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Four Steps to Cleaning Up Your Credit Report

Written by Ilyce Glink on September 23, 2013 in Credit  |   7 comments

There’s no denying it: Winter is right around the corner. As the year winds down, now is a good time to take stock of your credit report and credit score to see where you stand. If you aren’t happy with your current financial state and…

credit report, credit scoreThere’s no denying it: Winter is right around the corner. As the year winds down, now is a good time to take stock of your credit report and credit score to see where you stand.

If you aren’t happy with your current financial state and want to change it for the better, you can take these four steps to help you clean up your finances:

1. Pull a copy of your credit report.

In order to improve your financial state, you must first know what information your creditors are reporting to the credit reporting agencies.

You can find this out by ordering a free copy of your credit report from annualcreditreport.com. You are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies every 12 months. In order to regularly monitor your credit report, try to order one of your free reports about every four months. You can also obtain your credit score from each agency by paying a small fee.

Once you’ve pulled a copy of your credit report, carefully comb through it to check for any errors that could potentially harm your credit score.

As you review your credit report, consider the following:

  • Make sure all of your accounts are in good standing, which means you have paid at least the minimum on every account.
  • Make sure there are no inaccuracies. Errors in your credit report could mean that a credit company has not accurately reported your payments or that you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
  • Make sure any negative information—such as late payments, collections, or bankruptcies—have fallen off of your credit report after the appropriate amount of time.

2. Fix any inaccuracies and outdated information.

If you spot an error in your credit report, you can file a dispute—either online or by mail—with the credit reporting agency that reported the error. Once your dispute is filed, the credit reporting agency will investigate the issue within 30 to 45 days. The agency will notify you of the outcome after the conclusion of the investigation.

When you initiate communication with a credit reporting agency or a lender, take detailed notes that include the names of the people with whom you speak and the dates of the conversations. If you are told that your information will be corrected, make sure you follow up to confirm that the change has been made.

If you correct an error with one of the national credit reporting agencies, your information will also be updated with the other two. If you need more immediate action, consider contacting each credit reporting agency individually.

3. Organize your paperwork.

Whether you are organizing your financial records for the first time or it’s simply been a while since you’ve reviewed them, start by laying out all of your paperwork and organizing it into categories. Examples of these categories include credit card statements, credit reports, mortgage payments, tax returns, insurance policies, and medical bills.

Once you’ve categorized your records, create a folder for each and place the corresponding documents inside. Shred any that you don’t need to help ensure safe disposal.

Remember to file away any communications you’ve had with the credit reporting agencies about disputes or errors or about statements you’d like added to your credit report.

If you’re tech savvy and prefer electronic filing, you can scan all of your financial paperwork onto your computer. You can also request electronic access to your credit card statements to make them easier to organize. If you opt for electronic filing, make sure you also back up all of your financial records on a separate drive.

Once your paperwork is organized, make sure all of your payments are up to date. If you owe any debt, write it down on a master list so it doesn’t slip your mind.

4. Pay your bills.

Knocking out some debt could reflect positively on both your credit report and credit score. If you have any late payments or accounts in collections, create a budget that will help you pay off the debt as soon as possible. By paying down your debt, you will open up your available credit, which you can then use responsibly to add positive information to your credit report. This information can, in turn, positively affect your credit score.

As you finish cleaning up your credit report, designate a specific day each month to reevaluate your finances so you can head into the new year stress free.

Ilyce Glink is the author of ten books, including the bestselling 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask. Her nationally syndicated column, “Real Estate Matters,” appears in more than 125 newspapers and Websites, and her online “Ask Ilyce” columns are read by hundreds of thousands of people every month. She is a top-rated radio host on WSB Radio in Atlanta, the Home Equity blogger at CBS MoneyWatch.com, host of the Internet program “Expert Real Estate Tips,” managing editor of the Equifax Personal Finance Blog, and publisher of ThinkGlink.com.

7 comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Is it a good idea to pay someone to clean up your credit?

  2. Alysia says:

    It depends who, if it’s a reputable service, they can guide you and help, the best thing to do is to check them out before spending any money.

  3. anonymous says:

    When you dispute anything on your credit report, it may pull down your score. That’s what happened to me.

    • angryaboutsandy says:

      You know what? The very same thing happened to me, as well. My question is: What do we do at this point, and where do we start to at least return scores to where they were before the dispute?…. somebody….anybody???

  4. Janie says:

    When a company provides information to ANY credit agency it is assumed that the information is being reported accurately.. If the account is inaccurate under the FCRA it can be disputed… When an account is disputed because it is thought of as being “inaccurate” you won’t have an accurate score.. So if it is different than what you were aware of and you’ve disputed an account… It’s because innacurate information(disputed) most likely is not being included in your score… It would make no sense for the wrong information to be included to your score because when you would apply for credit.. the credit companies would see a number and run with it and if they checked it later on and it was different than what the company agreed on for approval then it could cause the account to be terminated or limits lowered or collateral to be suspended… It saves a lot of trouble in the end if something is removed to make something accurate until the item comes back from the dispute than what using all of the information inaccurate or not.

  5. Ryan says:

    “If you correct an error with one of the national credit reporting agencies, your information will also be updated with the other two.”…….This is NOT true. You need to contact each credit agency and dispute inaccuracies and or outdated information. Who wrote this blog?


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