Should You Use a Credit Repair Service?

Quick Answer

Credit repair services can be costly, and there's nothing they can do that you can't do on your own for free. In most cases, learning how to fix your credit is the best way to go.

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Experian, TransUnion and Equifax now offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com.

Credit repair services can potentially help you improve your credit, but in most cases, it likely isn't worth it. After all, you can do anything a credit repair service can do, and you can do it for free.

While there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to fixing your credit, here's what to know about credit repair services before you consider hiring one to help.

What Can a Credit Repair Service Do?

A credit repair company can help you investigate and dispute inaccurate and unsubstantiated information on your credit reports that may be hurting your credit score. Examples may include:

  • Credit accounts you didn't open
  • Hard inquiries you didn't initiate
  • Inaccurate personal information
  • An on-time payment that was reported as late
  • Outdated information that should have been removed from your credit reports
  • A bankruptcy that you didn't file

The company will help you identify questionable information and submit disputes to creditors and the credit bureaus on your behalf. They can also monitor your credit reports and notify you when new negative information appears.

What a Credit Repair Service Can't Do

While credit repair services can help you remove certain negative items from your credit reports, that doesn't apply to information that's legitimate and accurate.

If you genuinely missed a loan or credit card payment, had a debt sent to collections or filed for bankruptcy, you'll need to wait until those items fall off your credit reports—typically between seven and 10 years after the infraction occurred.

If a credit repair service tells you that it can remove accurate information from your credit reports, it may be a scam.

How Much Does Credit Repair Cost?

Credit repair services can be expensive, with companies typically charging a monthly subscription fee ranging from $50 to $150.

While federal law prohibits credit repair companies from charging upfront fees, some services charge a one-time fee after getting your account set up, which can be up to $200. Monthly fees are typically charged for the previous month's work.

Because the credit repair process can take several months or even years, you could easily pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars. What's more, there's no guarantee that you'll get the results you're hoping for.

That cost could be worth it if you can afford it and don't have the time or patience to deal with creditors and the credit bureaus. But regardless of how dire your situation is, you can do anything a credit repair company can do on your own for free.

How to Repair Your Credit for Free

If your credit score is in poor shape due to inaccurate negative information, here are some steps you can take to resolve the situation without paying a dime.

1. Review Your Credit Reports

Get a free copy of your Experian credit report and review it for any information you don't recognize or know to be incorrect. You can also obtain free copies of your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports weekly through AnnualCreditReport.com.

2. File a Dispute

While you can reach out directly to the creditor to dispute inaccurate information, you have the right to file a dispute with the credit bureaus, which will investigate the issue on your behalf.

Identify which reports contain the erroneous item and submit a dispute online, by phone or via mail. You'll typically need to identify the information you're disputing, detail your reasoning and provide any supporting documentation you have.

3. Wait for the Dispute Process to Play Out

Each credit bureau has its own process for handling disputes. With Experian, you'll receive an email when your dispute has been opened, along with updates throughout the process. In general, disputes are investigated and resolved within 30 days.

Depending on the results of the investigation, the credit bureau may correct, update or remove the inaccurate information. If the disputed item is legitimate, however, it will remain in place.

How to Improve Your Credit

If you have negative information on your credit reports that cannot be removed through the dispute process, you'll need to wait until they naturally come off your credit reports.

That said, the impact of negative credit information can diminish over time, especially if you're proactive about improving your credit. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Pay your bills on time. Your payment history is the most influential factor in your FICO® Score , so it's crucial that you always pay on time. If you have past-due payments or a debt in collections, make it a priority to pay what you owe as quickly as possible.
  • Reduce credit card balances. Your credit cards' credit utilization rate—the percentage of your available credit you're using at a given time—is another important factor in your credit score. As you pay down your credit card balances and avoid racking up more debt, a lower utilization rate can help increase your score.
  • Apply for a new account. If you don't currently have any credit accounts, a secured credit card or credit-builder loan can help you establish a positive payment history and diversify your credit mix, both of which can help improve your credit.
  • Avoid unnecessary credit. While adding one or two new accounts can potentially help you establish a positive credit history going forward, it's important to avoid applying for credit too frequently. Additionally, it's crucial that you avoid taking on debt for unnecessary spending.
  • Get credit for nontraditional payments. Experian Boost®ø is a free feature that allows you to add certain bills, including eligible rent, cellphone, utilities, insurance and even some streaming subscriptions to your Experian credit file. These on-time payments can potentially help increase your FICO® Score powered by Experian data.

How Long Does It Take to Repair Your Credit?

When you dispute inaccurate information on your credit reports, it typically takes 30 days or less for the credit reporting agencies to investigate and provide a resolution.

However, if there are other negative items on your credit reports that you can't dispute, the timeline can vary depending on the makeup of your credit profile. With some issues, such as a high credit utilization rate, you may be able to repair your credit within just a few months.

However, with major negative credit events, such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, repossession or loan default, it could take several years to rebuild your credit.

Address Negative Credit Information Quickly to Minimize Damage

To build and maintain a good credit history, it's important to monitor your credit regularly and address potential problems as they arise. If you fall victim to identity theft, reporting and disputing it can prevent further fraud that could take longer to resolve.

Additionally, catching up on a missed payment or handling a high credit card balance can keep the problem from getting worse and causing more damage to your score.

With Experian's free credit monitoring service, you'll get access to your FICO® Score and Experian credit report, along with insights into which factors are impacting your score. You can also get real-time alerts when changes are made to your credit report, making it easier to stay on top of developments as they happen.