Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How To Fix Your Credit

I posted my husband's credit story yesterday. The happy ending is that I pulled his credit up from the 470 toilet to just under 700, and you can too.

First, we pulled his credit reports and took a look at every collection. Sometimes it was hard to figure out what was what since the same collection might look different on the three different credit reports. By matching up amounts and account numbers, we were able to isolate the 13 accounts that were showing up on his reports.

Next, we paid everything. For some people, if a collection is old enough it might make more sense not to pay. If it is outside the statute of limitations you might not legally have to pay it. If it is that old, it might also be about to come off your report altogether and your money would be more smartly applied elsewhere.

Negative accounts stay on your report for up to 7 years. Your credit report will often give an estimated date that the collection will be removed. If you can wait for this date, it could save you money. However, if you're trying to fix your credit now you might need to suck it up and pay. For instance, most lenders require that all collections be paid in order to be approved for a mortgage.

If you do plan to pay off your collections, contact the creditor and discuss a pay for deletion agreement. Offer to pay the collection in full in exchange for it being deleted from your credit reports. Get the agreement in writing! Some creditors will happily do this, others will not. But always make an attempt before you just go ahead and pay anyway.

If you have a paid collection still on your credit report, you can still ask for a "good will" deletion. This means you contact the creditor (I've done it by phone and mail) and ask them to delete the paid collection out of the kindness of their hearts. Since we paid all of my husband's collections to stop garnishment of his bank accounts, this was our only way to get collections of his reports. We sent letters out on all of his accounts. Our very first response was successful! A local collection company agreed to delete 2 medical collections.

Our next responses were negative. Don't give up. Try again. Try again. And then try again. You might reach someone else (try mailing to different addresses!) who will take pity on you. You might annoy an office so much they finally give up. If there's a paid collection on your report the worst that can happen is that it stays there, so don't be afraid to bug a collection company until you get a deletion. Persistence pays off! In the end we got all of his collections deleted except his student loans and a Bank of America charge off - both notorious for never deleting.

If you see something on your report that you don't recognize or understand, try disputing it. Sometimes a collection will be removed as easily as that. If it comes back as verified, you can send a letter to the collection company requesting verification of the debt. If they can't provide this, my advise would be to continue disputing it. We disputed one of my husband's collections 3 times while also sending letters to the collection agency before it was finally deleted the 4th time we disputed.

If there are unpaid collections on your report, be prepared to pay them before you start trying to get them removed. Taking action can wake the beast, so to speak. You might find yourself barraged by phone calls. If you want a collection that should really be there deleted from your report, you're most likely going to have to pay it off first.

Once the majority of the issues on my husband's report were fixed, his credit bounced to 650 - a huge and welcome improvement! We then looked at ways to maximize his credit score. These are tips that can be applied even if you don't have any credit issues - coming in the next post!

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