You can pay off delinquent debts and improve your credit scores--but don't expect a quick fix. Cleaning up credit problems takes time. Negative information can remain on your credit reports for up to seven years, even if you've paid the debts. So-called credit repair firms may boast that they can quickly fix your credit, but the Federal Trade Commission says the companies often make promises they cannot deliver, and that you should repair your own credit.
Get free copies of your credit report at the website Annual Credit Report. Federal law entitles you to three different copies of your credit reports during a 12-month period. You can get one copy from the three major credit reporting bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Consider staggerinng your requests by ordering one every three or four months as you repair your credit. Visit the website and click on "Request Report" to order, or call 877-322-8228. The Annual Credit Report website is the only website sanctioned by the Federal Trade Commission t to offer completely free reports; copycat sites may offer free reports and also attempt to sell you other services.
Review every entry on your credit report for accuracy. Federal law gives you the right to challenge any inaccurate information and have it removed by the credit bureaus within about 30 days. Even accurate information can be challenged. Under the terms of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit bureaus must confirm the accuracy of any information you challenge--even if you know the information is true. The information must be removed if the credit bureau cannot confirm its accuracy during an investigation. This loophole is often exploited by credit repair agencies. For a fee, the agencies will challenge all negative information on your credit reports in hopes much of it will be deleted.
Write letters to the credit bureaus challenging any information your wish to dispute. Include your name, address and Social Security number. Include the name and account numbers for all the accounts you are disputing. Tell why you believe the information is inaccurate. You can argue that the account does not belong to you, that you never paid it late, or that the balance is incorrect. Or state another reason. You should receive a response in about five weeks.
Equifax P.O. Box 740241 Atlanta, GA 30374-0241 800-685-1111.
Experian P.O. Box 2104 Allen, TX 75013 888-397-3742
TransUnion P.O. Box 1000 Chester, PA 19022 800-916-8800.
Make payments to bring any delinquent accounts current. This is one of the most effective ways to improve your credit. A consistent history of on-time payments will improve your scores over time. Also contact creditors or debt collectors to pay off delinquent closed accounts.