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What is credit? Credit refers to your reputation as a borrower. Specifically, it refers to how likely you are to pay bills on time and to repay loans. The record of the way you pay bills and repay loans is called a credit report—also called a credit history.
How Do I Fix My Credit? Credit Repair is the process of paying off or satisfying all of your outstanding debts in order to build a good credit history. One of the first steps in this process is getting a copy of your credit report. Click here for more information.
A credit report is a record about how you pay your bills. Credit reports come from credit reporting agencies. There are three major national credit-reporting agencies:
Credit reporting agencies get their information from organizations such as banks, credit card companies, telephone companies, electric and gas companies and retail stores.
Residents of Massachusetts can get copies of their credit report at no charge annually from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies. An easy way to get your credit reports from all three major credit reporting agencies at once is through the Annual Credit Report Request Service.
For more information, go to www.annualcreditreport.com.
What to look for on credit reports? It is important to review credit reports every year or two to make sure the information in the reports is correct and up-to-date. Reports from different agencies must be corrected individually (the credit reporting agencies do not cross-check corrected information with each other).
It is also important to look for any possibility of identity theft—the illegal use of your private information by someone else to make fraudulent purchases. If information on your credit report indicates that someone else has taken out a credit card or a bank loan in your name, report that to the credit-reporting agency immediately. Be sure to look for unknown credit cards, payments to unknown companies, or other unrecognized financial transactions.
How is good credit obtained? Good credit is built up by paying your monthly bills and other obligations on time. Having good credit results from managing bank accounts, credit cards, and debit cards well by paying all regular monthly bills on time. If you do not pay your bills on time, or do not pay them at all (such as the rent, utilities, telephone and/or cell phone bills, and cable bills), then you will not have good credit and you will have a low credit score.
Why is good credit important? It allows you to obtain a loan at a lower interest rate than if you had less-than-good credit. And it makes getting additional credit easier. A lot can depend on your having good credit: opening a bank account, getting a credit or a debit card, getting a loan to buy a car, even getting approved for renting an apartment.
What can be done about a bad credit record? You could end up with a bad credit record if you pay your bills late – or not at all. If you have a bad credit record and if you want to fix it, then you could begin by reviewing your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies to make sure the information on the reports is correct and up-to-date. If corrections are needed, each credit reporting agency has its own policies for making needed corrections. Credit repair is the process of (1) resolving unpaid debts, and (2) building up a good credit record over time. Credit repair is not the same thing as just making corrections to the records.
Need Help? If you want help repairing a bad credit record, it is really important to be cautious to avoid scams! One place to start is the Consumer Credit Counseling Service (call 1.800.282.6196 in Massachusetts). When seeking help from a consumer-counseling agency, check with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to make sure the agency is legitimate. For on-going help to manage your credit and paying you bills, you could contact Debtors Anonymous.
Step 1: Resolving unpaid debts. Consider contacting a credit counseling agency before you contact any of your creditors directly to resolve unpaid debts. Credit counseling agencies can help you:
• Resolve unpaid debts through repayment plans (paying outstanding bills slowly over time)
• Find out about debt-reduction plans (to reduce the amounts owed) and debt forgiveness plans (to cancel the amounts owed). Once your new payment plans are set up, it is important to try to stick with them! Otherwise, the cycle of unpaid bills could begin all over again.
Step 2: Building a good credit record. When you establish a record of paying all of your bills on time (including old bills), you are also establishing the beginnings of a good credit record. If a bill is going to be paid late, you can try to contact the creditor to explain the situation. Sometimes a simple phone call to a creditor to say a payment will be made but that it is going to be late will prevent the creditor from reporting the payment as a late one. When possible, avoid taking on new debt (such as the continued use of credit cards that are not paid in full each month) until the old debts are paid off or resolved.
Know Your Rights. It is important to know your rights regarding debt collection and unfair debt collection practices. Debt collection practices are regulated by both federal and state laws. There are certain things debt collectors can and cannot do. To learn more about the rules debt collectors must follow in Massachusetts, go to the Massachusetts Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation webpage.