You’ve probably heard ads promising to fix bad credit. The thing is, some credit repair agencies use tactics that are just plain illegal, that don’t work, or both — leaving you out hundreds or thousands of dollars; the last thing you need when you’re having money trouble.
No one can remove “accurate and timely” negative information from anyone’s credit report, but sometimes people claim that they can.
So how do you tell if a credit repair offer is a scam?
Could it be a scam?
According to the FTC’s brochure titled Credit Repair: How to Help Yourself, here’s how to tell if the company behind it is up to no good:
- The company wants you to pay for credit repair services before they provide any services. Under the Credit Repair Organizations Act, credit repair companies cannot require you to pay until they have completed the services they have promised.
- The company doesn’t tell you your rights and what you can do for yourself for free.
- The company recommends that you do not contact any of the three major national credit reporting companies directly.
- The company tells you they can get rid of most or all the negative credit information in your credit report, even if that information is accurate and current.
- The company suggests that you try to invent a “new” credit identity — and then, a new credit report — by applying for an Employer Identification Number to use instead of your Social Security number.
- The company advises you to dispute all the information in your credit report, regardless of its accuracy or timeliness.
If you have bad credit due to things you’ve done in the past, the only real way to fix it is to change your behavior and give it time. (For example, paying off debt could help repair your credit score.)
Remember that anything a legitimate credit repair company could do for you, you can do for yourself for free. For starters, you can (and should) always dispute items on your credit report that are inaccurate.
How do you find out if there are errors on your report?
If you have been denied credit, you’re entitled to a copy of your credit report. The paperwork letting you know that you’ve been denied should explain how to do it. You’re also entitled to a free credit report every year from each of the major credit reporting agencies. To obtain that, go to annualcreditreport.com. (Just say no to any additional offers that cost money.)
Next, the best way to improve your credit is to use it responsibly. Pay your bills on time and avoid using a large percentage of your available credit. If you have current problems with your creditors, contact them and work out a repayment plan that you can stick to no matter what. (Just do not allow electronic access to your checking account — pay your creditors yourself instead.) You can review information about the Fair Debt Collection Act for details on what collectors are and are not allowed to do.
Most of all, be patient, consistent and responsible with your money, and your credit will eventually improve.