Many people with less than perfect credit find it difficult to obtain accurate credit information. And credit reports, even when obtained, regularly contain errors or omissions. Judgments, repossessions, slow payments, compromises, liens, and bankruptcies are irregularly reported by lenders or haphazardly acquired from public record databases by consumer reporting agencies ("CRAs").

Credit data may also originate from other sources, some of which may be out-of-date or simply wrong. To learn how much your credit rating has slipped, and how to revive it, you must first discover what CRAs reveal about you when creditors inquire.

Start the self-help process by obtaining a copy of one or more of your credit reports. Begin by contacting the three major CRAs employed by credit issuers throughout the United States:

P.O. Box 949
Allen, TX 75013-0949

760 West Sproul Road, P.O. Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064-0390

P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

These and others may be found on the Internet, or in most yellow page directories under "Credit Reporting Agencies."

Most major CRAs require your signed letter requesting the credit report, along with a check or money order (typically $9 unless you qualify for a free report), and the following information:

Full name including aliases, former names, alternate spellings, Jr., Sr., III, etc.

Spouse's full name, if you are married.

Complete addresses for prior five years, including ZIP Codes.

Date of birth.

Social Security number (for verification purposes).

Remember you are legally entitled to a free copy of your credit report if you demand it within 60 days of being denied credit. Some CRAs provide free copies for other reasons. Call 888.524.3666 to confirm eligibility for a free report.

Procedures are available for clearing inaccurate credit data, and the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA") provides additional protection. Yet no single agency or CRA deals exclusively with restoring credit. The U.S. contains nearly 1,200 independent CRAs which share financial and credit information. Re-establishing good credit requires enterprise and detective work, but you can win at the credit game if you are willing to do your homework.

The fix is in. Be wary of companies making unrealistic claims about fixing or "repairing" bad credit. Often substantial fees are charged and little is done you can't do for yourself. Be proactive. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to recreate your credit history if you misplaced your records. You may even need to visit the local public records office. Read the full text of FCRA at the Federal Trade Commission website (

FCRA entitles you to know why credit is declined. If the report contains errors, only your creditor can remove a negative entry unless it is incorrect or cannot be verified. CRAs must investigate fact disputes, usually within 30 days of the notice date, unless your challenge is patently frivolous.

Once updated, you can insist the CRAs send corrections to creditors accessing your credit file during the prior six months. In case of unresolved disputes, you have the further right to insert a 100-word statement setting forth your version of the facts.

If you were a victim of fraud or identity theft, you may have the right to press criminal charges. Creditors are also likely to investigate your claim. They may require a corroborating police report or a detailed fact affidavit from you before removing the disputed entry. But strict deadlines do apply.

One method of improving credit is to solicit a co-signer with good credit. Or establish a secured credit card account with a bank or credit issuer. Some will lend 150% or more of funds on deposit. A winning strategy is to pay back the amount due in full before maturity. Establish a pattern. Secured credit cards, used this way, will improve credit scores over time while allowing a credit-challenged debtor to hold a Master Card or Visa again.

Pension loans and personal borrowings do little to improve credit. You'll want to show one or more creditors extended new credit despite your prior financial problems. To build new credit with a bank or federal credit union when you don't qualify, consider a small personal loan. Secure it with a savings account. Again, be sure to prepay the loan balance before the due date, or at least on time.

The purpose of these tips is to re-establish your credit integrity, not pile up more debt. The payments you make on account of the new debt become part of your credit history. Insist these payments be added to your credit files. Follow up with the three major CRAs and verify how each reports the supplemental credit experience to creditors. Conversely, many creditors disclose credit history only to one or two but not all of the major CRAs. A few do not report at all.

Take charge and become informed. Understanding what creditors already know about your credit file is fundamental to improving your credit profile. Therefore obtaining all three major credit reports is highly recommended. One final tip: do rely on the credit reports, but always verify their accuracy.


Richard E. Weltman, a member of Weltman & Moskowitz, LLP, practices law in New York and New Jersey. He handles matters involving bankruptcy and creditors' rights, business litigation, shareholder, partner and LLC member disputes, Internet and cyberspace issues, business purchases and sales, real estate, and other transactional matters. He can be reached at 201.794.7500 or 212.684.7800, or by email.