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Restoring Bad Credit

What are the risks of doing it yourself? Ordering your credit reports. Organizing Yourself Analyzing your Credit Report Drafting your Disputes Sending your Disputes Getting a Response Seeing Results Fourth Quarter Strategies Settling your Debts Disputing the Information with the Source Submitting a 100 Word Statement with the Explanation What are the risks of doing it yourself? Most how-to credit restoration books include example form letters for the reader to use in disputing his negative credit.

But, employees of the credit bureaus are usually the first in line at the newsstand to buy the new how-to book. Therefore the credit bureaus immediately spot these standard forms. Once the bureau has zeroed in on the structure of the form, any such letter will immediately earn a "frivolous or irrelevant" response from the checker. Many times, the credit bureau will see this as a sign that the customer is "yanking their chain" and the checker will "red flag" the client's credit report for future reference.

These instructions will not provide for specific techniques or form letters, as the credit bureaus have proclaimed publicly that they can spot such forms. Rather, we provide general outlines and strategies that you may follow as you dispute your negative credit. However, it is important for you to understand that there are risks in restoring your own credit. These risks are greatly multiplied if you cannot dedicate sufficient time to the task, or if your organizational skills aren't top notch. Countless do-it-yourselfers make seemingly harmless mistakes in the process of disputing their credit, only to make their credit files worse - ultimately seeking professional help after too much damage has been done.

These risks include: - Red flagging the individual file as someone attempting credit repair.- Unwittingly self-verifying negative information.- Making statements that create a fraud indicator, hawk-alert, or trans-alert.- Adding statements to the negative listings which do nothing but substantiate them.- Doing anything to tip the credit bureau that you are systematically attempting to restore your credit. While restoring your own credit may save you money, if it is done improperly it can cost you thousands of dollars in lost time, hassle, and you may do more damage than good to your credit. Ordering your Credit Reports Before you begin the battle, you must study the battlefield. The struggle to restore your credit will be fought between the lines of your three credit reports.

These reports will cost $8.00 each, unless you live in Maine or South Dakota, where the reports will cost $2.00 each. As mentioned before, the credit bureaus change addresses regularly, so we will provide the current credit report ordering addresses, but you may wish to telephone the credit bureaus to confirm that these addresses are still correct (phone numbers available through TRW PO Box 949-0949 Chats worth, CA 91313 Trans Union PO Box 390 Springfield, PA 19064 Equifax PO Box 105873 Atlanta, GA 30348 You may also obtain credit reports for free, but this method only works if you have recently been denied credit. If you have been denied credit in the last 60 days, you may write to the credit bureau listed on your denial letter and request a free copy of your credit report. It may take a little longer than if you simply purchased the report, but it will save you $8.00. If you telephone the credit bureau to order your credit reports or to confirm their mailing address, you will most likely reach their phone mail system.

However, if you do speak to a credit bureau representative about any issue, be careful. Say nothing that would indicate you are attempting to restore your credit. Don't try to submit your dispute over the telephone; it will be hard enough to get it right in writing, even with plenty of time to weigh your words. Be sure to send your request for a credit report via certified mail, return receipt requested. Your local post office will provide you with the necessary forms. Copy your letters and checks and file them according to the date they were sent. The credit bureaus will, very often, take your check and send you nothing. Don't despair, this is just another skirmish in a long battle. If you receive no credit report after you have followed these steps and waited about three weeks, then you must send a follow-up letter, again certified mail, return receipt requested, demanding that the credit bureau forward a credit report immediately. Include a copy of your check and your original letter. Remember, you have the right to purchase and see your credit report.

Organizing Yourself
As soon as you have ordered your credit reports and copied your order letters and checks, you must create a precise organizational system to track your correspondences with the credit bureaus and your creditors. Purchase a large, desk blotter-size calendar and a fine-point pen. On each date box, reserve the top portion of the box for correspondence deadlines, such as the date you expect to receive a credit report from a particular bureau, or when you expect a reinvestigation to be completed. Reserve the bottom portion of the date box for notations, including actions you have taken, such as when you ordered your credit report, or when you sent your dispute letter. Purchase a small file cabinet to keep your credit bureau and creditor files organized. You should open a file for each credit bureau, two files per credit bureau if you are working as a couple.

Every time you receive a credit report, credit bureau correspondence, or you send a correspondence, a copy of the document must be dated (by date sent or received by you) and filed in the appropriate file. Keep all the documents in chronological order in the file. Open another file for each creditor. You will also be communicating with the individual creditors. Follow the same rules for document filing as mentioned above for credit bureaus. Every time you have a telephone conversation with a creditor, you must document the contents of the conversation by writing the name of the person you spoke with, his or her position, the date and time of the conversation, what was said, and what you agreed to do. You should also get the name of the person's superior, and the superior's direct phone number as well. This documentation should be noted on a single sheet of paper and filed chronologically in the creditor's file.

Analyzing your credit report
When you first receive your Trans Union and Equifax credit reports, you will be totally lost. The information is coded in a way that is not immediately readable by the average consumer. Each credit report should arrive with a key that interprets the codes and indicators on the credit report. Sit down with the report and the key and study it until you understand what each number and code means. Don't write on your original credit report -- yet. Make all of your notes on a copy of the report. You will be sending your original report with your dispute letter, so you should make at least two copies of each new report. The original goes with the dispute, one copy is for notes, and the other copy is kept clean for your file. Gather a yellow and orange highlighter pen. Whenever you identify a negative listing, mark it in yellow on your scratch copy of the credit report. Often, it is difficult to tell if an item on the credit report is negative or positive.

The following table will help you identify every negative listing on your credit reports: Negative Credit Indicators If the listing contains one or more of these indicators, then the listing is negative. If the listing contains none of these indicators, then the listing is positive. TRW Credit Report any item marked with an asterisk any inquiry Trans Union Credit Report any item rated higher than I1, M1, or R1. any item listed as repossession, foreclosure, profit and loss write-off charge-off, paid profit and loss write-off, paid charge off, settled, settled for less than full balance, or included in bankruptcy any collection amount, whether paid or not. any court account, including a lien, judgment, bankruptcy chapters 11, 7, or 13, divorce, satisfied lien, or satisfied judgment. any item showing one or more thirty, sixty, or ninety day late payments in the column to the far right. any inquiry. Equifax Credit Report any item rated higher than I1, M1, or R1 (such as R2 or I9). any item proceeded by a ">>>" icon. any item listed as repossession, foreclosure, profit and loss write-off charge-off, paid profit and loss write-off, paid charge off, settled, settled for less than full balance, or included in bankruptcy. Any collection amount, whether paid or not. any court account, including a lien, judgment, bankruptcy chapters 11, 7, or 13, divorce, satisfied lien, or satisfied judgment. any item showing one or more thirty, sixty, or ninety day late payments in the column to the far right. any inquiry. Once you have marked all negative items on your credit report with a yellow highlighter, you may begin looking for inaccuracies and inconsistencies in your credit report. Whenever you identify an inconsistency or inaccuracy on your credit report, mark it with the orange highlighter. An inaccuracy is something you know is not true, such as a listing that doesn't belong to you or a listing showing the wrong balance. An inconsistency is when the same information on the credit report contradicts itself, such as a listing showing 12 thirty-day late notations when the listing only shows 4 months reviewed. Later, when you are constructing your dispute, you can use these inaccuracies and inconsistencies to lend credibility to your challenge.

Drafting your Disputes
Don't wait for all of your credit reports to arrive before you begin to analyze and dispute them. Remember, you will need to invest two things to restore your credit: money and time. Not only will you invest substantial time in analyzing your credit report, preparing your disputes, speaking with creditors, and tracking your results, but you will invest calendar time. You want every day to eat away at your bad credit. That can only happen if you never procrastinate any step of this process. If you procrastinate drafting your disputes, you will never finish the job. If you tend to procrastinate, seek professional help to restore your credit.

After you've analyzed your reports and marked every negative listing in yellow and every inaccuracy and inconsistency in orange, you may begin to develop your dispute letter. As previously mentioned, we will provide no form letters for disputes as they will quickly be spotted and rejected by the credit bureaus. Rather, we provide general strategies which have proven effective in forcing the credit bureaus to fulfill their responsibility and conduct an investigation into your disputed items.

Fundamentally, you must follow these rules: The Ten Commandments of Disputing Your Credit

Commandment One: Never lie in your disputes or on your credit applications. In many states, it could be a crime for you to lie when disputing your credit report. Therefore, you are cautioned that you must never lie or make misleading statements when disputing your credit report or completing a credit application. In most cases, it is a federal crime to lie on a credit application. Furthermore, it is unnecessary to lie when disputing your credit report. Remember, you have the right to dispute your credit report so long as you have reason to believe that is in unverifiable, inaccurate, or obsolete. In order to dispute information that is technically accurate, but should still be investigated and deleted on the basis of verifiability, you must invent other means of disputing the listing besides claiming that it is "not mine" or "was never late."

Commandment Two: Always indicate whether the disputed listing is being challenged as "not mine" or "not late." While you must never say that the account isn't yours or that you were never late unless you have reason to believe that statement is true, the credit bureau must know if you are disputing the existence of the listing or just the information within the listing. They cannot begin an investigation unless they know whether you believe the listing doesn't belong on your report at all, or if you believe the information on the listing should be changed. If you are unclear about the nature of your dispute, the credit bureau will promptly return your letter. If you dispute a listing on the basis that you were "not late," and if the credit bureau fails to verify the listing, then the listing will be perfected and appear as a positive listing. If you dispute a listing on the basis that it is "not mine," and if the credit bureau fails to verify the listing, then the listing will disappear from the credit report altogether. Since a positive listing is much better than no listing at all, you should dispute all simple late pay listings as a "not late" type of dispute. All others must be disputed on the basis that they may not belong to you.

Commandment Three: Always tell the credit bureau the desired outcome of the investigation. You must always include what you would like done with the listing. There are two options: delete the entire listing, or erase the late pay notation within the listing. Don't bother challenging the information within a collection listing, charge-off, court record, repossession, foreclosure, or settled account. As the basic nature of these listings is negative, changing the information within the listing will yield no improvement. Severely negative listings, such as these, must be disputed on the basis of complete deletion or not be disputed at all.

Commandment Four: Always provide a reason for your dispute. If you don't give some kind of explanation as to why you think the credit report is wrong, then the checker may return or ignore your dispute.

Commandment Five: Always include indicators of authenticity in your dispute. Don't forget that the job of the checker is to reject irrelevant disputes and to investigate the bona fide disputes. You may ensure that your disputes sound authentic by adding things that only a true, frustrated consumer would write, such as "my son's a banker, and he mentioned that I could write you and you would clear up these mistakes." Original indicators of authenticity cannot be listed here, or they would cease to be effective, but you must get creative and always include sentences or phrases that will convince the credit bureau that you're for real.

Commandment Six: Never sound like an expert. The credit bureaus receive over 10,000 disputes per day, and your dispute should look like any other. If you quote legal statute or you remind the credit bureaus of your rights under law, the checker will suspect that you read a book about credit repair or you are using a credit repair company. If the checker believes you are attempting to restore your credit, your dispute will be tossed in the "frivolous or irrelevant" bin.

Commandment Seven: Become more insistent and more threatening with each dispute. As you submit one dispute after another, it will become increasingly difficult to get the checker to initiate an investigation. Your first one or two disputes should be friendly and polite. Just like any other consumer, you can become frustrated and threatening as time passes. You may threaten to hire an attorney; you may threaten to complain to the FTC and your state's attorney general, etc.

Commandment Eight: Do not bombard the credit bureaus with disputes. Sending one dispute right after another is wasteful and counterproductive. You may send no more than one dispute every ninety days. If you dispute more often, the credit bureau will simply return the dispute as "frivolous or irrelevant."

Commandment Nine: Use inaccuracies and inconsistencies as examples of how the credit listings are wrong. Remember that it will do you no good to change minor information contained in a severely negative listing. Use inaccuracies and inconsistencies as a basis of dispute. You will do well to use the other two credit reports to establish inconsistencies by comparing the other credit report to the report you are disputing. Remember, though, that you can only use another credit report for comparison if that report doesn't confirm negative credit listings that you are attempting to dispute.

Commandment Ten: Create and utilize other techniques that help further the idea that the dispute letter is from a truly wronged and disadvantaged consumer. The checker is only interested in investigating disputes from consumers who have totally inaccurate credit reports due to credit bureau errors. In short, the checker only wants to help consumers who have a good case against the credit bureau and might likely sue them.

According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit bureaus should legally investigate all disputes that are not "frivolous or irrelevant." In practice, the checker will only do what he or she has to do in order to avoid a lawsuit. For this reason, it becomes necessary to contrive all manner of strategy to compel the checker into doing what the credit bureaus should be doing anyway -- which is to conduct an investigation into every reasonable dispute.

There are many other techniques used by credit restoration professionals, but you must figure those out on your own. It would render those techniques useless if they were published. As you may have noticed, only general strategies have been provided. If you earned a high Success Rating on the self-rating questionnaire Do you need the help of an Attorney , then you should be prepared and inclined to invent your own, effective techniques following the guidelines set forth in the Ten Commandments.

Your dispute will be taken more seriously if you print it from your computer. If you don't own a home computer, seek a professional, as writing your disputes by hand or on a typewriter will take up enormous amounts of time and may yield disappointing results. With each copy of your credit report, you should find a form supplied by the credit bureau for disputing credit listings. You should not use these forms for your dispute letters. The form may force you to lie about your credit situation and thereby possibly break the law. Also, the forms are not specific and they are not taken as seriously by the credit bureau checkers. Prepare your disputes on your personal computer, preferably on personal stationery. You should send an original copy of your credit report with the dispute letter. You may now mark the original report to make it easier for the checker to see any inconsistencies, inaccuracies, or notes. Remember not to verify any severely negative listings by correcting minor information on the listing. Make sure all your personal information is either on the credit report accompanying your dispute, or on the dispute letter itself. This important information includes: your full name, date of birth, current address, and social security number.

As you draft your dispute letters, remember that the checker is only interested in investigating disputes from consumers who have totally inaccurate credit reports due to credit bureau errors and that those consumers represent a threat to the credit bureau. Sending your Disputes When you mail your dispute, you should include the original copy of the credit report with your dispute letter. You will be amused to note that the credit bureaus take space in their literature to convince you that your credit cannot be "repaired." In TRW's words, "No one can have accurate, current, and verifiable information removed from your credit report." Take note that even TRW admits that accurate information can be removed if it is not verifiable. You must send your dispute letters via certified mail, return receipt requested. This means you must go to a post office to mail every dispute. Certified mail, return receipt requested, will cost more than a dollar extra, but it will demonstrate that you are serious about your correspondence. Without certified mail, return receipt requested, you would have no record of the credit bureau receiving your letter nor the date they received it. When you receive the return receipt in the mail, make sure to staple it to your copy of the original dispute in your file. Don't hold disputes until you have a full set of credit reports. Send each dispute as soon as it is ready, as long as it is 90 days after your last dispute to the credit bureau.

Getting a Response You will receive one of eight types of response to your dispute:
No response at all.
A stall letter asking for more information.
A rejection based on the timing of your dispute.
A rejection letter on the grounds that the dispute is "frivolous or irrelevant."
A rejection based on the grounds that the credit bureau believes you are manipulating the system.
A letter announcing that your investigation has begun.
A letter announcing that your dispute has been forwarded to the appropriate credit bureau.
A new credit report showing the results of an investigation.

Don't be discouraged if you receive multiple stalls or rejections. Remember, restoring your credit isn't easy. If you decided to restore your own credit, you knew from this text that you would encounter delays. Each case requires a different response. However, you should remember this rule of thumb: the credit bureau is a bureaucracy; you shouldn't expect the credit bureau to react as though it were an individual. There is no single person handling your case. If you type out a ferocious counter-letter in response to the credit bureau's rejection or stall, the credit bureau employee who receives it will have little idea why you are fuming.

Usually, it is better to simply write the dispute again. Here are some guidelines to reacting to the eight types of credit bureau responses:
1. No response at all: 52 days after you sent your dispute, if you haven't heard anything from the credit bureau, you may assume that your dispute was ignored. There is really little you can do except to document the lapse and draft another dispute. This dispute should mention the previous ignored dispute as well as certified mail number of that dispute. The new dispute should be more threatening than the first.

2. A stall letter asking for more information: Often, if your dispute alleged that someone else's file was merged with your own, the credit bureau will send this type of stall. A new dispute should be drafted basically repeating the first dispute (but doesn't allege that your file was merged) and includes all information requested by the credit bureau response. You may remind the bureau that this information was previously included in the credit report that accompanied the first dispute. This second letter should be more threatening than the first dispute.

3. A rejection based on the timing of the dispute: If you sent a dispute before 90 days after your last dispute, you will likely earn this response. Also, if the credit bureau sees that you have sent in many disputes, they may choose to brush you off with this rejection. You must respond by becoming more demanding. If they had finished the job properly with the first dispute, you wouldn't be forced to dispute the listings again! Send another dispute, much like the first, and insist on immediate action.

4. A rejection based on the grounds the dispute is "frivolous or irrelevant." This type of response would infuriate any consumer. Maybe the bureau thinks you are working with a credit repair company, or maybe they think that you will not stand up to an initial rejection, and they may even ask you to pay for their investigation. You must prove them wrong by becoming even more insistent and threatening in your disputes. Send the same dispute over again with some additional substantiation.

5. A rejection on the grounds that the credit bureau believes you are manipulating the system: The rejection letter may imply that you are working with a credit repair company, or that you are unduly barraging them with disputes. As a consumer who has been treated unfairly, these are not your problems. Insist, in another dispute, that the credit bureau is responsible for conducting the investigation and they are taking a very unwise risk in rejecting your dispute. All you want is your credit report properly corrected.

6. A letter announcing that an investigation has begun. Trans Union will usually send these letters as a clever way of extending their 30 day investigation period. You really have no choice but to accept their timetable. Just place the letter in the file and watch closely for the response to arrive on the date indicated in the letter. If no response comes, see item number one on the list.

7. A letter announcing that your dispute has been forwarded to the appropriate credit bureau. If there is a local credit bureau involved in your dispute, the main credit bureau will forward your dispute to that bureau for verification. Count on an additional two week delay when this occurs.

8. A new credit report showing the results of an investigation. This is the desired result. When you receive your new report, you should copy and carefully analyze the credit report for deletions or changes to perfect.

Seeing Results
The easiest way to analyze the results of a successful challenge is to compare the newly investigated report with the previous report. You may simply go down the list of negative items and note the absences of negative listings or listings that were negative, but have become positive. You may also determine improvements by comparing information within the same credit report. Equifax and Trans Union now usually provide a list of items challenged and whether or not the items were changed, deleted, or verified as accurate. TRW has a list of items challenged at the back of the credit report. You may compare this list with the negatives remaining on the credit report to determine what progress has been made.

As you receive the results of the credit bureau investigation, you will note that each disputed listing will have been handled in one of five different ways:
1. The disputed listing was not investigated. Perhaps your dispute was not sufficiently clear, or perhaps the credit bureau simply chose to ignore your dispute. In either case, you will need to dispute the item again in your next dispute letter.

2. The disputed item was investigated but verified as accurate. The creditor may have responded to the credit bureau's request for reverification, or the credit bureau may have simply faked the investigation to get you off their back. You have the right to dispute the listing again at a future time. In fact, the FTC has determined that the credit bureau may become responsible, in future disputes, to look deeper into the disputed item than simply asking the creditor to check their computer records.

3. The disputed listing was investigated as to the correctness of the information within the listing such as late pay notations, and the listing was found to be inaccurate or unverifiable. In this case, the negative listing will now show up as a positive listing. This is the best possible outcome because now you will enjoy good credit once your report is cleared.

4. The disputed listing was investigated as to whether or not the listings belong to you, and the listing was found to be inaccurate or unverifiable. In this case, the negative listing will disappear from the credit report altogether.

5. The disputed listing was deleted or improved to perfect, but the negative listing was later verified and re-listed on the credit report. If a listing is verified by the creditor after the thirty day investigation period, the credit bureau can replace the listing on the credit report. When this occurs, see item number two. Whatever your response, restoring your credit is a cycle. If you receive disappointing results, remember that it took you some time to create your bad credit, and it will take a little time to restore your good credit. Collect your results, mark your calendar, and wait for the next acceptable dispute date. Don't forget to allow at least sixty days between disputes.

Fourth Quarter Strategies
The more you dispute the negative listings on your file, the more difficult it becomes to get a new investigation started. As you find the frequency of investigations and deletions dwindling, you must consider these Fourth Quarter Strategies.

Remember, the checker must sense that you are a legal threat to the credit bureau; that you might sue them if they don't follow through with their obligations. There are several reasonable threats to the credit bureaus that may make them stand up and take notice of your dispute -- regardless of how many times they've previously looked into the negative listing.

1. "I have contacted a lawyer and am considering a lawsuit." Every day the credit bureaus are embroiled in consumer lawsuits, costing the credit bureaus hundreds of thousands of dollars in awards given to consumers. The credit bureaus pay even more to maintain the legal staff necessary to handle these cases. Technically, you may sue the credit bureaus every time they fail to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. However, the most viable lawsuits are those from consumers with negative consumer information not belonging to them listed on the report. You must be careful about threatening to sue anyone. If you say, "I am going to sue you," you must really be intent on filing suit. You may, in any case, express your consideration of a lawsuit or steps you have taken to proceed with preliminary work, such as seeking counsel with an attorney. This threat shouldn't be overused, but don't forget that an average consumer being mistreated by the credit bureaus would almost always make such a threat. If you fail to mention the option of a lawsuit, your dispute will lack punch, especially after you have submitted numerous previous disputes.

2. "I am filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission." The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates and monitors the activities of the credit bureaus. The credit bureaus won't be crushed by a single complaint, but they would rather limit the number of complaints received by the FTC each year. As it now stands, the credit bureaus are the number one source of consumer complaints to the FTC. In order to file a complaint with the FTC, you may write: Federal Trade Commission Pennsylvania Ave. and Sixth St., N.W. Washington, D.C. 20580 WWW: Make sure that your complaint is brief and to the point. You may wish to include a copy of the complaint in your dispute letter and threaten to mail the complaint if you don't receive satisfaction within thirty days.

3. "I am preparing letters to my state senators and representatives." Every year, the credit bureaus fight off new legislation which would further restrict their practices and place greater financial penalties on their mistakes. Presently, they enjoy only the constraint of a 25 year-old statute that is, advantageously for them, outdated. In Congress, when a new, tougher, Fair Credit Reporting Act reaches the floor, the credit bureaus are forced to labor to keep the new act from passing. So far, they have succeeded in preventing changes to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, but as time goes on, and more consumers complain to their congressmen, fewer congressmen are willing to listen to the credit bureaus. Letters to federal and state congressmen that express outrage over the conduct of the credit bureaus will eventually change credit reporting as we know it. The credit bureaus want to delay that change, and they will shrink at your decision to write your local statesman. Feel free to send copies of your complaint letters with your dispute.

Settling your Debts
If you haven't yet settled your outstanding, delinquent debts, you must seriously consider doing so. Many of your creditors will see the negative listing on your credit report as a collection tool, and they will do whatever it takes to keep that negative listing on the report, even if it requires verifying a thousand investigations. Even if you delete a negative unpaid listing, that negative listing may well reappear when the creditor or collector settles the account, seeks a judgment, or passes the amount to collections. Please see Settling Delinquent Debts for more information.

Disputing the Information with the Source Sooner or later in this process, you should dispute the credit information with the creditor who reported it. If you are in a hurry to restore your credit, you should be writing your creditors from day one. If you have worked with the credit bureaus for some time and the results are lagging, now would be a good time to take the fight directly to the source.

Submitting a 100 Word Statement of Explanation

Most do-it-yourself credit repair manuals recommend that you file a 100 word statement to be added to your credit report explaining the circumstances of the negative credit that remains. After all, the Fair Credit Reporting Act does give you that right. We have never seen a creditor who bothered to read or consider the 100 word statement. In fact, many creditors won't look much beyond the automatic credit bureau rating that appears with your credit report when you apply for credit. This instruction does not recommend that you file the 100 word statement. It would only serve to self-verify information that should come off through repeated disputation of the listing. If you have previously submitted any 100 word statements, they should be the first items you remove.

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