You are ready to buy your dream house. You go to a recommended loan officer to get a preapproval. Smart. But after pulling your credit report, the loan officer says there are a few things on that report that send him red flags. Some of those things could hurt you from getting the loan you want at a good interest rate.
You thought you had amazing credit. But you never really checked ahead of time, and now some marks against you are stopping you from your plans of owning a house. You need to either fix your credit by yourself or turn to a credit repair firm to help clear up the mistakes or the problems quickly before the home is sold to someone else.
If you plan on doing this by yourself, which is totally legal and acceptable, be ready to be very patient and have lots of time, says Jason Kaplan, attorney in New Jersey and board member of National Association of Credit Service Organizations (NASCO).
“If you want to attempt it, go for it. But most people don’t even know how to read a credit report,” he says. “The laws are set up that if you have the knowledge, you can do everything a credit repair agency can do. But you could also pull your own tooth, but most people choose not to and go to a dentist.”
A credit report is like someone’s fingerprint. There are so many variables, Kaplan says. And many times – those variables are messed up because humans are in charge of putting that information into the system.
“I don’t fault the credit companies. They are dealing with billions of pieces of information. There are so many places to get the wrong information. I don’t think they are doing it on purpose, but most people don’t check on it until they need a loan,” he says.
A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) study last year found that one in five consumers had an error on at least one of their three credit reports. Those errors hurt them with getting good interest rates or even getting a loan at all, Kaplan says.
So, people can choose to turn to a credit repair agency to muddle through the paperwork and bureaucracy to hopefully clear up the mistakes. There are no guarantees, though, that an agency can fix everything or help raise your credit score quickly or even at all.
The agencies can research your situation and comb through your report to understand what all the problems are. They can help correct errors on your report. They know how to write letters of dispute to hopefully get errors removed from your report.
They also can negotiate with your lenders on your behalf.
If you pick a credit repair agency, try to find one with a good reputation and has been around for a while. Consumers are supposed to be protected from bad credit repair firms through the federal law called CROA (Credit Repair Organizations Act). It prohibits untrue or misleading representations, and they cannot charge for services until after services are performed, Kaplan says. Many states also have their own CROA with a few other requirements including that agencies need to be registered and bonded.
Once you find a reputable credit repair company, don’t be fooled that it will be a quick process. Don’t let them tell you that they can clear up your credit in 30 days or less. That kind of a statement is illegal for them to say, Kaplan says. No one can promise you that it will be done quickly.
Fixing your credit can take time – months and maybe even a year in some situations, he says.
“If there are a lot of problems on a credit report that need disputed, then that means many letters and phone calls need to be made. The credit companies have 30 days to respond to you,” he says.
The problem that Kaplan runs across in the business is that even after a credit repair firm is hired and things are cleared up on the client’s credit report, the client goes back to their bad habits.
“It’s the nature of the business. Some people are just going to be irresponsible and not change their habits. If they don’t pay their bills on time or pay down their credit cards, it’s going to put them in a negative light again on their credit report,” he says.
The cost of getting help from a credit repair agency can vary along with how long the actual process takes.
“I usually work with my clients between 5-7 months, and charge $99 a month with $150 consultation fee. It’s about $800 altogether, and that seems to be the average price,” he says. “Credit score model doesn’t prejudice against anyone. I have helped grandmothers to college kids fix their credit report. But those who are successful are those who have an actual goal in mind – like buying a house.”