose to do this because it easier than sending letters (and cheaper than certified mail).
However, we recommend making disputes by certified letter with return receipt requested. It’s easier to keep track of correspondence. You also now when the dispute was received. And some statistics show that letter-based disputes have a higher chance of success.
You cannot make disputes by phone, although you can request hard copies of your credit report by phone.
Does repair improve my credit score?
In many cases, yes. Removing negative items from your report often improves your score. However, that’s more of a happy side effect that a primary goal. The goal of credit repair is to ensure you report is accurate. That way, when creditors review it you have a clean bill of credit health. This will often improve your score, too.
The key point here, however, is that you can’t go into repair expecting to improve your score by a certain amount. Scores are highly specific to an individual, so changes vary based on your credit history, the number of other penalties you have and where your score was before the item was removed. This is why score improvement guarantees typically indicate a scam.
How long does credit repair take?
If you download your reports, review and send the disputes that day, you can expect it to take anywhere from 31-40 days. The timing depends on how quickly the bureaus receive your dispute. It will take longer if you need to make disputes in several rounds to the same bureau. If you have more than five disputes to make on one report, you should always send them in rounds, five at a time.
In general, if you act quickly throughout the process, you should expect to be finished with credit repair within 40-90 days. Even with several rounds of disputes, the process should take no more than 3 months. If you review and make disputes regularly, then it should take less than 40 days, in total.
Should I review one credit report or all three?
According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you can download one report from each bureau once every twelve months. This means you can review and dispute any mistakes once per year for free.
If you’ve never gone through this process before, start with all three. They may not have the exact same information, so you want to make sure all three reports are clean. However, if you’ve done this before, you may choose to do just one at a time. This would allow you to review your credit up to three times throughout the year.
On the other hand, some people prefer to always do the three reports at once. You take one day per year to review your credit and see if you need to make any disputes. This saves you time and keeps your credit clean.
What does “verified” mean?
Verification is the key to making disputes. If an item cannot be verified, then it must be removed. That’s exactly how the law is worded, and that matters. Keep in mind that verifiable and correct are two different things. This can work in your favor or work against you, depending on the situation.
- An example of when verification can work in your favor. Let’s say you’ve had a debt that’s gone through multiple collectors. It’s been bought and sold several times. In many cases, collectors don’t have complete information about the original debt, which is required to verify that the debt is really yours for the amount they say. If you ask a bureau to verify it and the collector can’t provide all the information required, then it must be removed. This can sometimes get a collection account removed, even if it’s legitimately a debt that you originally owed. Basically, you get off on a technicality because the collector doesn’t have complete records.
- An example of when verification can work against you. Let’s say you missed a mortgage payment that you made on time because of an insurance issue. For example, if your flood insurance isn’t up-to-date with the mortgage lender, they increase your payment requirement. If you have recurring payments set up and don’t pay attention to correspondence, then the payment you make won’t cover the requirement for that month. Then they report to the credit bureau that you missed a payment even though you paid on time. Even if you correct the issue with the lender, the credit bureau may count the information as verifiable because you technically missed the payment, even though it was wrong.