In some cases, negative credit report items can be removed by talking to your creditors. These items may include one-time missed payments and collection accounts. You can also remove credit report errors by filing disputes with the three major credit bureaus.
There are things you can do to clean up your credit report. And yes there are, unfortunately, bad players out there who claim to be able to clean up your credit report in no time (for a hefty fee).
There are two very important things to know about the credit repair industry. No. 1, anything a credit repair company can do, you can do yourself for free. And No. 2, you cannot remove accurate and timely items.
Only the creditor that placed the accurate negative item in your credit bureau file can remove it before it ages off (usually after seven years). But, unlike breaking a mirror, you don’t need to suffer seven years of bad luck. There are things you can do to repair and rebuild credit that has been damaged by negative items.
There is so much you can do that in fact, I have written an entire book on this subject called ”Credit Repair Kit For Dummies.” Given the limitations of this column, let’s focus on just a few of my favorite tried and true actions you can take to improve matters.
The first is challenging information in your credit report, followed by getting a creditor to reverse a negative item and, lastly, using positive new information to offset credit damage.
How to remove or offset negative credit report items
Dispute credit report errors
The law allows you to dispute any item on your credit report in good faith if you are uncertain of its validity. In other words, if you can’t find records that confirm the item, you can’t recall missing a payment or you are just uncertain that the information has been reported correctly or is even yours, you can ask the bureaus to prove it or remove it.
The first thing you must do is to pull your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus. These are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You are entitled to a free copy of each report annually at AnnualCreditReport.com.
I recommend pulling them all at once if you are concerned about your credit now so that you know exactly where you stand with each reporting agency. Each one may have different information about you, as not all creditors report to all bureaus and the bureaus don’t share information.
The best way to communicate with the bureaus is via good old-fashioned snail mail, sent certified with a return receipt requested. This will establish a paper trail that will serve you well should problems arise and is well worth the cost of the extra postage.
Go over the reports carefully and make note of any items that show up on one or two reports but not all three. This may not be a mistake; it could just be that one bureau has more information than the others or it could indicate an error. But it is good to know what the differences are. Also, look for any items that you do not believe belong to you.
The credit reporting bureaus and the creditors who report your data to them are made up of people, just like you and me, and sometimes mistakes are made. Actually, mistakes are made on about 25% of all credit reports.
Mistakes can be corrected and items removed if they truly don’t belong on your report. A few years ago there was a Steve Bucci who was high up in the Department of Defense. I liked seeing him quoted in the news, but would not have liked it if his credit showed up on my report.
In the case of accounts that are yours but that you believe are being mistakenly reported as negative items or beyond their expiration dates, you will need to include any information you have about the account in question (for instance, how it is shown on your report) and the reason you do not believe the account is being reported correctly (copies of statements or letters from the lender).
Ask for verification from them because it could be that the account is listed under a name similar to yours. Accounts listed as collections are notorious for not having backup data to substantiate their entries. As accounts are sold and resold, identifying information often gets lost. If this is the case, the account will be removed.
See related: 10 tips to improve your credit score in 2020
Ask your creditors to remove negative items
Negative items like late payments generally cannot be removed by the bureaus themselves, but you might be able to work with the creditor in question to have them removed. This is especially true if you made a one-time error and you have a generally good relationship with the creditor.
Creditors like to keep their customers – that’s you – happy if they can. But this is not something you can do over and over again. Generally, creditors may occasionally give you some leeway, but after that you must take your lumps and move on.
I have bumbled a payment or two in my time, but I have always called the creditor and made a good pitch about why they should cut a loyal customer like me some slack. It almost always works.
For major lateness like a 90-day delinquency, a good story may not be enough. I suggest you include an offer to pay the arrearage at once if they would be so kind as to reverse the negative entry. You may need to ask for a supervisor who has the authority to make the change, but it can be done.
Other items, like a collection notation, are again something you might be able to have removed by the creditor or collector if you incorporate removing the notations with a promise to pay over a set period of time.
It is always best to get a written agreement upfront that the item will not be reported before you pay off a collector. What you can do is request that the item be removed (sometimes called “pay-for-delete”) or at least be noted as a “paid collection.”
While this is far better than a “settled” item, which is when you come to an agreement to pay them less than the full balance, it generally won’t help your credit score. Furthermore, experts say large, reputable debt collection agencies won’t agree to pay-for-delete agreements, and they’re less common than they have been in years past.
Add more positive data to your credit report
Whether your file is thin or fat, adding positive trade lines will always help your score. Negative information counts for less and less each month as it ages until it disappears altogether in seven years. But around year two, most negative items have lost their big impact.
To rebuild your credit faster than just waiting for time to heal your wounds, try adding new accounts. Easy adds include gas and retail cards, secured credit cards, passbook loans and installment loans on small furniture purchases.
Adding positive information to your file will speed your score recovery by balancing or offsetting negative data quickly. Using programs like Experian Boost and UltraFICO can also be helpful in getting approved when you decide to apply for new credit.
Of course, be sure to make those new payments on time, every time, and you’ll be in the good credit column before you know it.
Remember to keep track of your score!