Check over your credit report with a fine-toothed comb: Verify that the amount you owe on each account is accurate. And look for any accounts you paid off that still show as outstanding. If something seems incorrect or you are not sure of any items, then it is your right to contact the credit agency in writing and ask them to investigate the issue and make an amendment. The Federal Trade Commission recommends sending your letter via certified mail and requesting a return receipt so you know the bureau received it. According to the FTC, companies typically must investigate disputes within 30 days of receiving a correction request.
Collections – If there are collections on your credit report, check to be sure there are not multiple reports of the same unpaid bills. Collection accounts are bought and sold, so the same information could be reported by more than one agency, which would make your credit history look worse than it is. Send documentation to prove the debt is listed more than once.
Check what your monthly payment on a debt consolidation loan would be. Are you at least paying that much towards your credit cards now? If the loan payment is more than you pay towards your debts (and it fits into your budget), it might be time to up the ante and just put more money to your credit cards. If the loan payment is less than you pay to your cards, you'll likely wind up paying way more interest over time, since your loan term will probably be long.
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If you choose to settle with a lender for less than the total owed, the arrangement will show on your credit report and may drop your score depending on how it is reported. Some lenders will simply mark it as paid, which has a positive affect on your score. However, if they show it as settled, your score may suffer. Although you can negotiate with a lender as to how they will report the settlement, you ultimately have no control over what they will do.
If you consolidate by taking a personal loan to pay off your credit cards, your utilization ratio could go down, causing your score to go up. For this to work, you need to leave the credit card accounts open after you pay them off. But your credit rating could go down if an underwriter has cause for concern that you could easily rack up new debt on the open and now balance-free credit cards (many people do).
You cannot sign up for new credit cards, nor can you use the ones you have. While it may sound unreasonable to bar you from using credit, the point of your debt management plan is helping you dig your way out. “The last thing you want to be doing is running up more high-interest debt on the side,” said McClary. “You’re not doing yourself any favors in that situation.”
No one can legally remove accurate and timely negative information from a credit report. You can ask for an investigation —at no charge to you — of information in your file that you dispute as inaccurate or incomplete. Some people hire a company to investigate for them, but anything a credit repair company can do legally, you can do for yourself at little or no cost. By law:
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