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Credit Reports, Part 2 of 3 - How to Fix Them

Credit cards can both help and hurt you.
Credit cards can both help and hurt you.
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Hopefully by now you've had a chance to pull down at least one of your three free credit reports from www.annualcreditreport.com.   One of the first things you want to do is check it for mistakes or errors.  Errors on your credit report usually happen accidentally, like when a company gets its wires crossed when reporting about you as a customer.  Sometimes, however, mistakes exist because of identity theft or some other form of scam.  Mistakes usually include incorrect balances, incorrect payment histories, duplicate entries, incorrect information due to transposed social security numbers, and sometimes even incorrect addresses or places of employment.  You may find multiple errors on your credit report, but you'll really want to prioritize and focus on the errors that affect your credit-worthiness.  For instance, you may not find it's as important to tell the credit companies that you've switched jobs as it is to tell them that you actually have never filed for bankruptcy (which has shown up incorrectly on some credit reports!)

While there is no way to remove timely and accurate information from your credit report, you get to dispute anything in your credit report that looks innacurate or incorrect.  There are actually a good number of consumer laws on your side in such a case.  Any consumer credit company, like the big three mentioned in part one of this series, has 30 days in which to prove to you to be correct what you believe to be incorrect.  In order to "start the clock", however, you should make sure that you 1) truly believe the information to be incorrect, 2) inform the credit union in writing explaining what you believe the error to be, 3) always send copies of the documents that support your case (never originals), and 4) use certified or registered mail so you have proof both that they received it and when they received it.  A sample credit dispute letter can be found at the Federal Trade Commission Website at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre13.shtm.  You can find the mailing address for the "big three" credit unions at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/helpcu.

Be very careful of companies that charge a lot of money to help "fix" your credit report.  Many times, they are doing for you what you could easily do yourself more effectively, and are charging  you money for it!  Tell them to take a hike, get educated, and try your best to handle it yourself.  If you are going to jump in with one of these kinds of companies, read the agreement very carefully and get a friend who is familiar with credit and/or finance to read it over for you as well.

So if you found no errors on your credit report, great!  If you did find a few, get to work on writing those letters.  Either way, there are multiple ways you can improve your now-accurate credit report and related score.  We take a look at that next, in part 3.

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