Clean Up Your Credit Report Yourself
In recent years there have been an influx of “Credit Fix or Credit Repair” scams – I call them scams because often they take your money and do what you can do on your own or worse yet, they take you money and do nothing.
I worked for a credit bureau service some time back and learned much about how to fix bad credit and help people get themselves in the perfect position to qualify to purchase a home.
Even if you aren’t looking to purchase a home at this time, or make any major purchase, it’s still a good idea to keep a good eye on your report. Often there are things on your report that:
- Are not yours
- Can alert you that your identity has been stolen
- Are reported incorrectly
- Should have been removed due to the age (7 years for most “bad debts”, missed or late payments, 10 for some public records and bankruptcies)
and all of these things can negatively affect your credit.
There are ways to clean up your credit history, improve your credit report, and prevent further credit report issues so that you don’t have to “repair” your credit again in the future. Check out these DIY credit repair tips below.
Let’s dig in:
Get Your Reports
The first step is to get your hands on your reports and read them.
There are 3 main credit reporting bureaus and they are the ones that hold the keys to your creditworthiness:
Equifax Free Credit Report
Experian Free Credit Report
TransUnion Free Credit Report
They all offer one free report a year, by law. All you have to do is request yours. Just sign up on each site and verify your identity and they will give you access to what all of your creditors see (not really, your creditors see something called your credit “infile” which is a merged copy of all 3 bureaus and a little more complicated for the average lay person to read, but, it’s basically the same info). Remember each year to go request your free annual credit report.
Find Any Errors
Once you have your hands on your credit reports, go over them with a fine tooth comb. You’re looking for anything that doesn’t match your records. Any debts under your name, address, or social security number that isn’t yours, any misspellings of your name, etc. My husband actually had a few “Chargeoffs” on his credit from his father – they share the same name, so we had to have those removed and prove they weren’t his. My son in law had tax trouble because someone had stolen his wallet and was using his social security card to work. Trust me, it happens, so be vigilant.
Write down any and all discrepancies you find for each bureau. Often they have the same info or two may have something the same and one not have it at all, or one may have it and the others don’t. Some companies report to all 3 bureaus, some report to two of them, and some only report to one. That’s why you’ll see differences between the three. Be sure to keep notes for each one and keep them straight, you’ll need them for the next step.
Once you find any issues that need to be removed or changed, go to the bureau’s website that reported it and will find a place with instructions to “File Disputes” or “Dispute a Claim”. This is free for you to do and very simple. THIS is what most of the scams charge you to do, something you can very easily and quickly do for yourself.
Just follow the directions and the bureau will check their records and then contact the reporting company with your dispute. That company has 30 days to respond, if they do not respond in 30 days, the bureau is obligated to remove it from your report as they have no proof from the reporting company that’s it’s a valid claim. (Note: some people like to do this “cleaning” once a year around Thanksgiving or Christmas because such a dispute claim can easily “fall through the cracks”.)
Explain What Happened
You can add a 100 word statement to any item on your report. If there is a valid reason you’d like your creditors to know for your late payments, or missed payments, you can do that. If you make an account specific statement – that means you’re explaining one particular item on your report. Once that item falls off your report, so does that statement. If you make a general statement regarding a few items on your report, that statement will remain on your report for 2 years.
This can be tricky, you don’t know who’s reading it and how they might interpret what you’ve written. If you write a general statement that happens to be on your report AFTER the items have fallen off it an tip off new creditors to old problems and make them choose not to lend to you. Just weigh your options with this one and be careful as you could end up doing more harm to yourself than good.
Improve Your Credit
When you take the steps above having them remove anything that can possibly can be, you are improving your report which can lead to improving your score.
Start paying off debts, bad, old, and new. Pay off collections, judgements, tax liens. Keep your credit balances low. Pay your bills on time, every time.
Only apply for credit when necessary. We’ve all been to the mall or an event and someone presses us to apply for a credit card to get a special deal right away, don’t do it. It creates an inquiry on your credit report, they last 2 years. Here’s what happens. You apply for credit at say JCPenney, you get approved, but, decide you don’t want another card, so you say no thank you. Or you apply and they choose not to give you credit. The inquiry sits at the top of your report for 2 years. These inquiries accumulate. Now, the new creditor pulls your report and first sees your inquiries…. “Hmmm, JCPenney gave them credit, but, I don’t see any account opened… I wonder what happened there… oh and I see they were declined by Goodyear, hmmm this isn’t looking good…” That is all BEFORE they get to your actual credit reporting. Keep those inquiries to a minimum. If you apply for the Penney credit, get it and use it, and pay on time, every time, THAT will help you. Be smart and only apply for credit when necessary and when there’s a big chance you’ll actually be approved.
Prevent Credit Issues
Now that you have repaired your credit, cleaned up your report, and are on the path to keeping it clean and making it better you need to keep a close eye on it.
Remember that it’s easy for things to be added that aren’t yours, or for someone to have stolen your credit and you don’t know for quite some time. Be vigilant, in this world our credit makes or breaks us much of the time, so, stay on top of it. There are places that will help, such as: