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Step 1: Tell the credit reporting company, in writing, what information you think is inaccurate. Use our sample letter to help write your own. 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 dispute 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 got it. Keep copies of your dispute letter and enclosures.
When visitors sign up, they’re often enrolled, unwittingly, in a credit monitoring service that charges a monthly fee. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission attempted to clamp down on this practice. It required “free” sites to provide a warning that, under federal law, the only authorized source for no-cost credit reports (though not free credit scores) is www.annualcreditreport.com.
For years, credit repair companies have had a reputation for charging high fees without helping consumers and sometimes causing worse financial distress. But Ulzheimer says a 1996 federal law called the Credit Repair Organizations Act, or CROA, which established rules for these types of services, and self-policing by the credit repair services trade association helped clean up the industry. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission charged numerous credit repair companies with federal law violations and imposed penalties on them.
With the increase in financial crime, such as identity theft, it's wise to check your credit history at least once a year. You can obtain a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. To order your free annual report, go to annualcreditreport.com, call 877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
Be punished for missed payments: Not all late payments are created equally. If you are fewer than 30 days late, your missed payment will likely not be reported to the bureau (although you still will be subject to late fees and potential risk-based re-pricing, which can be very expensive). Once you are 30 days late, you will be reported to the credit bureau. The longer you go without paying, the bigger the impact on your score, ie: 60 days late is worse than 30 days late. A single missed payment (of 30 days or more) can still have a big impact on your score. It can take anywhere from 60 to 110 points off your score.
Tip: Be cautious of websites that claim to offer free credit reports. Some of these websites will only give you a free report if you buy other products or services. Other websites give you a free report and then bill you for services you have to cancel. To get the free credit report authorized by law, go to AnnualCreditReport.com or call (877) 322-8228.
They may be willing to waive some of the late penalties or spread the past due balance over few payments. Let them know you're anxious to avoid charge-off, but need some help. Your creditor may even be willing to re-age your account to show your payments as current rather than delinquent, but you'll have to actually talk to your creditors to negotiate.
FICO® Scores are developed by Fair Isaac Corporation. The FICO® Score provided by ConsumerInfo.com, Inc., also referred to as Experian Consumer Services ("ECS"), in Experian CreditWorksSM, Credit TrackerSM and/or your free Experian membership (as applicable) is based on FICO® Score 8, unless otherwise noted. Many but not all lenders use FICO® Score 8. In addition to the FICO® Score 8, ECS may offer and provide other base or industry-specific FICO® Scores (such as FICO® Auto Scores and FICO® Bankcard Scores). The other FICO® Scores made available are calculated from versions of the base and industry-specific FICO® Score models. There are many different credit scoring models that can give a different assessment of your credit rating and relative risk (risk of default) for the same credit report. Your lender or insurer may use a different FICO® Score than FICO® Score 8 or such other base or industry-specific FICO® Score, or another type of credit score altogether. Just remember that your credit rating is often the same even if the number is not. For some consumers, however, the credit rating of FICO® Score 8 (or other FICO® Score) could vary from the score used by your lender. The statements that "90% of top lenders use FICO® Scores" and "FICO® Scores are used in 90% of credit decisions" are based on a third-party study of all versions of FICO® Scores sold to lenders, including but not limited to scores based on FICO® Score 8. Base FICO® Scores (including the FICO® Score 8) range from 300 to 850. Industry-specific FICO® Scores range from 250-900. Higher scores represent a greater likelihood that you'll pay back your debts so you are viewed as being a lower credit risk to lenders. A lower FICO® Score indicates to lenders that you may be a higher credit risk. There are three different major credit reporting agencies — the Experian credit bureau, TransUnion® and Equifax® — that maintain a record of your credit history known as your credit report. Your FICO® Score is based on the information in your credit report at the time it is requested. Your credit report information can vary from agency to agency because some lenders report your credit history to only one or two of the agencies. So your FICO® Score can vary if the information they have on file for you is different. Since the information in your report can change over time, your FICO® Score may also change.
Another common question is whether checking your own credit report or score can hurt it. The answer is no. Checking your own credit scores doesn't lower them. Checking your own credit report creates a special kind of inquiry (known commonly as a soft inquiry) that isn't considered in credit score calculations. Without the risk of harming your scores by checking your credit report and scores frequently, don't steer away from viewing them as often as you need to.
Several years ago, it was common for companies to advertise “free credit reports” on TV and radio spots. Most of the offers were a bait and switch. Sign up, get a free credit report and score, then see your credit card charged $10-$20 every month after that if you didn’t cancel on time. Thankfully, the Credit Card Act of 2009 changed the way companies are allowed to advertise free credit reports. The Federal Trade Commission now requires credit bureaus and credit monitoring services to market credit reports differently than previously.
You can definitely build your credit from scratch by working to improve the factors that go into your score — except for the length of credit history. It’s impossible to travel back in time to open a credit account, so improving this factor just takes patience. Luckily, the length of your credit history isn’t the most important thing that determines your score.
When ordering your credit report online, be sure to spell annualcreditreport.com correctly. You will then avoid being misdirected to other websites that claim to offer free reports, but only with the purchase of other products. While the authorized website may offer you additional products, you are not required to make a purchase to receive your free credit reports.