Does Credit Repair Really Work?
It's very possible to fix your credit by yourself without spending any money. However, repairing your credit on your own can be a time-consuming process, so it might be worth hiring a credit repair company to dispute inaccuracies on your credit report and work with your creditors to resolve negative items.
The Basics of Credit Repair
However you feel about the credit system in the United States, it's tough to get by without credit. It's also hard to navigate financial life with a bad credit score.
To make things worse, many people have errors on their credit report without realizing it. According to a study from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 1 in 5 Americans has a mistake on their report.
This is why many people turn to credit repair as a way of fixing their credit and improving their score. Credit repair is the process of disputing mistakes and inaccuracies on your credit report, and it can also involve negotiating with creditors to remove negative items like charge offs and late payments.
While you can have great success doing this on your own, the reality is that most people are busy. In other cases, they simply don't want to deal with the hassle of sending dispute letters and following up with the credit bureaus.
Fortunately, there are credit repair companies that can do this for you in exchange for a fee. When you hire a credit repair company, they review your credit report, identify items to dispute, and then send dispute letters to the credit bureaus on your behalf.
How Credit Repair Companies Work
Credit repair companies can't guarantee results, and you should steer clear of any that do. However, a reputable company can identify items on your credit report that might be hurting your score and then dispute them with the credit bureaus.
Some credit repair companies offer additional services, such as ongoing credit monitoring or financial counseling. Here's how the credit repair process generally works when you hire a company to do it for you.
1. Review Your Credit Report
Credit repair companies start by getting copies of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Once they have your reports, they typically review them with you, checking for anything that can be disputed.
This can include anything from a late payment to an account that doesn't even belong to you. If this sounds surprising, consider the FTC study that says up to 20 percent of consumers have something that's flat out wrong on their credit report.
While you can certainly review your credit report on your own — and the law entitles you to one free report per bureau every 12 months — a good credit repair company may be able to spot things you might miss on your own.
2. Send Dispute Letters
After the credit repair company has flagged items for dispute, it prepares dispute letters for each credit bureau. Because the law also requires creditors to verify debts, the credit repair company might also send letters asking for this verification.
This can be an effective strategy, as creditors are required to investigate the item and provide proof that it's accurately reported. If a debt has been sold many times over to collections agencies, the creditor might not be able to verify it and must therefore remove it.
The credit repair company will also dispute negative items like outdated accounts, fraudulent accounts, and duplicates. If an item shouldn't be on your report, the credit bureau has to delete it.
3. Negotiate with Your Creditors
There's not much you can do to remove a negative item that's been accurately reported, but you may be able to persuade your creditor to remove it. Many credit repair companies will negotiate a pay-for-delete or other arrangement on your behalf.
In most cases, you'll need to pay at least part of the debt. However, many creditors are willing to accept a reduced amount if you can come up with a lump sum payment.
These types of negotiations aren't always successful, and creditors aren't required to accept money in exchange for removing a negative item from your credit report. On the other hand, it never hurts to try.
You can definitely attempt to negotiate with your creditors on your own, and you might get the result you're looking for. However, a credit repair company probably has more insight into which creditors are more open to negotiation, as well as what kinds of offers they're likely to accept.
4. Provide Ongoing Advice and Support
Rebuilding your credit takes time, and the work doesn't stop when you've disputed everything you can. Some credit repair companies offer advice and guidance on how to manage your credit even after the dispute process has ended.
Other credit repair companies will monitor your reports for any suspicious activity that could indicate fraud or identity theft. After you've gone through the tough job of disputing negative items, knowing you've got someone monitoring your report can give you peace of mind.
5 Items That Qualify for Dispute
While you can dispute any item you wish to challenge on your credit report, the credit bureaus are only obligated to follow the law. This means they generally won't remove an item unless it's outdated, inaccurate, or can't be verified.
When you work with a credit repair company, they look for items that have a good chance of getting removed. Items that typically qualify for dispute include:
Duplicate accounts - These are accounts that show up more than once on your credit report.
Accounts that don't belong to you - This can include a fraudulent account or an account that belongs to someone else that somehow ended up on your credit report.
Outdated accounts - Accounts are supposed to drop off your report after a certain period of time.
Inaccurate information - This can include an account showing an incorrect credit limit or balance, an error on a loan amount, reports of late payments when you've always paid your bill on time, or other mistakes that could be hurting your credit score.
Mistakes in account status - If an account is listed as past due when it's actually current, you can dispute it. Likewise, if an account is listed as closed when it's supposed to be marked as open, you can challenge this and get it corrected.
What You Shouldn’t Expect from Credit Repair
Credit repair can be a big help, but it's not a cure-all. There are limits to what credit repair can do, and it's important to be wary of any company that guarantees a specific result, as this can be a sign of a scam.
No Guaranteed Results
Keep in mind that credit repair companies don't provide any service beyond what you can do yourself. They don't have the power to force your creditors or the credit bureaus to remove bad items from your credit report.
If you have bad credit because you mismanaged your finances or got into trouble with credit cards, a credit repair company probably can't do much for you beyond making sure your creditors can verify your debts and perhaps negotiating a pay-for-delete if you have the money to offer in settlement.
However, not all credit repair companies offer negotiation services, and those that do typically charge a higher rate. In addition, creditors aren't obligated to accept settlements, so there's no guarantee these types of negotiations will work.
By law, credit repair companies can't promise a specific outcome, including a claim that your credit score will increase by a certain amount. Be wary about working with any company that says it can improve your score by 100 points or a certain percentage.
No Credit from Scratch
If you're just starting out in the world of credit, a credit repair company can't build credit for you or fix your insufficient credit history. This is something you have to do on your own.
On the plus side, it's usually easier to build credit from scratch than it is to repair bad credit. If you need to start from the bottom, there are tried and true credit-building strategies you can use to start establishing yourself as a responsible user of credit.
No New Credit Identities
If a credit repair company offers to scrap your old credit file in exchange for a brand new credit identity, this is almost certainly a scam. Moreover, it could be an invitation to commit fraud, so steer clear of any service that says it can get you a new social security number or help you create a new credit file.
Can Credit Repair Really Help My Credit Score?
Unfortunately, there's no way to guarantee that a credit repair company's services or your own DIY efforts will boost your credit score. Your chances of success depend on what's actually in your report, as well as how you manage your finances going forward.
First, does your credit report contain any items you can dispute? This will play a big role in whether credit repair works out in your favor.
Second, are you committed to rebuilding your credit? Credit repair is an ongoing process that requires time and effort, but the end result is a solid credit score that will continue to improve over time.
How to Hire a Legitimate Credit Repair Company
The credit repair industry has its share of predatory companies, so it's important to make sure you're dealing with a reputable service provider.
Because the company you choose will need access to your personal and financial information, you want to make sure you're dealing with a legitimate organization. Here are four things to look for when shopping around for credit repair.
No guarantees - Good credit repair companies will tell you up front that they can't guarantee specific results. In fact, they're prohibited by law from doing so.
Clearly explains your rights - Reputable credit repair companies want you to know your rights as a consumer. Many of them state your rights explicitly in their contract when you sign up.
Explains their services - Legitimate credit repair companies are clear about their procedures and the steps they'll take on your behalf. There shouldn't be any mystery about what the credit repair company is doing for you.
Fair cancellation policy - Credit repair doesn't work for everyone, so you don't want to get roped into several months of services you ultimately don't need. Look for a company that lets you cancel without penalty.
Top Credit Repair Companies
There are a number of credit repair companies that help people clean up their credit. Here are five that may be able to help you dispute negative items or inaccuracies on your credit report.
1. Credit Saint
Credit Saint, which has an A+ Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating, has three tiers of credit repair services starting at $79.99 a month and going up to $119.99 a month. There's a one-time $99 enrollment fee for any level of service, and the company has a 90-day money back guarantee.
To learn more, check out this Credit Saint review.
2. Sky Blue Credit
Sky Blue Credit has been around since 1989 and has a straightforward pricing structure. It's $79 to sign up and $79 monthly thereafter, and Sky Blue says it disputes 15 items every 35 days.
Read this Sky Blue Credit review to learn more about Sky Blue's services and pricing structure.
3. The Credit People
The Credit People offers both monthly and flat-fee pricing. You can sign up for the monthly plan, which costs $19 to enroll and then $79 a month, or you can pay a flat rate of $419 to get six months of credit repair services.
Get more information at this review for The Credit People.
4. Lexington Law
Lexington Law is a law firm that focuses on credit repair. It has three pricing levels that start at $89.95 a month and top out at $129.95 per month.
For more information about what Lexington has to offer, check out this comprehensive Lexington Law review.
5. Ovation Credit Services
Part of LendingTree, Ovation Credit Services costs $89 to enroll and then $79 a month or $109 a month depending on which plan you choose.
You can learn more by taking a look at this Ovation Credit Services review.
Alternatives to Credit Repair
Credit repair isn't an option for everyone, but that doesn't mean you're stuck with bad credit. There are still things you can do to raise your credit score so that positive items start to outweigh the negative ones.
Open a secured credit card - Your payment history makes up 35 percent of your credit score, making it the top factor among the five factors that affect your score. If bad credit is keeping you from qualifying for a regular credit card, consider opening a secured card. With a secured credit card, you give the lender a security deposit as a guarantee against default. You can then use your card to make small purchases and then pay them off, building a positive payment history along the way.
Piggyback on good credit - If you don't have good credit of your own, you could try using someone else's. For example, you can ask a relative or other close person to cosign a loan for you.
Become an authorized user - Bad credit can make it hard to qualify for credit. If this is the case for you, consider becoming an authorized user on someone else's credit card so you can start building a positive payment history.
Take out a credit builder loan - With a credit builder loan, you pay into an account for a set term and then receive everything back in a lump sum when the term ends. This allows you to build a positive payment history, which can help raise your credit score.
If you can commit to a couple different credit building strategies, you should see real improvement in your credit score. Watching your score improve can be a big motivator that keeps you focused on using credit responsibly.
Does Credit Repair Work FAQs
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and answers regarding credit repair.
Can People Fix Your Credit?
A credit repair company may be able to fix your credit, but nothing about credit repair is ever guaranteed. This is because credit repair depends on what's in your credit report and whether it can be successfully disputed.
If everything on your credit report is accurate and your creditors can verify all your debts, there's probably nothing a credit repair company can do to improve your credit. However, you can still use credit building strategies and good money management to improve your credit score over time.
How Much Does Credit Repair Cost?
Credit repair costs vary, but they tend to run around $100 a month on average. The precise cost depends on which company you choose and how much work your credit report needs.
By law, credit repair companies aren't allowed to collect a fee until they've performed work on your behalf. Reputable companies will always be transparent and up front about what they charge and what types of services you get for your money.
Some credit repair companies offer a flat-fee service while others charge you monthly. With a flat-fee service, you typically pay several hundred dollars in advance for an all-inclusive service that stretches somewhere between three and six months.
Is It Worth Paying Someone to Fix Your Credit?
Whether it's worth it to hire a credit repair company depends on a couple factors, including how much work your credit report needs and how comfortable you are with DIY credit repair.
Credit repair isn't rocket science, but there is definitely a learning curve involved. Reviewing your credit report, familiarizing yourself with consumer protection laws, and going through all the steps of the dispute process can demand a lot of time and effort.
If you have a busy schedule or a lot of pressing work or family commitments, it might make sense to pay someone to fix your credit.
How Long Will It Take to Repair My Credit History?
It can be hard to predict how long credit repair will take, as everyone's situation is different. However, you can often come up with a decent estimate based on how many items you need to dispute.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the credit bureaus must investigate any dispute and provide a response within 30 days of receipt of the dispute. In cases where you need to provide additional documentation or info during the dispute process, the credit bureau gets 45 days to respond.
While some people may see results within just a couple of months, it might take a bit longer for others. However, if you go through the credit repair process and start using credit building strategies to boost your score, you should see at least some improvement in your credit score within six months.
Credit repair really works, but it depends on whether your credit report contains any items suitable for dispute. A reputable credit repair company will tell you up front whether it can help, so you don't end up wasting money on a service you can't use.
About the Author
Mike is a recognized credit expert and founder of Credit Takeoff. His credit advice has been featured in CNBC, Investopedia, CreditCards.com, Bankrate, Huffpost, The Simple Dollar, Reader's Digest, LendingTree, and Quickbooks. Read more.