When an unexpected expense comes up, and you don’t have the cash to cover it, a loan is one way to get the funds you need fast. But if your credit has seen better days, lenders will be less likely to approve your application until you improve your creditworthiness.
However, rebuilding your credit can take a while, and if you need money in a hurry, you don’t have time to wait for it to improve.
Enter credit repair services. If you make one Google search, you’ll find an endless list of companies offering to fix your credit score — for a price, of course.
But many financial experts caution against these services, which can cost upwards of thousands of dollars. Often, they take care of things you can do yourself (and for free).
Not only that, some of these activities may be unscrupulous or possibly unlawful. If these tactics are found, they’ll get reported on your credit history — and undo everything you paid for.
“There are all kinds of services out there that claim to have ways to get negative information removed,” Andrew Pizor, a lawyer from the National Consumer Law Center, told Money.com. In reality, amending discrepancies or getting rid of old information are the only genuine changes credit repair companies can make on your report — things that you can do by yourself.
So what are some of these underhanded methods that credit repair services perform?
One common tactic is sending credit agencies a massive volume of letters contesting late payments or other negative marks. The company does this on the off-chance that a busy employee will unwittingly clear the negative record. Credit repair companies send these letters digitally and through the mail to bombard the bureaus from multiple channels.
Pizor explains that this activity has several issues. First, the Fair Credit Reporting Act gives credit agencies the right to ignore any letter not from the consumer. Besides, even if one overworked employee changes something, someone else will quickly notice the mistake. “Even if that happens, those items tend to come back shortly thereafter. It doesn’t last,” Pizor notes.
Another common strategy these services offer is putting your name on someone else’s credit account, also known as a tradeline.
“I’d be cautious about services that promise to improve your score by adding tradelines,” Bruce McClary, a spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), told Money.com. “There’s a legal way to do it, but … if corners are cut and laws are broken, you could be just as liable as the service provider,” he cautions.
Experian, one of the three major credit agencies, is even franker.“Buying tradelines may be viewed as deceptive by lenders and credit reporting agencies, and could even put you in danger of committing bank fraud,” it warns.
However, there is no law against your family members authorizing you on a credit card or other type of credit line. As Pizor explains, this is an excellent way to build your credit rating if you are new to credit. “If your family wants to take a risk on you, that’s legal.”
Even so, Pizor warns that if a relative misses a payment or forgets to pay a bill, it will negatively affect both of you. “Any bad information on the primary user’s account is likely to hurt the authorized user’s score,” he says.
There are many resources available to fix your credit without resorting to unsavory credit repair companies. First, order your credit report to make sure it is accurate. If you catch a mistake, take it upon yourself to file a dispute.
If your report is error-free, you can seek assistance from a nonprofit agency to improve your score. The NFCC’s Sharpen Your Financial Focus program is one program that can help you build your credit again. While your score won’t change overnight, it’s proven to work — and doesn’t require questionable activities.
“Improving your credit isn’t something you can fix overnight,” Joanne Gaskin, the vice president of scores and analytics at FICO, told Money.com. “But making an action plan and taking the right steps with healthy habits can help you get there.”
The takeaway? Credit repair services can be expensive and don’t always work. They may use illegal or shady strategies that can hurt you even more in the long-run. If you’re in a jam and need money fast, consider asking someone you know to lend you the money. Get everything in writing and agree on repayment terms.
Alternatively, you could apply for a secured credit card. However, depending on the amount of money you need, this type of card may not have a high enough credit limit. Additionally, credit cards often have higher APRs, making them a risky pick for high-dollar purchases. But your options are limited, it may be one of your only choices.
- White, Martha C. “Credit Repair: Should You Pay to ‘Fix’ Your Score?” Money, 25 Nov. 2020, money.com/credit-repair-companies-fix-credit/.