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- There is no such thing as a ‘quick fix’ when it comes to credit
- There are a number of reputable credit counseling agencies
- Learn how to recognize legitimate companies vs. scams
If you are struggling to pay off debt and would like some help with credit, credit repair companies promising they can provide a “quick fix” for your credit may sound tempting.
But the truth is, there is no such thing as a “quick fix” when it comes to credit – it’s a process that takes time. “Credit repair” companies claiming to erase credit problems, remove situations like bankruptcies from your credit reports, or create a new credit identity for you may not be legitimate. You may wind up losing time and money, and it may even have legal consequences.
That said, there are a number of reputable credit counseling agencies that can help present you with options such as a debt management plan. But how do you tell the legitimate credit repair companies from the scams?
Signs of a credit repair scam
According to the Federal Trade Commission, companies engaging in credit repair fraud may:
- Insist that you pay them before they do any work for you
- Advise you not to contact any of the three nationwide credit bureaus
- Tell you to dispute information on your credit reports, even if you know the information is accurate
- Tell you to give false information on credit applications
- Fail to explain your legal rights to you when telling you what they can do for you
A scam credit repair company, for instance, may claim it can help you hide negative account information or bankruptcy. After you pay the company, it may provide you with a nine-digit number that looks like a Social Security number, calling it a credit profile number or a credit privacy number. They may also direct you to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service.
While EINs are legitimate, and used by businesses to report financial information to the federal government, an EIN is not a substitute for a Social Security number, and obtaining one from the IRS under false pretenses is a federal crime.
It can also be also a federal crime to lie on a credit or loan application and to misrepresent your Social Security number. These companies may be selling stolen Social Security numbers; if you use a stolen number, that may involve you in identity theft.
Under the federal Credit Repair Organization Act (CROA), credit repair companies cannot make false statements about what they can do for you and cannot charge you before they have done any work for you. They are also required to explain to you:
- Your legal rights, and the services they will perform, in a written contract
- That you have 3 days to cancel with no charge
- How long it will take to get results
- The total cost you will be responsible for
- Any guarantees
What you can do
You are able to take many of the same steps a credit repair organization would take, for free. A great first step is obtaining copies of your credit reports from the three nationwide credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit reports every 12 months by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com.
If your request for credit is denied based on information in your credit reports, the lender should provide you with an “adverse action” notice. This notice should contain the contact information of the credit bureau that furnished the report the lender reviewed, and explain that you're entitled to obtain a free copy of that credit report within 60 days.
While reviewing your credit reports, if you see something you believe is inaccurate or incomplete, contact your lender or creditor first. You can also file a dispute with each of the three nationwide credit bureaus for free. The bureaus are required by law to investigate the matter. If the investigation finds that the information provided by the lender or creditor is inaccurate or incomplete, the information must be updated so that it is accurate and complete. If the lender or creditor is unable to confirm the validity of the information, or if the information is found to be the result of fraud, then it must be removed from your credit reports.
It’s important to note that accurate negative information cannot be removed from your credit reports until a certain amount of time has passed. Learn more about how long information remains on your Equifax credit report.
Read more about credit repair and credit repair scams from the FTC.
If you’d like to seek the help of a credit counselor, you can find a list of approved agencies by state and judicial district on the Department of Justice web site.