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Help with Credit Problems

If you're already in trouble with your credit, there are steps you can take to make improvements to your credit report and to rebuild your credit score. The following steps and tips were derived from recommendations given by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for consumers, and you can visit their website for additional information.

Remember that there are no quick fixes for damaged credit; only time, effort, and planning can remedy past mistakes. Be wary of companies claiming they can fix accurate negative information on your credit report for a small fee- it is impossible for them to do this. However, there are steps you can take to get your credit back on track and begin building a positive credit history.

The first step to rebuilding your credit is reviewing your credit report. You can find instructions on how to access three free credit reports per year on our main "Credit" page. Once you have reviewed your credit report, you can begin to assess the accurate negative information and start to formulate a plan to improve your credit and decrease your debt. You should also be checking your report over for inaccuracies and accounts that you believe are not yours, which you can dispute with the credit reporting agency. We will address both accurate and inaccurate negative information below.

Accurate Negative Information

Only time will remove accurate negative information from your report. Most accurate negative credit information will remain on your report for 7 years. Exceptions to this are filing for bankruptcy, which remains on your report for 10 years, and unpaid judgments, which can remain for 7 years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer. The good news about these time limits is that your past mistakes will not impact your credit forever.

If you are currently in debt, have trouble paying your bills, have accounts being turned over to debt collection agencies, and feel you are facing a financial crisis, there are steps you can take to improve your situation. The FTC recommends considering the following options and choosing the one that works for you and that best suits your level of debt and financial discipline: realistic budgeting, credit counseling from a reputable agency, or bankruptcy.

$uccessful Start has resources that can help you begin to build a realistic budget for yourself, and if you need help doing this, a Peer Money Mentor can meet with you to help. They can also help you learn how to manage your money and debts and offer helpful resources to build your financial knowledge (please see the "Peer Money Mentors" page for more information). You can also sign up for and attend $uccessful Start workshops to educate yourself so that you can better help yourself. Along with budgeting, you can contact creditors as soon as you are having trouble paying your bills, explain your situation, and try to work out a modified payment plan to reduce your payments to a level that is more manageable for you.

If you feel that you cannot work out a budget, manage your bills, and work out a repayment plan on your own, and feel that your problem may be beyond the help $uccessful Start can offer, you have the option of contacting a credit counseling service for help. Try to meet with a credit counselor in person if possible, and make sure to thoroughly research an agency before contacting them for credit counseling services.

Personal bankruptcy is considered the debt management option of last resort because its effects on your credit are far-reaching and long lasting. The consequences of filing for bankruptcy are significant, and the decision to do so should only be made after careful consideration of the pros and cons of such an action. For more information, you can visit the FTC website.


Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), credit reporting companies and credit information providers are responsible for correcting inaccuracies in your credit report. You should inform the credit reporting agency in writing about the information on your report that you believe is inaccurate. You should include with this letter COPIES of any documents you may have that support your claim. Credit reporting agencies must investigate the claims within 30 days, and must also inform the credit information source of the dispute so that they may also launch an investigation.

If the information is found to be inaccurate, the credit information source is required to notify all three credit-reporting bureaus so that your report can be corrected and updated. You may also request that the credit-reporting agency send notices of correction to anyone who reviewed your report in the last 6 months, or 2 years if the report was reviewed for employment purposes.

If the investigations do not resolve the dispute, you may request that a statement of dispute be included on your report in the future. You may also request that a letter stating your dispute be sent to anyone who reviewed your report in the last 6 months, but you will likely have to pay for this service.

Sample dispute letter (provided on the FTC website at the address above):


Your Name

Your Address

Your City, State, Zip Code
Complaint Department

Name of Company


City, State, Zip Code

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing to dispute the following information in my file. The items I dispute also are circled on the attached copy of the report I received.

This item (identify item(s) disputed by name of source, such as creditors or tax court, and identify type of item, such as credit account, judgment, etc.) is (inaccurate or incomplete) because (describe what is inaccurate or incomplete and why). I am requesting that the item be deleted (or request another specific change) to correct the information.

Enclosed are copies of (use this sentence if applicable and describe any enclosed documentation, such as payment records and court documents) supporting my position. Please investigate this (these) matter(s) and (delete or correct) the disputed item(s) as soon as possible.


Your name

Enclosures: (List what you are enclosing)