Building and maintaining a good credit score is important, particularly if you’re looking to get a loan, buy a home, or even rent a new place. A good to excellent credit score is often a prerequisite for credit approvals and low interest rates.
That’s why it’s so important to make sure you monitor your credit regularly – an easy thing to do when free credit reports are readily available.
But what happens when you have bad credit, poor credit, or are struggling to rebuild your credit score? You may have heard of credit repair services where a credit repair company can get those nasty negative items removed from your credit report if they are not factual or misrepresented. But it’s important to know that there’s nothing a credit repair service can do that you can’t also do on your own.
I’ll walk you through how credit repair services work, explain what they can and can’t do, and offer some tips for fixing credit on your own, so you can decide the best way to move forward.
What is a credit repair service?
A credit repair service is a company that focuses on removing negative or derogatory remarks from your credit report as found on Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax. These companies typically charge up-front or monthly fees for their services as they will work with the credit reporting agencies on your behalf. This is the key point here: You are paying for someone to do what you can do yourself.
But the best credit repair companies do more than that and will focus on educating you about credit and your finances so that when your credit profile is improved you don't find yourself back in the same boat a year or two later. Many will even help you come up with a plan to pay down your remaining debt.
Unfortunately, many disreputable credit repair businesses often scam people out of money, which is why it’s important to thoroughly research credit repair services on websites like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) before selecting one.
Although the Credit Repair Organizations Act was passed to protect consumers from predatory credit repair services, it is still possible for one of these companies to overcharge you for services you could do on your own.
How credit repair services work
Before paying a credit repair company to fix your credit, it’s important to understand how they work. Your FICO credit score is compiled based on information in your credit history report and this score is what lenders see and judge you on. While this information is usually accurate, roughly 5% of individuals
find there are errors on their credit report.
If your credit report does have incorrect information on it, it could be impacting your credit score. In this case, the credit repair processes most companies will follow would be to remove this incorrect information, potentially boosting your credit score.
Typical errors include:
- Listing accounts you do not currently or never held
- Collections or bankruptcy claims that were not yours
- Late payments
- Missing accounts
While credit repair companies work to remove incorrect information from your credit report, you don’t have to pay a fee to have errors removed. You can complete this process for free, on your own.
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How to review your credit report for free
By law, you’re entitled to receive one copy of your credit report every year for free for each of three major credit bureaus: Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. You can obtain one at annualcreditreport.com. You might also be able to obtain this through your bank, credit card company, or a credit monitoring service like Credit Karma
Once you receive your report, you’ll want to review all of the information for each account. Be sure to confirm the account belongs to you, the payment history is correct, the current balance (as of the balance date is correct), and that there are no other errors. If you find an account you don’t recognize, think you’re missing accounts with positive payment history, or find any other discrepancies, you can file a dispute.
Disputing errors on your credit report
If you do find an error, you can dispute this information for free on any of the three major credit agencies' websites (there will also be a physical address where you can mail dispute information). Disputing information online can be done in a matter of minutes and often allows you to attach screenshots or documentation to back up your claims.
The dispute process, however, often takes at least 30 days, if not several months, depending on the issue reported. You’ll typically receive email notifications along the way informing you of your progress and any changes.
When a credit repair service works on removing incorrect information, they also use this dispute process. Since the entire process can take a few months, you’ll often be charged during this waiting period — and these monthly payments and fees can add up. It’s also important to understand that credit repair companies may dispute negative marks on your credit that are accurate. Sometimes this can lead to them being temporarily removed since lenders must respond in a certain amount of time to a dispute. While this may seem like a win, these marks often pop back up on your credit report when your information is re-reported to the credit bureaus by the creditor.
Even if you think a credit repair company is your best option, I always recommend trying to dispute the error yourself first, to see if you’re able to help yourself out, without paying expensive credit repair company fees.
Other ways to resolve your credit troubles
If you don’t find any errors after reviewing your credit report, then turning to a credit report service will likely be a waste of your time and money. These services cannot remove authentic derogatory marks, which means you’ll be paying these companies for a service they won’t be able to fulfill.
Instead of looking for a credit repair company to charge you monthly to show you how to repair your credit, you can begin working on boosting your score yourself.
First, create a plan to ensure all of your current accounts are receiving on-time payments. Your payment history plays a large role in establishing your credit score, so ensuring your credit accounts are repaid on time each month will help your score rise, over time.
Next, see if there are any high-interest accounts you can pay down. If you feel like you’ve been paying the same credit card bill for an eternity, chances are you’re only paying the minimum payment each month or close to it. To make a dent in high-interest credit card or loan debts, you’ll need to pay more than the minimum each month. While attacking all of your debt at once can feel overwhelming, planning to pay down one balance at a time can help you stay motivated to continue putting extra money towards your debt.
While this method will take more time, it’s the best way to slowly regain control of your finances and begin boosting your credit score. It will require some upfront work — reviewing account balances and ensuring you pay at least the minimum each month — but you can do all of this work on your own, without paying a credit repair company.
Is it ever a smart idea to use a credit repair service?
Although I think that it’s better to skip credit repair companies and do the work yourself, this isn’t always feasible. Maybe you don’t have the time to commit to repairing your credit or maybe you need help with credit disputes and rebuilding your credit.
In these cases, working with qualified credit counseling services (specifically nonprofits) is usually a great option. These services may not do all of the work for you, but are often free or affordable, and provide you with the roadmaps you need to get your finances back on track.
If you happen to find a credit repair service that seems to be a good fit and you’re willing to pay monthly fees to see if they can help, it is possible to have your credit improved through one of these companies. I would just be wary of what credit repair services can and cannot do to help you.
Know your rights when partnering with a credit repair service
If you do decide to partner with a credit repair company, it’s important to know your legal rights as a consumer. First of all, if a credit repair company makes any of the below claims, I would be wary, since legally, they cannot fulfill these promises:
- Removing all negative information. This likely means they’ll dispute anything negative on your credit report and may be able to have them temporarily removed. However, accurate information will be re-reported and hit your credit reports again over time.
- Boosting your score by X%. Whenever a credit repair company promises to boost your score to a certain number or by a certain percent, I would be skeptical. It’s very challenging to know how much your credit will improve by removing one dispute or how long it will take to get your credit score to a certain number.
- Offering more help for more money. Some credit repair companies offer tiered services indicating that if you spend enough money, you’ll be a high-priority client. Typically, these packages have very few differences between them, and even if you pay for the highest level of service, there’s no guarantee a credit repair company can help you.
- Pressuring you to pay money up-front. Most credit repair services utilize monthly account subscriptions for users, but any that also require up-front payments or set-up fees should be thoroughly researched. This is usually indicative of credit repair scams.
What if you sign up for an account with a credit repair company, then realize you’d prefer to work on your credit on your own? The good news is, the Credit Repair Organizations Act allows you a three-day window to cancel your account with any crediting service.
Top credit repair services
If you decided you want to use a reputable credit repair service to help you improve your credit and remove the incorrect information, these five are some of the top names in the industry with relatively trustworthy reputations.
This trusted credit repair service has an A rating on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website and hundreds of positive consumer reviews. They have more than a decade of experience handling credit repair challenges, provide three different service tiers, and offer a 90-day money-back guarantee. You can also sign up for a free credit consultation before becoming a customer, so you can get answers to your questions before deciding if they’re right for you.
Lexington Law started in the early 90s as a law firm dedicated to helping consumers struggling with credit repair. They’re one of the largest credit firms in the country and to date have removed more than 10 million negative remarks on clients’ credit reports. They’re particularly well-known for helping with credit repair in instances of identity theft. They offer three different monthly packages which are slightly more expensive than most repair companies, but they deliver high-quality results.
Founded in 20212, CreditRepair.com is a top online credit repair company that has removed millions of negative remarks from clients’ credit reports. This company offers a customized service plan catered to your unique credit situation. They’ll obtain your credit reports and then build a roadmap to boosting your credit score. They primarily accomplish this through disputes, goodwill letters, and debt validation requests. You can choose from three different monthly packages, depending on your needs.
The Credit Pros
The Credit Pros have been in business since 2009 and have an A- BBB rating. This company is known for helping consumers repair their credit fast, with unlimited dispute letters, three bureau credit repair offerings, and action plan developments with a FICO-certified financial planner. The Credit Pros offer three different monthly packages, including ways to build better credit that happens through an Experian and Transunion partnership.
Sky Blue Credit Repair
One of the most affordable credit repair services on the market is Sky Blue Credit Repair. This company offers flat-rate monthly packages, discounts for couples, and doesn’t begin charging you for six days. Sky Blue will analyze your credit report, note any discrepancies that they may be able to remove, and begin filing disputes (and following up consistently) on your behalf. They also provide a 90-day money-back guarantee if you aren’t satisfied with their services. On top of this, you can cancel at any time, so you’re not locked into a yearly contract.
The bottom line
You should exercise caution before agreeing with a credit repair service. While the credit repair industry touts the ability to boost your credit score, there’s nothing they can provide that you can’t handle by yourself — typically for free. If you don’t have the time to review your credit report and dispute inaccuracies, make sure you partner with a trustworthy service with positive reviews.