How To Fix Credit Report Errors In 4 Simple Steps — Introduction
How To Fix Credit Report Errors In 4 Simple Steps — Introduction
This will be a series of posts and this one is the introduction — I hope you enjoy and find this useful!
I’m John Watts. I appreciate you being here. Today we’re going to talk about four simple ways – or four simple steps – that you can take to fix any type of credit reporting problem. I want to thank you for being here and I hope that you find this very useful.
Who am I and why should you listen to me?
Let me give you a real quick background about who I am. I’ve been a consumer lawyer for 18 years in Alabama, and I have represented hundreds of consumers who have had credit report problems and errors, and we’ve been able to help them correct those – some of those without any type of litigation, while others we’ve had to file suit in state court or federal court. Over the years, I have given presentations to lawyers and consumer groups to train other lawyers and consumers how to handle credit report problems.
Credit report problems can be an incredibly frustrating type of problem, so we want to know how we handle this. Our clients have had their credit report errors corrected. We’ve had a very large number of lawsuits. We’ve had some clients who have recovered a small amount of money, and others who’ve recovered quite large amounts of money.
My experience with credit report errors
I’ve not only dealt with this as a lawyer, but about a week before we were moving to the house that I live in now, our mortgage broker called and said we have a problem. I thought, “No, don’t tell me we have a problem!”
I’m in the middle of packing boxes and everybody is in different rooms packing boxes, and you do not want to hear that from your mortgage broker. He tells me there is some false information on my credit report, and I thought, “Okay, I’ll be able to fix this. I’ll just tell the company they have it wrong and they’ll fix it.” I found out it was a little more complicated than that.
I normally don’t tell anybody I’m a lawyer, but I finally said to this company, “Look, I’m a lawyer. I sue companies that violate the law.” That didn’t seem to motivate them, so I figured out how you correct credit report errors. This is when I realized how frustrating it is and how difficult it is.
Figuring out I wasn’t the only one with credit report problems, I started helping consumers with this same type of problem.
What are credit reports?
Let’s take a look some types of problems that we can deal when we’re looking at credit reports. We’ll first start off with what credit reports are. This is what we normally think of: a listing of our debts and how much we owe. Are we late? Are we current? Has there been collection activity? That is certainly a big part.
There is also a section usually on credit reports at the front end called “public records.” We’re looking at bankruptcies, judgments, and tax liens – things that the credit bureau can go into a public record (the courthouse, for example) and see whether it’s there or not there.
Then we have our “personal information” which includes addresses (current addresses and former addresses), what our date of birth is, where we’re employed, where we used to be employed, and whether there are other names we are known by.
Why your credit reports are so important
The reason why credit reports are so important – and this is what we normally think of – is that they have a huge influence on the interest rate we pay on debt. We think of them as, “I’m going to take out a home mortgage” or “I’m going to get a credit card,” or, “I’m going to get a car loan,” and we care about the interest rate.
But not just the interest rate – it’s also “Are we going to get that credit in the first place?” Sometimes, if our credit report is not the way that the lender would like it to be, we’re not going to get the credit in the first place.
But it’s not just credit; it’s non-credit aspects. It could be, “Do we get a job?” It could be some type of security clearance. Maybe we work for the military, or for the government, or for a bank, and we may not get the job in the first place, based on our credit report. Or maybe we can keep our job, but we cannot get a promotion.
It is also our insurance rates or can we get a rental on an apartment or a car? There are all sorts of things that can come into play here when we’re looking at why credit reports are important.
Credit reports are like what for adults?
I like what I heard some time back: these are really report cards for adults. That’s what we’re looking at when we’re thinking about credit reports. I’m 43 years old. Nobody asks, “Hey John, what did you get in your sophomore year in college in pre-calculus?” Nobody cares about that. They do care about how my credit report looks and what my credit score is. Again, this is why we want to take the time to look at this. If there’s a problem, we need to figure out how to fix it.
Who creates my credit reports?
In terms of the number of credit reports, there are the so-called “Big Three” – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. There are others. Actually, there are hundreds of credit reports. We have credit reports for truck drivers. Did they have an accident? Did they back into a telephone poll? Or, did they hit somebody in a parking lot? There are all sorts of things that companies keep “credit reports” on that have nothing to do with “credit” but it is information being kept on us.
We have companies that report on insurance claims. Have you ever bounced a check? Do you have an arrest on your record? All of these credit reports, while they’re a little bit different, the basic rules that we’re going to go over will apply to all of them, so for simplicity’s sake we’re just going to talk about Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion and traditional type of credit reports. The rules for fixing any error on any credit report is the same though.
How do I get my credit reports and how much will it cost?
Let’s talk about how we get these credit reports. There are some free ways to do this. We have www.annualcreditreport.com. You can fill out a form online. You can call toll free at (877) 322-8228, or mail in a written request. On the website, they’ll ask you to pick your state, and you pick your state. There’s no charge.
This is the legitimate way to get your credit reports for free every 12 months.
If you have already received your reports in the last 12 months
If you’ve already received your credit reports for free in the last twelve months, then you do need to go directly to the credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Go to their individual websites.
When you go there, they will all say, “I’ve got a great deal: one credit report is $16, but I’ll give you all three for $25.” We really strongly suggest to not do that. If you want to know what Equifax’s is, get Equifax. If you want to know Experian, buy Experian. Sometimes the data is not accurate in these so called “three-in-ones” so just buy the real report from each bureau.
We definitely do not suggest going to any place other than www.annualcreditreport.com to get your “free” report because it actually is free. These types of places are typically run by one of the credit bureaus, and you have to put in a credit card, and if you don’t cancel, then they start billing you, so there’s really no reason to go there. Get it for free through www.annualcreditreport.com or just buy it and make sure you’re getting the actual credit report.
What are some types of credit report problems?
- False information
Ultimately, what we’re looking at is false information. They say that I have a Capital One credit card, and I really don’t. That’s false information.
- ID theft
It could be because somebody stole my identity and opened it up.
- Mixed/merged file
It could be what’s called a mixed or merged file. That’s where there is maybe a John Watts in Hunstville, Alabama who has a similar social security and now the files have been mixed together or merged. He may have a Capital One card, but I do not. That would still be false information.
- Outdated information
Maybe it says you currently live at such-and-such address in Gasden, Alabama, and you’re thinking, “I haven’t lived there in ten years.” It may be a negative account that should have long been off of your credit report.
- Wrong personal information
This would include your address, date of birth, and names that you’re known by.
When we think about it, credit reports are important and they can affect a lot of things, kind of like my report card. What are the three ways that people that people typically try to resolve these?
What are the three traditional ways to react to credit report errors?
Here they are:
- Do it on your own.
- Hire a “credit repair” firm
- Do nothing and just complain about it
What is the problem with fixing it on my own?
Here are the problems that we see when folks think about trying to fix it on their own. Actually, there is no problem – you should do this on your own. But if you don’t know how to do it, or what to do, or if well-intentioned people have told you, “I have dealt with that before and it took me three years and I could never get anything done! You’re just wasting your time,” this can discourage you so that you end up not doing anything.
But the reality is if you know what to do and how to do it, you really can repair your credit on our own.
Should I hire a credit repair company?
As far as credit repair companies – I’m going to highlight this because it’s so important – be very careful. There are so many scams out there and so many bogus places. There is nothing they can do that you cannot also do. Let me say it this way: you can do everything a credit repair place can do, except you can typically do it much better on your own.
Some of these places are just flat-out scams. I’ve had clients come to me and say, “I paid somebody $1000 to fix my credit report, and they stole my identity and opened multiple accounts.” We can fix that, but you have to be really careful dealing with a credit repair place.
Won’t the problem eventually fix itself so why do anything about it?
Some people say, “Why should I do anything? Eventually this will come off my credit report.” That is true, but you may be dealing with a lot of consequences while you’re waiting. It may cost you money on a mortgage or a loan. You may lose a promotion.
If it’s a problem that can be an ongoing problem – identity theft, or maybe there’s one of those mixed or merged files, or somebody with a similar names gets mixed up with me – one problem may be solved, but I then may be dealing this for the next ten years. A lot of times, we might see this with a Jr. and a Sr., or John Smith II. Those files typically get mixed up between father and son, or father and uncle.
Ultimately, this idea of saying, “I know credit reports are important and I know I have a problem, but I’m not going to do anything,” just seems kind of foolish to me because you can fix this and you can do it on your own. I realize this title is kind of a bold promise: “Four Simple Steps to Fixing Any Credit Reporting Error.” But it’s absolutely true. It doesn’t mean that you just snap your fingers and everything gets fixed. There is a lot of work to do. But the actual steps themselves are not difficult.
If you live in Alabama and want to chat about credit reporting errors, please let us know.
You can reach us by phone at 1-205-879-2447 or by filling out our contact form.
Thanks for reading, and have a great day!