If your credit score dropped recently because of an error or fraudulent account, you might need to learn how to repair credit.
Repairing your credit isn’t the same as rebuilding your credit. It involves removing items from your credit report that don’t belong there. But the two do go hand in hand, so it’s important to understand how both work.
Credit repair is the process of improving your credit score by disputing false and fraudulent information on your credit report. Make special note of those words, “false and fraudulent.”
This means that you can’t dispute something just because you don’t like it. If you legitimately missed a payment or had an account sent to collections, the credit bureaus and creditor are unlikely to remove the negative item from your report, even if you get current on your payments.
You’ve likely heard or seen advertisements from credit repair companies saying that they can take care of the credit repair process for you for a fee.
But here’s the kicker: there’s nothing these credit repair companies can do for you that you can’t do on your own for free. And these companies can charge hundreds or thousands of dollars. So, even if you’ve never dealt with this process before, it’s worth taking the time to learn.
Repairing your credit can take time, especially if there’s a lot of fraud involved. Here are five steps to take to get started.
If you aren’t already checking your credit score regularly, make that a priority. Several credit monitoring services offer free access to your FICO score or VantageScore, and some of them even break down the factors influencing your score.
Some of the best credit monitoring services include Discover Credit Scorecard, Credit Karma, and NerdWallet. If your score seems abnormally low, it’s possible that it’s due to an error or fraudulent account.
You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three national credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — each year. Simply visit AnnualCreditReport.com and fill out the form to get your report from one, two, or all three of them at once.
Read through your credit report — read this guide if you’re unsure how to read one — and keep an eye out for accounts you don’t recognize. For each, you’ll be able to see the creditor’s name and contact information, the type of account, when it was opened, and more.
You also might see accounts you do recognize that have errors. For example, say you paid off your car loan a few months ago but the lender hasn’t tagged it as paid off. Or you spot a late payment when you have proof that you paid on time.
If you see anything like these examples, write them down or circle them on your report to tackle one at a time.
The first thing you’ll want to do with an error or fraudulent account is to call the creditor and ask that they fix it on their end.
If it’s an error, explain the situation and let them know you have proof that it’s wrong. They’ll likely need your evidence for documentation, so have that on hand and find out how to send it over.
If it’s a fraudulent account, the process could be more difficult. Since you won’t have any hard evidence like you would with an error, it may take the creditor more time to verify that the account is fraudulent and remove it from your report.
One thing the creditor may require is a police report. So, be sure to file one with your local police station and submit that.
Also, let the creditor know that you’re planning to dispute the account with the credit bureaus. This may help them speed up the process as they know they’ll have to answer to more than just you.
You may need to follow up on them to get information about the status of your request. Don’t get complacent.
Once you’ve spoken with the creditor, formally dispute the error or fraudulent account with all three credit bureaus. Here’s the link to do it online for each:
Once you’ve filed a dispute, it can take up to 30 days for the bureaus to respond. Again, you might need to provide some documentation, so include that in your original dispute, so you don’t have to go back and forth. This process can take time, but it’s necessary.
If you have some legitimate negative items on your credit reports, work on improving those while the creditors and credit bureaus do their job.
For example, if you have delinquent or collections accounts, work on getting caught up on your payments. If you have high credit card balances, pay those off as quickly as possible. Do the same with any other item that’s hurting your credit score. Target it and work on getting back on track.
Consider using your credit cards to build credit if you aren’t already doing so. Simply use your cards and pay them off in full each month. Over time, your positive payment history will help boost your score.
How long does it take to build credit? It depends on the factors influencing your score, but by developing these habits, you should start seeing improvement in a few months.
Now that you know how to repair credit, the question is whether you should do it yourself or hire credit repair companies.
While you can definitely save money by doing it yourself, you may be way over your head if there’s a lot of fraud going on. In this situation, it could actually save you time and money in the future by hiring a credit repair company to get the job done faster.
But for minor stuff, it’s almost never worth it to pay to do something you can do yourself with a few quick phone calls.
If you do choose to hire a credit repair company, watch out for scams. Here are a few companies we trust:
Do your research to determine if those costs are worth it, but don’t take too much time. The sooner you figure out how to repair your credit, the better.
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This article was last updated June 12, 2018 but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.