If you have a bad credit record, you know how hard it can be to secure new credit or seek new employment. While you may be willing to do whatever it takes to repair your credit rating, some companies not only offer illegal advice or methods, but also misrepresent what they will be able to accomplish.
There are many other individuals and organizations the law does allow to provide you with credit repair assistance. Lenders, banks insured by the FDIC, and nonprofit organizations can give you credit repair advice. In some situations, a real estate broker, attorney or registered financial advisor may also advise you.
You have seen plenty of ads full of promises like these:
“Credit problems? No problem!”
“We can erase your bad credit--100% guaranteed.”
“Create a new credit identity legally.”
“We can remove bankruptcies, liens, judgments and bad loans from your credit file forever!”
Unfortunately, these companies cannot live up to their promises. Even after you pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in up-front fees, your credit will be no better. No one can remove correct information from your credit report, even if it negatively reflects on you.
If you decide to respond to a credit repair offer, beware of companies that:
- Want you to pay for services up front;
- Do not tell you your legal rights or what you can do for yourself at no cost;
- Recommend that you not contact the credit bureaus directly;
- Suggest you get new credit by using someone else’s Social Security number or by applying for an Employer Identification Number; or
- Advise you to dispute all information on your credit report.
The Social Security Act prohibits misrepresentation of your Social Security number, and the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act makes it a federal crime to knowingly use another person’s identification with dishonest intent. Further, it is a federal crime to make false statements on a credit application or to obtain an Employer Identification Number from the Internal Revenue Services under false pretenses. You will be prosecuted by the federal government for these crimes.
Federal law also imposes certain limitations on credit repair companies. They may not:
- Make false claims about their services.
- Charge you until they have completed the promised services.
- Perform any services until you have signed a written contract and a three-day waiting period has passed, during which you can cancel your contract with no fees.
Other practices that may violate the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act include:
- Promising to remove negative but accurate information from your credit report.
- Offering to establish a new credit identity for you, an illegal practice known as “file segregation.”
- Encouraging you to stop making payments to your creditors.
- Telling you to ignore the IRS, collection letters or other legal documents.
If a credit repair company is able to obtain a credit card for you, often this is a “secured” bank card that requires you to pay a high application fee and deposit several hundred dollars in a bank account, or a card for a small and unfamiliar company or catalog. If you want a secure credit card, you can get it on your own.
When you sign a contract for credit repair services, you should know what to look for. The contract must specify:
- The payment terms, including total cost;
- A detailed description of the services to be performed;
- How long it will take to achieve the results;
- Any guarantees they offer; and
- The company’s name and business address.
Filing a Complaint
It is very important to report any credit repair companies that take advantage of you, so they can be stopped. Since most credit-protection laws are enforced at the federal level, you should contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) when you have a complaint about a company offering credit repair services. While the FTC does not handle individual cases, it can act when it sees a developing pattern of possible legal violations.
You may send your complaint to:
FTC Division of Credit Practices
6th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20580