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Fine print, Living with credit, Protecting yourself

You are your own best credit repair company

Matt Schulz

When it comes to ridding your credit report of inaccurate items, I recently learned the hard way that if you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.

A few months back, I signed up for a credit monitoring program, and for my troubles, I received a free three-in-one credit report. Looking through the report, I discovered a negative item — a collection request for several hundred dollars — that I didn’t recognize. Only one of the three credit bureaus showed it, so I wanted to find out more about it and, ultimately, get rid of it if it wasn’t legitimate.

It wasn’t easy.

First, I had to get a full report from the credit bureau in question. It was free and easy to get online, so it was no big deal. Once I got that, I was able to figure out some of the details surrounding the collection, including the creditor, the date and amount of collection and more.

I then called the creditor — a hospital — to inquire about the information on the report and get any other details they could offer up. Confident that I was being wronged, I explained the error to them and offered proof that it was a mistake. The charge simply couldn’t have been valid because I hadn’t set foot in their town for nearly two to three years prior to the date of the charge. After a short conversation with the hospital’s billing department, they seemed convinced, and I requested they send a letter acknowledging the error. However, the lady said that she’d need to speak with her manager before they could take any further steps, but she promised to call me back.

Weeks of unreturned calls passed, and in the meantime, I filed an request through the credit bureau’s Web site to have the company officially investigate the matter. Within a couple of weeks, I received a letter via snail mail saying that it had determined that the item was legitimate and would remain on the credit report. Frustrated, I worked again to resolve the issue with the hospital.

Another couple of weeks of ignored calls went by and then — finally — I heard from the creditor. I was told that an apology letter would be sent out, acknowledging the error and rescinding the collection request. In short, I had won.

Now, all that’s left to do is actually get the letter, pass it on to the credit bureau and stay on top of it until the item is actually removed. And I will definitely do that. I’ve worked too hard for too long — and value my good credit too much — to stop now.

Finally, if you find yourself in my situation, follow these steps to help you clear your good name:

  • Do your homework and make sure that the item is, in fact, inaccurate.
  • Contact the creditor to dispute the collection.
  • Contact the credit bureau to request that it investigates the collection and removes it from your report.
  • Don’t take no (or an unreturned phone call) for an answer.
  • Get written acknowledgement of the mistake and forward that document to the credit bureau.
  • Follow up with the credit bureau to ensure that the item is, in fact, removed.

Above all, you need to make sure that you’re right. After all, if a negative item on your report is legitimate, there’s not much that you — or anyone — can do to remove it.

UPDATE: Here’s a late shout-out to the 171st Carnival of Personal Finance for including this article. (Sorry, guys. Been on vacation out of state for a week.) This week’s Carnival theme is the arrival of Fall and the Carnival itself includes lots of great tips on personal finance.

See related: How to read, understand your credit report, How to get your (really) free credit report

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  • Matt-
    Great real-world post. In a small way, I guess we should be happy when there’s only one mistake made. Glad you found it and glad you were able to fix it. Should it have been that hard? No way! Will it usually be? Yup.