Remember when we were kids? Did you know what a credit score was then? Of course not. Our teachers could get us to behave simply by promising us that, if we didn’t get in line, the incident would be written up and go on “our permanent records.” We were taught to believe that, yes, getting in trouble in first grade really could keep us from ever succeeding in life, should a future employer ever find out about it. It was an effective system…until we got older and realized that nobody was going to care about most of that stuff.
Heck, even that oh-so-important piece of paper otherwise known as a college degree only carries so much weight. Don’t get us wrong: you need to have a degree. You can’t even get hired as a french fry slinger without one anymore. Even so, the lines we were fed in high school and undergrad: that your major is what would determine the rest of your life and the type of job for which you would qualify is mostly hocum. With the exception of a few fields (like engineering and medicine), nobody cares about your major. They just care that you got a degree in something.
The Real Deal: Your Credit Score
No, the real permanent record, the one report that really will determine our successes and lifestyle is not a diploma, a school report or a degree. Our real permanent records are our credit reports and those? Well, even they aren’t permanent in the strictest sense of the word.
It’s a good thing too, because a massive amount of mistakes are made in credit reporting. Yep, in spite of their importance, creditors and agencies alike are frightful slackers when it comes to ensuring that a person’s details are accurate. You probably have mistakes on your credit report right now.
And these mistakes aren’t just “harmless” mistakes like “no, I lived in #8, not #18 when I had that address.” These mistakes can be huge, like listing a defaulted account that isn’t actually yours. Yikes! Yes, money is meant for spending but nobody wants to be held responsible for someone else’s credit problems!
The good news is that, as we’ve already said: the permanence of our credit reports isn’t truly permanent in the strictest sense of the word. Mistakes can be fixed. Creditors can be made to verify an account. I they fail to do so, you can have that account stricken from your report.
There are three basic methods for fixing mistakes, verifying debts and accounts and making sure that your credit report is 100% accurate: the simple (but not guaranteed) way, the hard but totally doable way and the best (but sometimes costly) way.
The Simple (But Not Guaranteed Way)
Most of the mistakes made on your basic information, like your name, your list of addresses, etc can be fixed very simply using the “error reporting” form that is provided by the credit reporting agency’s website. Use that!
Along side that, you will see information about disputing false account information. This is where, basically, you put a virtual red check mark next to any account that looks strange or that has outdated information. That virtual check mark tells the credit reporting agency that there is something wrong with the way the account is being reported. Often you can even tell the agency things like “this account is not mine” “this account has been resolved” etc. The credit reporting agency then investigates each of these check marks and verifies their correctness with the issuing creditor/account originator. If the agency can’t verify the information, the listing gets removed from your record.
It’s the simplest method but not all creditors are completely honest–especially debt collection companies. It also does not prevent the creditor from simply re-reporting the falsified information so that it shows back up on your record.
The Hard but Totally Doable Way
The “hard but totally doable way” is also one of the more reliable methods of cleaning up your credit and fixing your mistakes, especially if you are a Type A personality who likes to control as many of the details of a project as possible.
What you do here is, after you report the mistakes in your basic info to the credit reporting agencies, you contact all of the accounts listed on the report yourself. This cannot be done over the phone or via email. You will need to write out a very specifically worded letter asking the creditor to verify your debt and account standing. Send each letter “signature required delivery” through the USPS. This way you will receive tangible proof that someone in the creditor’s office received the letter. The creditor has thirty days to respond, in writing, to your request. If the creditor fails, contact the credit reporting agency. Request that the listing be stricken from your record. Often you’ll have to do this in writing and you’ll have to provide proof of the letter’s receipt, etc.
This method is definitely the longest and most detail oriented of the three.
The Best (But Sometimes Costly) Way
Hire someone to take care of this for you! There are lots of benefits to hiring a professional credit repair expert, particularly one with a legal background:
- They have more time and resources to dedicate to managing your report details
- Most creditors would rather deal with an agent than an individual
- Credit law expertise ensures that your repair efforts will be completely on the up and up
- Credit lawyers can also help bring suit (if needed) against creditors and collectors who might try illegal means of staying on your report.
Make sure, though, that you hire the right repair agent. There are lots of scammers out there. Be sure to do your due diligence. Run reputation checks on each agent and read their reviews. Check them out with the State Bar Association and Better Business Bureau.
Your credit is the most permanent of your permanent records, but that doesn’t mean it is etched in stone. If it’s wrong, you get to fix it!