A credit report can have a significant impact on a person's quality of life. Potentially negative items can cause lenders to raise interest rates. A bad credit report can also make it more difficult, or even impossible, to buy a home, a car, or other possessions when borrowing money is necessary. Once a person reaches this point, he may ask himself, "How can I clean up my credit report?" For this reason, it is vital to know how to monitor and clean up a credit report.
Steps to Cleaning a Credit Report
- Obtain a current copy: In order to clean up financial credit, a current copy of the credit report is needed from each of the three credit bureaus: Trans Union, Equifax, and Experian. Sometimes it is possible to obtain a free copy of a report if a potentially negative item has been added recently, or if an application for credit was denied. Also, some states allow residents to request a free credit report every year. A copy of the credit report from all three bureaus is recommended; even though they share information between each other, if there is a mistake or a problem, it could appear on only one of the bureaus' reports. The contact information for all three bureaus should be available on their websites.
- Dispute negative items: Credit report clean-up is done by contesting information and a lot of letter writing. If items are found on a credit report that do not belong there or are inaccurate, it is usually most efficient to write a letter to the credit bureau who provided the report. Sending a copy of any proof that the claim is inaccurate is also recommended.
- Wait at least 30 days: After disputing the information, the credit bureau goes to the credit company to request proof of their claim. If they do not or cannot provide the requested information within 30 days, the item should be removed from the report. However, the item may remain on a credit report if the creditor can prove its claim, regardless of whether they do so in the allotted time period.
- Be aware of special circumstances: In some cases, negative items on a credit report may also be removed even if they are correct. If a person has otherwise maintained good standing with the creditor that reported the information, it is possible to write to them and request that they remove the item from the credit report. Even if this is not a possibility, however, the negative mark has a limited sentence: items on a credit report remain there for only seven years, after which time they go away on their own. If there is a declared bankruptcy, however, that information will remain on a credit report for a longer period of time.
Cleaning up a credit report can be a do-it-yourself project, but it takes a lot of persistence. Often it does not yield the desired results, especially after only one try, in which case it is necessary to send another letter restating the claim or request. In fact, this process may need to be repeated several times before getting a satisfactory response. There are also companies that offer credit report clean-up services, for those who don't want to go through the process of disputing their credit reports, but there may be charge for these type of services.
Prevent Identity Theft
Whether or not a credit report needs to be disputed, it is important to keep a careful watch on credit reports from all three bureaus. Such awareness prevents credit fraud from getting out of hand, as well as catching errors or other problems early on. Many financial institutions recommend reviewing a credit report once a year.
In the case of identity theft, it is possible to write to the credit bureaus and request that a fraud alert be placed on the stolen credit report. 90 days is the standard time period for such an alert, but a seven-year fraud alert is usually an option as well. A fraud alert will not change a person's credit rating, but it does require applicants to go through a more stringent identity verification process when applying for a credit card or loan.