After the holidays, it’s not unusual for many Americans to find themselves buried in hundreds or even thousands of dollars of additional debt. Whether you’ve unintentionally overspent your budget or enjoyed a spur of the moment shopping spree, the holidays can easily leave with you a lackluster credit report and very little post-holiday cheer.
Starting this month, you may begin to see an onslaught of advertisements in newspapers, on the radio, on TV and on the Internet by businesses offering credit repair services. Their approaches may be slightly different but the message is still the same:
“Credit problems? No problem!”
“We can erase your bad credit — 100% guaranteed.”
“Create a new credit identity — legally.”
“We can remove bankruptcies, judgments, liens, and bad loans from your credit file forever!”
But don’t believe the post-holiday hype. Only time, a conscious effort, and a personal debt repayment plan will improve your credit report and allow you to decrease or pay off your debt.
Beware of companies that target consumers with poor credit histories and offer, for a fee, to clean up your credit report so you can get a car loan, a home mortgage, insurance, or even a job. In reality, after you pay them hundreds or thousands of dollars in fees, these companies do nothing to improve your credit report or pay off your debts. Most of them just disappear with your money.
If you do decide to further investigate credit repair services, avoid companies that: • want you to pay for credit repair services before they provide any services; • do not tell you your legal rights and what you can do for yourself for free; • recommend that you NOT contact a credit reporting company directly; • suggest that you try to invent a “new” credit identity — and then, a new credit report — by applying for an Employer Identification Number to use instead of your Social Security number; or • advise you to dispute all information in your credit report or take any action that seems illegal, like creating a new credit identity.
The law allows you to ask for an investigation of information in your credit file that you dispute as inaccurate or incomplete. There is no charge for this. Everything a credit repair clinic can do for you legally, you can do for yourself at little or no cost.
Under the Credit Repair Organizations Act, credit repair companies cannot require you to pay until they have completed the services they have promised. But if you follow illegal advice and commit fraud, you may be subject to prosecution.
Many states have laws regulating credit repair companies. State law enforcement officials may be helpful if you’ve lost money to credit repair scams.
If you’ve had a problem with a credit repair company, don’t be embarrassed to report it. While you may fear that contacting the government will only make your problems worse, remember that laws are in place to protect you. Contact the Georgia Office of Consumer Affairs at (800) 869-1123 if you believe that you have been the victim of a credit repair scheme.
In addition, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.
*This information has been compiled with information from the FTC.
Facts You Should Know
• It is a federal crime to lie on a loan or credit application.
• When negative information in your report is accurate, only the passage of time can assure its removal. A consumer reporting company can report most accurate negative information for seven years and bankruptcy information for 10 years.
• By law, credit repair organizations must give you a copy of the “Consumer Credit File Rights Under State and Federal Law” before you sign a contract. They also must give you a written contract that spells out your rights and obligations.