Posts Categorized: Credit Reports

Can I remove negative, but accurate, info from my credit report?

Generally, you don’t have the right to remove negative accurate information from your credit report. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, creditors and credit reporting agencies are free to report negative information about you as long as that information is correct. This accurate, negative information can remain on your credit report for seven years in most cases.

An exception to this general rule is when your credit report shows accurate, but negative, information multiple times. For example, let’s say you have a delinquent credit card account. After a few months of delinquency, the credit card company sells the account to a debt-buyer. If both the original creditor and debt buyer are reporting that you owe money, that’s something you could dispute in good faith. Otherwise, it might look like you owe twice as much as you actually owe.

Beware of any company that promises that it can remove accurate negative information. It’s likely a credit repair scam. These scams usually prey on people with poor credit. They demand large, up-front fees and promise to get all negative information removed, even if the info is accurate. They try to game the error dispute process by sending repeated and shallow dispute letters in an effort to overwhelm the credit reporting agency into removing the information by mistake. However, the credit bureaus have caught on and this sort of gamesmanship is no longer successful. Save your money and work to rebuild your credit the right way.

How to get your credit report and credit score

Federal law allows you to get one free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) every 12 months. Use the website AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free copy. This is the only website to get your free report. Beware of imposter websites.

You can also order your free report over the phone by calling (877) 322-8228 or by mail by filling out this form and mailing it to Annual Credit Report Request Service; P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348. You can order all three reports at once, or you can stagger the reports every couple of months so that you can monitor your credit reports throughout the year. Consider using this staggering technique before you pay for a credit monitoring product.

Your credit report won’t contain your credit score, but there are a couple of easy ways to get it. First, many credit cards provide your credit score on each billing statement. If you have credit cards, check your billing statements to see if your score is provided. Another way to get it is to buy it from one of the credit bureaus. You can also buy your credit score at any time from MyFICO.com. Keep in mind that your credit score may be different depending on who you buy it from.

If your credit score seems low, it’s possible that errors on your credit report are dragging your score down. That’s why it’s critical to review your credit reports carefully for some of the most common inaccuracies, as well as signs of identity theft or a mixed credit file. If there are mistakes on your credit report, you should write a dispute letter. If your dispute letter doesn’t clear up the problem, or if you’ve been denied credit due to a mistake on your credit report, you should talk to an attorney who handles Fair Credit Reporting Act cases.

Credit denial due to your credit report? What to do next.

If  your loan application has been turned down, or if your interest rate is higher than it should be, the first thing you should do is find out why. Under federal law, a lender is required to tell you certain things if it denied your credit application or took “adverse action,” such as increasing your interest rate. These things include:

*The name, address, and telephone number of the credit reporting agency that provided the report the lender used;

* The credit score it used in making its lending decision and the key factors that affected this score;

* Inform you of your right to obtain a free copy of your credit report from the credit reporting agency that provided the report; and

* The process for fixing mistakes on your credit report.

This information will most likely be provided to you in a letter, called an adverse action notice. Once you have this letter, you should follow the instructions for obtaining a copy of the credit report that the lender used. It can usually be obtained online through the credit reporting agency’s website.

Once you have your credit report, you should review it for common errors. If you see accounts that don’t belong to you or accounts showing a balance that you’ve paid off, the next step is to dispute these errors with the credit bureaus.

It’s important to note that you must dispute the errors with the credit reporting agencies (ie. Experian, Equifax, or Trans Union) not the creditor (ie. Capital One, Wells Fargo, etc.) to protect your rights.

When the credit reporting agency receives your dispute, they are required to investigate. They are also required to communicate your dispute to the creditor that is reporting the inaccurate information. The creditor is also required to investigate your dispute. Generally, these investigations must be completed within 30 days and the credit reporting agency must notify you of the results of the investigations within 5 business days of the day the investigations were completed.

If the credit reporting agency hasn’t corrected the inaccurate information after completing its investigation, you might consider writing a more detailed dispute letter and providing additional documents or information to support your dispute. You may also consider talking to a lawyer who handles credit reporting cases for advice about what to do next. If the credit reporting agency or creditor didn’t conduct a reasonable investigation of your dispute, you may have legal claims against them under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. An attorney can advise you about these possible claims and help you with the next steps.

Recovering from identity theft

Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information to open new accounts or makes unauthorized charges on your existing accounts. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 17.6 million people were victims of identity theft in 2014. That’s approximately 7% of all U.S. adults, age sixteen or older. Here are some tips on how to spot identity theft and what to do if you’ve become a victim of it.

How to spot identity theft

Identity TheftGet in the habit of regularly reviewing your credit reports. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you the right to one free credit report every year from each of the three main credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. You can obtain these free reports from the website AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the only website where you can get your free report. Watch out for imposter websites. If you request the three reports separately and stagger them every four months or so, you can monitor your credit throughout the year at no charge. Consider using this staggering technique before paying for a credit monitoring service.

Once you have your credit report, look for incorrect personal info, such as addresses you never lived at, inaccurate social security number, or incorrect middle names or nicknames. These may be signs of identity theft. You should also look for accounts that you didn’t open or for credit report inquires from companies you never applied for credit from. Any accounts you don’t recognize should be red flags. Also, if the balances on your existing accounts appear to be much higher than you think they should be, that could be a sign of unauthorized or fraudulent charges.

In addition to reviewing your credit reports, you should get in the habit of checking the monthly billing statements for all of your existing accounts for suspicious charges. It’s also important that you don’t ignore bills for accounts you don’t recognize or debt collection letters or calls for debts you don’t think you owe. While it’s tempting to assume that these bills or collection efforts are a mistake and will go away, they may very well be a signal that someone has stolen your identity.

Call the companies where you know fraud has occurred

If you spot unauthorized charges on your existing accounts or fraudulently-opened new accounts, you should contact those creditors immediately. It’s best to contact the company’s fraud department and ask them to freeze or close the account. Make a note of who you talked to and the date you talked to them and keep it for your records.

Place a fraud alert on your credit reports

The next step is to place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports. All three of the main bureaus–Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union–allow you to do this online. A fraud alert is free and it makes it more difficult for someone to open new accounts in your name. An initial fraud alert lasts for 90 days and requires creditors to take reasonable steps to confirm your identity before opening a new account. If you provide a phone number with an initial fraud alert, creditors will contact you before opening a new account.

You may also consider placing an extended fraud alert on your credit reports. An extended fraud alert lasts for seven years and requires lenders to contact you in person before opening a new account. You may also think about a credit freeze. A freeze stops anyone from accessing your credit report until you lift the freeze. Under Minnesota law, victims of identity theft can place a credit freeze for free. Non-victims must pay a fee of $5.

File an Identity Theft Report with the Federal Trade Commission (and consider filing a police report)

You should also file an Identity Theft Report with the FTC, which can be done online at IdentityTheft.gov. After filing the report, the website will create a recovery plan for your situation. You should print the Identity Theft Report and recovery plan for your records. You can also create an account after you file the report, so that you can access your report and recovery plan later.

After you file the report with the FTC, you should consider filling a police report too because identity theft is a crime. Contact your local police department and tell them you want to report that someone stole your identity. You should give them proof of identity, proof of your address, a copy of your FTC report, and all of the information you have about the identity theft. Make sure to get a copy of the police report and keep it for your records.

Close fraudulently-opened accounts and remove unauthorized charges to existing accounts

Make a list of all the accounts opened by the identity thief and any suspicious charges to your existing accounts. Call the fraud department for each of these creditors and provide them with a copy of the FTC Identity Theft Report and police report (if you have one). Ask that all fraud accounts be closed immediately and that any unauthorized charges be reversed. Ask for confirmation in writing that the account is closed or charges are reversed and that you don’t have any liability for these accounts or charges. Keep copies of these letters.

Write dispute letters to the credit bureaus for all fraud accounts showing on your credit report

Write a letter to each of the big-three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union). Tell them about every single account that was opened through identity theft. A good way to do this is to send them a copy of your credit report and circle or star all the fraudulent accounts. Include a copy of your FTC Identity Theft report and police report if you have one. Make sure to request in your letter that they block all of these accounts from your credit reports. A good sample letter can be found at the FTC website. Keep copies of these letters, as well as copies of the responses you get from the credit bureaus.

If you get collection calls for letters for fraud accounts, notify the debt collector of the identity theft

It’s no surprise that most identity thiefs don’t make payments on the debts they rack up in your name. As a result, many identity theft victims receive collection calls and letters from debt collectors. If this happens, notify the debt collector in writing that you are a victim of identity theft and that you don’t owe the money they are trying to collect. Send them a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Report, police report, and any letters from the creditor confirming that you don’t owe money. Keep a copy of your letter and any collection letters you get in response. It’s also a good idea to keep a call log of all the collection calls and messages you get.

Contact an attorney if the fraud accounts aren’t removed from your credit reports after you dispute them, or if a debt collector keeps contacting you after you’ve told them about the identity theft

If the credit bureaus don’t remove the fraud accounts after you dispute them in writing, or if debt collectors continue to hound you after you’ve told them about the identity theft, you should contact a consumer attorney in your state to discuss the situation in depth. There are powerful laws, such as the Fair Credit Report Act and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, that can be used against credit reporting agencies, creditors, and debt collectors who don’t follow the law. A consumer attorney can help clean up your credit report and stop collection calls, as well as discuss any legal claims that you may have to hold wrongdoers accountable for breaking the law.

 

Featured photo by Don Hankins /  C.C. 2.0

Common credit reporting errors: the “mixed file”

Unfortunately, many credit reports contain errors. One common type of credit report error is the mixed file. A “mixed file” is a term used to describe a credit report when credit information for one person is placed on the credit report of another person, creating a false description of the person’s credit history.  Occasionally, this problem is caused by the “furnisher” of credit information (ie. a bank or credit card company). For example, a bank may incorrectly report that a spouse is responsible for a mortgage loan that was only in his wife’s name.

Mixed fileMore often, a mixed file is caused by the way credit reporting agencies match data to a consumer’s file to create his credit report. Credit reporting agencies get mountains of credit data from creditors and public records. This data is then matched to an individual consumer’s credit report through identifying information such as name, address, and social security number. Mixed files occur when the credit reporting agency’s computer doesn’t correctly match the identifying information in the credit data to the identifying information in the credit report. The credit reporting agencies closely guard their exact matching criteria and
process, but it appears that commons reasons for mixed files
include:

* Mismatches between generations with the same name (ie. Jr./Sr.)

* People with similar names (ie. Jon Smith / Jonathan Smith)

* People with similar social security numbers

Mixed files are a big problem. According to one study, 44% of consumer complaints to the FTC involved mixed files. It’s a particularly serious problem with the other person’s accounts are delinquent or in collections. This can torpedo your credit score and lead to debt collection calls for a debt you don’t owe. And mixed files are often very difficult to fix because it can be difficult to prove a negative–that the account isn’t yours. You may have to submit birth certificates, social security cards, or sworn statements in order to prove an account doesn’t belong to you.

If your credit report appears to have been mixed with someone else’s, the first step is to write a detailed dispute letter to the credit reporting agency. You may have to follow up with additional information if the credit reporting agency requests more details or documents. Unfortunately, many mixed files are not resolved through the informal dispute process and only a lawsuit can get the credit report cleaned up. If you’ve disputed your mixed file and haven’t gotten it fixed yet, your next step should be to talk to an attorney who is familiar with credit reporting issues and can advise you of your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

 

Featured photo by kenjoey / C.C. 2.0

Common credit report errors to look for on your report

Your credit report is becoming increasingly important in our data-driven society. Lenders use it to determine your eligibility and terms for all types of credit. Employers may use it to determine whether to hire you. It’s therefore critical to review your credit report on a regular basis to make sure it doesn’t contain any incorrect information. Studies have shown that nearly 80% of credit reports contain a mistake of some kind. Here are some of the common credit report errors:

Incorrect name. Make sure your name is right, especially if your name is relatively common. An incorrect middle name or nickname may be a sign that someone else’s information is incorrectly on your report. For example, if your name is Samuel and you sometimes go by Sam, make sure that the name Samantha isn’t showing on your report.

Inaccurate biographical info. Similarly, make sure that the correct social security number and address appears on your report. Most reports will also list previous addresses. Make sure these are accurate too. If an address you never lived at shows up on your report, that’s a sign that someone else’s info may be on your report.

Mistaken account status. Review each account to be sure that current accounts are not reported as delinquent and that open accounts aren’t showing as closed.

Duplicate reporting. Make sure that accounts aren’t mistakenly listed twice on your credit report. This could lead a lender to believe that you have more debt than you actually do.

Accounts that aren’t yours. Any accounts that don’t belong to you should be an immediate red flag. This mistake is often caused when your file is mixed with another person’s file. It could also be a sign that someone has stolen your identity and fraudulently opened accounts in your name.

If your credit report contains these, or other mistakes, your next step is to notify the credit reporting agency of the errors and ask it to correct them. This dispute will trigger the agency’s duties under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Normally, credit reporting agencies have 30 days to investigate credit report errors and correct them. Unfortunately, these agencies don’t always take consumer disputes seriously and you may have to dispute multiple times to get the mistake corrected. If you’ve sent multiple disputes and the credit reporting agency still hasn’t corrected your credit report error, you may want to consult with an attorney who handles credit reporting issues. An attorney can advise you about your options to get your inaccurate credit report corrected.

 

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA): an overview

The Fair Credit Reporting Act is a federal law that regulates consumer credit reporting agencies, such as Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The FCRA also regulates those who provide information to the credit reporting agencies and those who use the information in a consumer credit report.

FCRA - Credit ReportStudies have shown that nearly 80% of consumer credit reports contain errors of some kind. Examples of the type of errors found include accounts mistakenly listed as delinquent, loans listed twice, and inaccurate personal information. As the credit reporting industry has increased their use of automated procedures, additional problems have arisen. One common such problem is when information for one person is listed on another person’s report (known as a merged or mixed file). A similar problem arises when someone’s identity is stolen and accounts are opened fraudulently. These fraudulent accounts then show up on the identify theft victim’s credit report and can be difficult to get removed.

There are a couple of reasons why inaccurate information ends up on a credit report. First, the information provided to the credit reporting agency may itself be inaccurate. Second, the CRA might assigned the reported information to the wrong consumer’s file. Whatever the reason, these mistakes may lead to a person being denied for credit or receiving credit on less favorable terms. And increasingly, many employers are reviewing a job applicant’s credit history when making employment decisions, which creates the possibility of a person being denied a job based on incorrect credit report information.

Unfortunately, the FCRA does not require credit reporting agencies to report accurate information. It merely requires them to use reasonable procedures to ensure the maximum possible accuracy. The Act is a bit toothless in this regard. Where the FCRA does have some teeth, however, is in its investigation requirement. Under the FCRA, if a person disputes information in her report to a CRA, the agency must investigate the dispute and correct the disputed information. Despite this clear-cut obligation, many consumer disputes do not result in the inaccurate information being removed from their report. One possible reason for this is that the CRA’s customers are lenders, not consumers. For this reason, reporting agencies have an incentive to over-include items at the expense of accuracy.

Fortunately, the CRA’s failure to conduct a reasonable investigation runs afoul of the FCRA and the person may bring a lawsuit to enforce the law and hold the CRA accountable. If the consumer proves that the CRA willfully failed to conduct a reasonable investigation of the dispute, she is entitled to $1,000 in statutory damages or her actual damages (such as loss of credit, higher interest rates, or even provable emotional distress). If, however, the credit reporting agency was merely negligent in failing to conduct a reasonable investigation of the dispute, the person is only entitled to her actual damages. If no actual damages are suffered, the consumer will lose the suit. In addition, the FCRA requires the credit reporting agency to pay successful consumer litigant’s reasonable attorney fees and costs.

If you learn of a mistake on your credit report, your first step is to dispute it with the credit reporting agency. If the CRA fails to correct the error after receiving your dispute letter, you may consider talking to an attorney who handles FCRA cases. The attorney will be able to recommend next steps to get the mistake fixed and will be able to advise you if a FCRA lawsuit is an option.

 

Featured image by CafeCredit.com / C.C. 2.0

 

 

 

Stop collection calls for someone else’s debt

Photo by Chris Potter

Photo by Chris Potter

On of the most frequent consumer complaints received by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are annoying collection calls for someone else. It’s unclear whether these collectors are intentionally pursuing the wrong person or that they’ve made a mistake. But if you’re getting calls or letters from a collector for someone else’s debt, you probably don’t care why it’s happening, you just want the collection attempts to stop. Here are some suggestions to stop collection calls for someone else.

Collection calls for someone else

If a debt collector is calling or writing you about a debt that you don’t owe, the first thing you should do is tell them very clearly that they have the wrong person and that this is someone else’s debt. Be polite but firm. The collector may ask you to confirm the last four digits of your social security number or a similar personal identifier. While it may be unwise to give the collector your full social security number, there probably isn’t too much risk in giving them  the last four digits to confirm that the debt isn’t yours. The collector may ask you if you know the actual account-holder and how to reach them. While you’re under no obligation to do so, you may consider passing along the other person’s information if you know it.

In addition to verbally telling the collector that it is someone else’s debt, you may consider sending a follow-up letter confirming what you told them. Identify yourself in the letter and then write something like: “you called me on this date at this number. I am not the person who owes this debt. Please stop contacting me.” If you know any details about the account in question, include a reference to those in your letter to be sure the collector can properly identify the account. Send this letter certified mail with a return receipt and keep a copy of the letter and receipt for your records.

You should also keep detailed records of any additional collection attempts after you’ve notified the collector that the debt isn’t yours. Keep track of the time, dates, and duration of any additional calls and save any voice messages. If you think the calls are robocalls, make a note of that and why you think so. Also, keep copies of any letters or other documents that they send you.

It’s also a good idea to check your credit reports to make sure the other person’s debt isn’t listed on your reports. Use Annual Credit Report to get free copies of your credit reports from the three major credit reporting agencies. Once you have the reports, make sure that the other person’s account isn’t showing up on your credit report. If it is, you should send a dispute letter to each of the credit bureaus incorrectly reporting that account. Take a look at this post for more information about how to dispute incorrect information on your credit report.

If you’ve told the debt collector that you are not the right person and continue to get collection calls for someone else, it’s time to talk to a consumer rights attorney to discuss the situation in more detail. In addition to helping you stop the collection attempts, a consumer attorney can advise you whether you have any claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act against the debt collector. If the debt doesn’t belong to you, you’ve told the collector that, and the collector still keeps calling, it deserves to get sued under the FDCPA and be held accountable for harassing an innocent consumer.

Collection lawsuit for a debt that isn’t yours

If you get served with a collection lawsuit for someone else’s debt, you need to take additional steps. You should do everything suggested above, but you also have to submit an answer to the lawsuit. In Minnesota, the answer must be submitted within 20 days. An answer is a formal legal document that responds to each of the allegations in the complaint. If the debt isn’t yours, you should be able to deny most of the allegations in the lawsuit. You should also note somewhere in your answer that the debt is someone else’s. Even if you don’t owe the debt, you have to answer the lawsuit. Failure to respond to the lawsuit will likely result in a default judgment against you. A default judgment can be difficult (and expensive) to overturn, even if the debt isn’t yours. It may also lead to garnishments and other unpleasantness.

Because the consequences of a collection lawsuit are quite serious, you should strongly consider discussing your situation with a consumer lawyer. A consumer lawyer can help you prepare an answer to the lawsuit and also advise you if you have possible counterclaims against the debt collector for pursuing the wrong person.

 

 

How to dispute an error on your credit report

It’s an unfortunate reality that many consumer credit reports contain errors. Here’s what to do if you discover an error on your credit report:

1.   Write a letter to the credit reporting agency explaining what information you believe is inaccurate. When the credit reporting agency gets your letter, they must conduct an investigation and remove any information that cannot be confirmed as accurate. The CRA is required to send the furnisher (the business providing the information on the report) all of the information that you provide. Your letter should contain the following:

  • (a) Your full name and address. You may also consider including your social security number to ensure that the CRA locates your file.
  • (b) Identification of every single item that you believe is inaccurate. One way to do this is to include a copy of your credit report and circle each of the items you dispute.
  • (c) An explanation of why each disputed item is incorrect. Be detailed and describe your dispute as if you were explaining it to a young child. CRAs may disregard your dispute if it isn’t sufficiently detailed.
  • (d) Attach copies of all of the proof that you have that supports your dispute.
  • (e) Tell the CRA if you have previously disputed these items, provide the details of these prior disputes (including any phone disputes), and explain how the CRA’s failure to correct the errors is harming you.
  • (f) Most importantly, tell the CRA what you want them to do (ie. delete the incorrect entry; modify it, etc).

2.   Mail the letter certified, return receipt requested, and keep a copy of the letter and green card for your records. Address the letter to the credit reporting agency whose report contains the error. Some experts advise sending a copy of the dispute letter to the furnisher. This isn’t a bad idea, but you’re not required to do so. The CRA is required to send the furnisher all the information that you provide them with.

3.   You may have to write several dispute letters. The CRA may not fix the error after your first letter. Be persistent and write follow-up dispute letters until you get the mistake fixed. Avoid the shortcut of just sending the CRA another copy of your first dispute letter. Read their response to your previous dispute letter and do your best to address the reasons they denied your dispute in your follow-up letter. Don’t be afraid to detail your previous attempts to fix the error and to describe the harm the CRA’s failure to correct the mistake has caused you in these follow-up letters. And be sure to keep copies of all the letters that the CRA sends you in response to your dispute letters.

4.   If you’ve written multiple letters and the CRA still hasn’t fixed the error, it’s time to talk to a consumer attorney. If you’ve followed all these steps and the error hasn’t been fixed, contact a consumer attorney with experience handling cases under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

5.   Finally, a few words of caution:

  • It’s perfectly acceptable for a CRA to report accurate negative information. Don’t abuse the dispute process by seeking removal of accurate negative information. Similarly, be very wary of any credit repair “specialist” that promises to improve your credit score by using repeated and shallow dispute letters or similar questionable tactics.
  • It’s much better to write dispute letters than to dispute over the phone or to use the CRA’s internet form. Writing letters creates a paper trail for your records and it allows you to attach proof of your dispute. It’s also possible that a CRA’s internet dispute form might require you to waive some of your rights when submitting your dispute electronically.
  • Avoid using sample dispute letters that you find on the internet. Many of the sample letters you will find on the internet are shallow, deceptive, or even fraudulent. There is no magic language for writing a good dispute letter. Just adequately identify yourself, identify the account you’re disputing, and provide a detailed explanation of the error. It’s much better to use your own words than to rely on boilerplate language from a possibly untrustworthy source on the internet. If you must look at a form letter before writing your own, there’s a sample letter on the Federal Trade Commission web site.

Building credit after bankruptcy

bankruptcyIn an earlier post, we told you about the effect bankruptcy can have on your credit score. People who put in some effort to rebuild their credit after bankruptcy can usually make their score rise a lot faster than people who just wait for their credit to fix itself. here we give you some tips for boosting your credit score after bankruptcy.

1. Check-up on your credit report. After filing bankruptcy, it’s important to make sure that your creditors have wiped your debts clean, or at least noted that the debt was discharged in your case. If old pre-bankruptcy debts come back to haunt you, they can drag down your score. That’s why for our clients, we offer a free check-up appointment after a bankruptcy case is finished. We’ll look over your credit report to make sure everything that was supposed to be wiped out was wiped out. If any accounts are still showing as active or in collection, we may use the Fair Credit Reporting Act to fix your report.

2. Secured credit cards (and other products designed to fool the credit scoring system). After bankruptcy, you might not be eligible to get a new credit card, or the cards you can get might not be the ones you want (watch out for sky-high rates, and predatory contract terms from the credit cards that solicit recent bankruptcy filers). Secured credit cards work like this: you give the credit card company some money for collateral (say, $500) and they give you a credit limit equal to the amount of collateral. But you use it like a credit card–your charges don’t draw down the collateral–the money you deposited just stays on file in case you default on the debt. And unlike a debit card, your on-time payments will help boost your score.

You can get a secured card by comparing cards on bankrate.com. But it might be an even better idea to approach a local bank or credit union that you have a strong relationship with–they might offer low-cost products that are meant to help you without all the tricks and traps.

3. Eventually, get an unsecured credit card. Often, after a year or so of on-time payments, the secured credit card company will return the collateral money and convert the account into a full-fledged credit card. A few months of on-time payments may also qualify you for more credit. Gas and store credit cards will probably be easiest to get, although they don’t have quite the same score-boosting effect as major bank credit cards do. But remember what got you into trouble in the first place–pay off your balances in full every month, and watch out for sleazy credit card practices that might get you back in trouble.

4. Stay away from credit repair scams. There are services out there that claim they can fix your credit for a fee. But these services aren’t worth the hassle. First of all, some of them will commit fraud to by trying to remove negative, but true information from your credit report, which may get you into more trouble in the long run. Also, you can probably do anything they’d do for you on your own without spending the money. In particular, stay away from any service that want money upfront for fixing your credit–this is prohibited by the Credit Repair Organizations Act, a federal law that governs credit-fixing agencies.

If you’ve filed bankruptcy and want help rebuilding your credit, or just considering bankruptcy and want to know what the impact on your credit will be, give us a call.

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