Things You Should Know Before You Pay for a Credit Repair Company
Credit repair services find and address errors that could be hurting your credit scores. You can also fix your credit for free by doing it all yourself if you prefer. This in-depth guide will explain how the credit repair process works and the pros and cons of hiring the best credit repair company.
What Is a credit repair company?
A credit repair company is an organization that tries to remove negative information from a customer's credit history. Legitimate credit repair companies will focus on removing inaccurate or unverifiable information from a credit report. However, avoid credit repair firms that claim to remove accurate information. No one can do it legally.
How to choose a credit repair company
A good credit repair company will have several telltale signs that set it apart from some of the fly-by-night companies that continue to surface. One key thing you should look for is that the organization has licensed legal staff and is registered with the Attorney General. Another important aspect is the length of time they have been in business.
Further, a reputable organization will offer more than just credit repair. They should also provide you with free credit reports, credit counseling, and strategies to rebuild good credit. After all, there is no point in reestablishing good credit if you don’t know how to keep it.
Finally, you will want to make sure that progress is being made at an acceptable rate once you choose a company to go with. Unfortunately, there are too many crooked organizations out there today that will be more than happy to collect a monthly fee but are slow to act on your issues.
The best credit repair companies provide users with an online dashboard that offers credit monitoring. This allows you to see your own credit reports and track your progress.
Whether you choose to hire a credit repair company or not, it is smart to set up credit monitoring for all three credit bureaus. This will help protect you from fraud and is a priceless tool for rebuilding your credit.
How can you verify a credit repair firm is legitimate?
There are several ways to vet a credit repair firm. Here are some basic steps to get you started.
- Check they are registered with the relevant regulatory body in your state. It's typically the Attorney General Office or the Secretary of State.
- Read reviews on financial comparison sites, such as SuperMoney, to see what other consumers have to say about a company.
- Search for the company on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s complaint database.
You can also learn a lot about a company from what they promise you. Run for the hills when a company says it can:
- Remove accurate information from your report.
- Create a new credit identity for you.
- Or guarantee they can improve your credit.
- Avoid any credit repair companies that tell you to avoid contacting the credit bureaus.
How do credit repair companies work?
A legitimate credit repair company will help you remove negative items from your credit report that are inaccurate, false, or unsubstantiated. Avoid credit services that claim they can remove accurate but negative items from your credit repair. You are probably dealing with a scam that could hurt your credit score instead of improving it.
First, it's worth highlighting that no reputable credit repair company will guarantee they can remove a negative item or that your credit score will improve.
Credit bureaus, the companies that manage credit reports, don't provide credit repair companies special treatment when it comes to correcting errors. It should take the same time to fix errors, whether you do it or a firm. Avoid any credit repair companies that tell you to avoid contacting the credit bureaus.
However, good credit repair firms provide speed and convenience when preparing documentation and communicating with creditors and credit bureaus. They also provide credit counseling and are ready to prepare goodwill and cease and desist letters when needed.
How do credit repair companies help you improve your credit score?
If you don’t have the time or inclination to fix your credit history yourself, a good credit repair company can help you for a reasonable monthly fee. A credit repair service will often give you a free consultation with a credit expert to get things started.
If you decide you are interested, you sign up for a monthly subscription (typically six months long) that you can extend or stop whenever you want.
Here are the most commons credit repair services offered.
- Examine and summarize your credit reports.
- Send dispute letters to the credit bureaus and creditors in your name.
- Following up on each dispute until it is resolved.
- Prove educational materials and financial tools to help you manage your own credit.
What type of issues can be hurting your credit score?
When checking your credit reports, the best credit repair companies will look for any issue that could be damaging your credit history. These items include:
- Inaccurate items. These are the simplest negative items to remove. They include spelling mistakes and incorrect amounts.
- Out of date items. Negative items cannot stay on your credit report forever. After a specified time, they must be removed. To illustrate, hard inquiries can only stay on your report for up to 2 years.
- Items without evidence to back them up. In some cases, creditors report negative items for which they don't have documentation. If a credit item cannot be validated, it must be removed.
- Fraudulent items. This includes negative items that stem from identity fraud. Fixing these mistakes is probably the hardest credit repair task. If you are the victim of identity fraud, report these items to the Federal Trade Commission.
What tools can a credit repair service use to fix your credit?
Once a credit repair company identifies all the issues in your credit report, they can start making a plan and schedule remediation actions. With your approval, the credit repair service can start dealing with negative items using two main tools.
- Formal dispute letters. These letters either point out inaccuracies in the item or request evidence of their validity.
- Cease and desist letters. In cases where you are being stalked by debt collection agencies, you can request them to stop contacting you if they have confused you with another consumer or there is some other issue that invalidates their claim. You may also use this method if you prefer to deal with them in court.
- Goodwill letters. As the name indicates, these letters kindly ask creditors to give you a break and remove a late payment you didn't notice or a failed payment due to some problem out of your control.
Frequently asked questions about the best credit repair companies
How long does it take for credit repair to work?
Improving your credit score can take anywhere from three months to several years, depending on the number of legitimate disputes you can make and what accurate negative items are in your credit report. The average consumer usually completes the credit repair process in about three to six months, but it can be less if your reports only have a few errors to correct.
Can credit repair companies remove hard inquiries?
Yes, credit repair companies can help you remove hard inquiries from your credit report if you didn't authorize them or they were fraudulent in some other way. However, you can also do this yourself without paying a monthly fee.
Checking your credit report for hard inquiries you don't recognize is important because it could be a sign that you are the victim of identity theft.
How much does credit repair cost?
Credit repair can be free (minus your time) if you remove negative items from your credit history yourself. If you decide to hire a credit repair agency, you usually have to pay a flat rate of $20 and $150 a month. Many top credit repair companies offer a free consultation before charging you a setup fee. or a monthly flat rate.
The price of credit repair varies depending on the company, the state you live in, and the type of services you need. Before you sign a contract, be sure you understand what you’re signing up for, how much you'll pay, and when you will be charged. Note that under the Credit Repair Organizations Act, credit repair companies are prohibited from demanding advance payment. In other words, they can’t charge you before any work is completed. Of course, this doesn't mean they have to wait until all your negative items have been removed before they start charging. Providing credit monitoring, credit counseling, and other credit services is enough to start charging you a monthly flat rate.
Do the best credit repair services offer a money-back guarantee?
Some of the top credit repair companies offer a money-back guarantee, but not all. A 90-day money-back guarantee can help remove some of the anxiety of getting taken advantage of by a scam. Of course, a money-back guarantee should not be the most important factor when searching for the best credit repair company for you. After all, fraudulent companies can also promise a money-back guarantee and then skip town.
How do the best credit repair companies price their services?
Pricing strategies vary, but most of the credit repair companies work on a monthly fee model. Monthly charges start as low as $20 and go up to $180, but most of the best credit repair companies charge less than $100 a month. Monthly fee models sometimes come with a money-back guarantee.
Another option reputable credit repair companies use is the pay-per-delete model. This usually involves a setup fee and a flat rate for each negative item removed. This method can get expensive fast if you have many negative items removed from your credit history.
What is a credit report dispute?
A credit report dispute occurs when you find an item on your credit report that you think is inaccurate, false, or unsubstantiated. In that case, you ask the credit bureaus reporting it to investigate the inaccuracy. For example, let's say you notice a credit card account on your three credit reports that you did not approve. You would contact the credit bureaus that have that information and ask them to correct the error.
Once you dispute the negative items on your credit reports, the three credit bureaus will investigate and notify the creditor. The creditor is then required to provide proof supporting the claim within 45 days. At that point, it's up to the agency to remove the transaction or leave it on there.
If your initial dispute is denied, you have the right to escalate the process. Usually, this means sending additional documentation, such as a receipt or canceled check, as evidence that the negative item was a mistake.
What methods do the best credit repair companies use to remove negative items and improve your credit score?
There are two main methods a credit repair service will use to remove a negative item: disputing with the credit bureau and disputing with the collection company or original debtor.
The first step is to check your three credit reports and list all the negative items on your credit reports that could be hurting your credit score. These can include late payments, unpaid debts, or multiple hard inquiries.
In cases where the negative item is clearly bogus or incorrect, they request a modification or removal. They then systematically request evidence from the credit bureaus to back each negative item. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit bureaus to provide you a copy of the contract or agreement that proves the item is accurate if you request it. If they cannot provide such a document, the account will be unverified, and under Federal Law, any unverified accounts must be removed.
If that doesn't work, you can sometimes fix your credit history by disputing it directly with the original debtor or the collections company handling the debt.
What is the Fair Credit Reporting Act? How does it help consumers?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a federal law that regulates how credit bureaus must operate and requires them to check the information they collect is, well, a fair and accurate summary of a consumer's credit history. The Act aims to protect consumers from inaccurate information that could be used unfairly against them.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act also helps protect consumers from identity theft because it requires credit bureaus (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian) to provide a free credit report every year.
Can I fix my own credit scores?
Yes, you definitely can. Start by getting copies of your full credit reports from all three bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). If you see any errors in your report, dispute them with the credit bureaus. Then, focus on paying down any credit card debt while making every bill payment on time. If you don't have any open credit accounts, consider applying for a credit card and paying the entire balance every month. If you don't qualify for a credit card, consider a secured credit card.
What is the Credit Repair Organizations Act?
The Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA) is a law that regulates how credit repair companies can behave when offering credit repair services for a profit.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the Act prohibits untrue or misleading representations and requires certain affirmative disclosures in the offering "credit repair" services. It also bars companies offering credit repair services from demanding advance payment, requires that credit repair contracts be in writing, and gives consumers certain contract cancellation rights.
Are credit repair companies legal?
Yes, credit repair companies are legally recognized businesses in all states except Georgia. In Georgia, it is a misdemeanor to operate a credit repair company that offers services to repair your credit score. Make sure the company that provides you with credit repair services is registered with the relevant agency in your state before you pay for credit repair services.
Is hiring a credit repair company worth it?
The perceived value of a credit repair company will depend on your financial situation, the content of your credit report, and your expectations. If you expect a credit repair company to magically remove accurate negative items and increase your score by 200 points in a few weeks, you will be disappointed. There is nothing a credit repair company can do to improve your credit history that you can't with a little research and effort.
However, credit repair companies can save you a lot of time communicating with credit bureaus and debtors. This is particularly true when you deal with credit pros that understand the credit repair industry.
What can credit repair companies do?
Remember, there is nothing a credit repair company can do that you can't do for yourself. However, it is useful to know what you can realistically expect from a credit repair service. This includes:
- Asking for copies of your credit report from the three credit bureaus.
- Examining your credit reports for mistakes and inaccurate items.
- Send dispute letters to creditors and credit bureaus to request the removal of negative items.
- Ask credit bureaus to correct incomplete information.
- Send debt collectors cease-and-desist letters.
What can credit repair companies NOT do?
Beware of credit repair companies that overpromise and oversell. Even the top credit repair companies are limited in what they can do. Here is a brief list of what companies cannot do:
- Promise to improve your credit score by a specific amount.
- Require you to pay fees upfront.
- Ask you to pay a cancelation fee for canceling the service.
- Create a new credit file for you. This is illegal.
- Encourage you to lie and say that a legitimate item is false.
Are there any legit credit repair companies?
Yes, there are ethical and honest credit repair companies that provide legitimate credit repair services. One way to set apart legitimate credit repair companies from scams is to check how they charge for their services. Trustworthy credit repair companies will only charge you a fee after they have started providing credit repair services.
How can you spot a credit repair scam?
The best credit repair companies stay in business because they consistently provide value and focus on good customer service. Credit repair scams only exist to convince you to hand over your credit card and Social Security numbers with no intention of ever repairing your credit scores.
Here are some red flags to look out for:
- Guarantee results. Offering a money-back guarantee is great, but if a credit repair agency claims it can increase your credit score by 100 points overnight, you are probably dealing with a credit repair scam.
- Recommend you don't contact the credit reporting bureaus. If a credit repair company tells you not to contact credit reporting bureaus or creditors, don't hire them.
- They try to sell loans and credit cards. A credit repair company that immediately suggests you apply for credit cards through them may be looking to make a quick buck on commissions without repairing your credit score.
- Boast inside knowledge. Legitimate credit repair agencies repair your credit through persistence and efficiency, not by following a secret formula nobody else knows.
- Badly designed websites with unsecure servers (Avoid sites that use HTTP:// instead of HTTPS:// in the URL).
- Email addresses that don't match the website's name. If a business can't be bothered to invest in a business email account, they probably aren't planning to stay around for long.
- Bad reviews from independent comparison sites. Check several sites, such as SuperMoney, Better Business Bureau, and TrustPilot for reviews.
- Require upfront payments: Avoid companies that require payments before they do any work.
- Don't provide a phone number. Credit repair companies that don't provide a real phone number are often not real credit repair agencies.
If you come across a company you suspect is a scam, you can report them on the Federal Trade Commission site.
Is using a credit repair agency better than doing it yourself?
Not necessarily. It can be useful to view credit repair services like car maintenance. Some people prefer to change their own oil and rotate their tires. And they may do a better job than the average mechanic. However, many prefer to leave messy and tedious jobs to professionals who can do it faster and more efficiently. The tasks involved in credit repair are not complicated, but you need to be persistent and systematic when following credit repair strategies. That is where hiring a top credit repair company can be helpful.
Who is the best credit repair company?
The list above includes the best credit repair companies in the industry. Check the rates and credit services they all provide to find the best fit for you.