You can repair your own credit report at little or no cost

Services and websites that promise free credit monitoring, reports or sure ways to improve credit typically fall short or fail to achieve the desired result. Take control by understanding these free, self-help strategies.

You may have heard the advertisements – “Credit problems, no problem!” or “We can remove bankruptcies, liens and bad loans from your credit file.” The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests consumers do themselves a favor and save some money. Attorneys at the nation’s Bureau of Consumer Protection say they’ve never seen a legitimate credit repair operation making such claims. Anything a credit repair clinic can do legally, you can do for yourself at little or no cost. No one can legally remove accurate and timely negative information from a credit report. There is no quick fix to credit worthiness.

Here’s exactly what you’d pay a professional to do, so why not just do it yourself?

Request your credit reports. Experian,Equifax and TransUnion are the three major nationwide credit reporting companies. They do not rate the creditworthiness of individual credit users but simply keep records of them. Only one website is authorized to fill orders for the free annual credit report you are entitled to by law — Annual Credit Report or call 1-877-322-8228.

Other websites that claim to offer “free credit reports,” “free credit scores” or “free credit monitoring” are not part of the legally mandated free annual credit report program. In some cases, the “free” product comes with strings attached. It’s suggested to request one report from one credit reporting company, and then four months later request your report from another. That way you can monitor your credit history over a 12-month period.

Review your credit report and request corrections if needed. Make sure your name, present and past addresses, credit inquiries, Social Security number and account information (balance, payment dates and status) are all correct. Errors are common. If something is incorrect, it should be disputed online or by sending a letter to the credit reporting company or by completing the “investigation form” that comes with the report.

If you send anything via mail, the FTC recommends sending it by certified mail; request a return receipt so you can document what the credit reporting company received. Keep copies of your dispute letter/investigation form and all enclosures. The credit reporting company typically has a month to respond to disputes and will notify you of the results either way. Credit reporting companies must correct or delete inaccurate, incomplete or unverifiable information.  

In short, only the passage of time can assure removal of accurate negative information in your credit report. Most accurate negative information, such as accounts that have been settled or sent to collections, or late payments stay on your report for seven years and Chapter 13 and Chapter 7 bankruptcy stay on your credit report for 10 years. Unpaid judgments can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out. Federal student loans can be reported for as long as they are delinquent. There is no time limit on reporting criminal convictions.

Be aware there are scams in the credit repair business. Visit the FTC’s website on credit repair for examples and warning signs. You can also find information about credit reports at eXtension.