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7 “Best” Credit Repair Companies for 2020 (Quick Reviews)

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All reviews, research, news and assessments of any kind on The Tokenist are compiled using a strict editorial review process by our editorial team. Neither our writers nor our editors receive direct compensation of any kind to publish information on TheTokenist.io. Our company, Tokenist Media LLC, is community supported and may receive a small commission when you purchase products or services through links on our website. Click here for a full list of our partners and an in-depth explanation on how we get paid.

Do you have bad credit? It has a way of hanging over your head like a financial curse.

Bad credit can even prevent you from accomplishing major life tasks — like taking out a mortgage or buying your first car. Or it can stop you from taking out student loans, vacationing with your family, or worse.

In the most extreme cases, bad credit can make it hard for you to live a normal life.

It’s no wonder people look for assistance when they’re trying to get out from under the specter of bad credit. Credit repair companies are agencies specifically designed to provide this assistance.

They can work with you as you try to repair your credit and negotiate with credit bureaus on your behalf. While they can’t fix your credit for you outright, they can help share the load and make the burden manageable as you take steps to recovery.

Let’s take a look at some top credit repair companies and explain why they might be a great fit for your financial needs.

Top Credit Repair Companies


The following list is a result of more than 100 hours of research:

1. Credit Saint
Best Overall
2. Sky Blue
Best Premium Service
3. CreditRepair.com
Easiest to Use
4. Lexington Law
Excellent Customer Service and Reputation
5. AMB Credit Consultants
Best for Married Couples
6. The Credit People
Very Affordable
7. The Credit Pros
Best for Hands-On Repair

Best Credit Repair Companies

There are plenty of companies out there that can legitimately rectify your credit. Here’s our take on the top credit repair companies available.

1. Credit Saint – Best Overall Credit Repair Company

Pros

  • Provides customized letters to credit bureaus
  • Multiple packages depending on how much service you need
  • Provides plenty of online resources
  • Frequent progress reports

Cons

  • Prices can be a bit much if you don’t need that much help

Credit Saint is one of the best credit repair agencies you can find overall; they’ve really earned their name, as can be seen not only from our recommendation but from the A+ BBB rating they currently hold.

For starters, they’re priced pretty competitively, offering monthly packages between $79 and $120, although they do have some initial fees ranging between $99 and $195.

Still, they’re worth the asking price because they write custom arguments for all their clients. They don’t use pre-made templates when petitioning credit bureaus on your behalf; they’ll look at your situation individually and figure out a strategy that works best for your needs, then compose unique arguments to use on your creditors.

Even better, they offer a moneyback guarantee. You’ll be eligible for a refund if they can’t find any negative or questionable items to remove from your credit report within the first 90 days of your arrangement.

The packages offered included are:

  • Polish, which helps to repair medium levels of credit. It basically covers up to five items on your credit report every cycle, so it’s great if you don’t have super bad credit but still want to make significant improvements
  • Remodel, which costs a little more and has the firm challenge up to 10 items on your credit report. They’ll also tackle things like erroneous bankruptcies or repossessed items
  • Clean Slate is the most expensive, but it provides the most aggressive credit repair services. The credit repair firm will challenge an unlimited number of credit items in every cycle. It can be a great choice if you have lots of potentially negative items on your credit report that you need to be taken care of

You’ll also find lots of other things to like, such as a personal advisory team, several informative online resources you can use to educate yourself, and regular progress reports. Figuring out whether their repair services are worth your time is easy thanks to this transparency. 

2. Sky Blue – Best Value

Sky blue logo

Pros

  • Pretty good pricing all around
  • Good discounts for married couples
  • Provides free credit reports
  • Comes with a 90-day satisfaction guarantee

Cons

  • Can’t customize the service/number of challengeable items

Sky Blue is another good choice, and they offer slightly better value for money if you don’t need a full-on, top-down credit repair overhaul. They’ve been in the industry for a long time, so they have a great track record and plenty of experience that they can bring to bear on your credit report needs.

They offer a single package that’s pretty affordable at $79 per month. The firm will dispute up to 15 items on your report, or 5 items per credit reporting agency, every 35 days.

They provide fantastic customer service that’s lauded by both customers on websites like the BBB. They provide all new subscribers with basic evaluations to show those new customers where they might be able to fix their credit report themselves without paying an extra cost. Sky Blue literally forgoes charging you money if it works better for your needs.

They also provide a 90-day satisfaction guarantee, without extra conditions or fine print. If you want to find a credit repair service as a couple, you get a $39 per month discount, too (but only if you’re married). They also don’t require you to pay for credit reports, so you get free credit reports as an added bonus.

It’s easy to see why Sky Blue has such high marks considering its ease-of-use, simplistic pricing scheme, and excellent value-forward initiatives.

3. CreditRepair.com – Easiest to Use

Pros

  • Very easy to track progress and sign up
  • Provides free access to your credit report
  • Has easy to follow three-step plan for challenging credit report items
  • Free consultation available

Cons

  • Tends to throw around potentially misleading average point gains for customers 
  • Don’t provide as much in-depth info as some other companies

CreditRepair.com is an ideal credit repair agency if you don’t want to deal with complex websites or difficult-to-follow credit repair procedures. This company provides a straightforward service and user-friendly guidelines that make it easy to see their value, even if you aren’t very technically or financially inclined. You can see what they offer by signing up for a free consultation that requires no upfront fee on your part.

Signing up for the service will have you follow three major steps. The company first looks over your credit reports from all three bureaus, then begins to send letters challenging those disputes over the following week.

CreditRepair.com regularly follows up on those letters and will repeatedly challenge the same items over and over if needed. This can make them a great choice if you know that there are improper negative items on your credit report that bureaus may be unwilling to change because of bureaucratic legwork. Sometimes insistence is key, and this company provides it in spades.

The company also provides you with a way to easily follow their progress online through your account portal. Furthermore, their pricing is pretty decent at about $100 a month. They also give you free access to your credit report summary, which is a nice bonus in any credit repair agency.

Signing up for the service is easier than with many other companies, as you can fill out a mobile application on your phone or tablet. You can also use these devices to track your progress even while on the go.

4. Lexington Law – Best Customer Reputation and Experience

Lexington Law Logo

Pros

  • Several discounts available for military or spouses
  • Provides you with a personalized credit repair expert
  • Lots of financial tools to take advantage of
  • Has a long history of getting results for their customers

Cons

  • Pricing can be a bit high for some

Sometimes, the best credit repair agencies are those who have lots of experience. Lexington Law is one of those companies. They’ve been in business since 1991 but have focused on credit repair exclusively ever since 2004.

Supposedly, they’ve removed 10 million negative items from their customers’ credit reports just in 2017 – these are good predictions for further success.

All customers get to pick between three packages: basic, moderate, and advanced. Pricing ranges between $89.95 to $129.95. They also include a first work fee of the same price of whatever package you decide to pick.

A free consultation is provided, however, which is nice since things can get pretty pricy with both charges added together. Even better, they provide a 50% off discount if you are a veteran or active military. Furthermore, spouses get a one-time 50% discount when their partner signs up for their service.

Lexington Law provides a mobile app so you can check your progress reports on the go and keep in touch with the company as they represent your interests. They attach you to a personalized representative, so you can give them details about your situation and so they can figure out the best negative items to work on for your credit report.

Their staff is extensively knowledgeable, and if you pay for one of the higher-priced plans, you’ll get several personal-finance tools to help you tackle your debts and stay on top of how the credit repair company is performing.

All told, it’s a well-constructed and comprehensive credit repair service. They’ve got a good track record and plenty of expertise under their roof in exchange for relatively high prices.

5. AMB Credit Consultants – Best for Married Couples

AMB Credit Consultants Logo

Pros

  • Good prices overall, but especially for couples
  • Has a single but comprehensive package with unlimited disputes
  • Provides some credit educational materials
  • Has a moneyback guarantee 

Cons

  • Free cancellation only lasts for three days, then there’s a fee

AMB Credit Consultants are another good choice if you want an agency with experience – they have 13 years of it. They’ve also got an excellent A rating with the BBB, and only six complaints as of 2020.

The company offers only two packages AMB Credit Empowerment Individual and AMB Credit Empowerment Couple packages, making it simple to apply for their service. Sometimes it can be irritating to have to pick between several services when you just want someone to help you with your negative credit report items.

The individual credit empowerment package can be purchased for a one-time fee of $149 and an additional $99 fee for every month you want to subscribe. If you want to pick up joint accounts, then you can apply for the Couple empowerment package for $198 (one time and monthly), which is pretty affordable compared to other credit repair agencies on the market. As a result, it’s affordable for married couples or any joint account; you don’t have to be legally intertwined to take advantage.

The service provides unlimited and advanced disputes for all the major credit bureaus, plus a secured account management portal so you can track your credit repair service progress. Credit educational materials, cease-and-desist letters and templates, and inquiry disputes are all included with this comprehensive package.

We also like that they offer a moneyback guarantee up to six months if they can’t find or fix any items after that time frame. You’ll also be able to cancel without any penalty within three days of signing on to the package. All in all, it’s a great credit repair company for just about everybody, but an especially good choice for couples or joint account holders due to its affordable prices.

6. The Credit People – Best Price

The Credit People Logo

Pros

  • Very affordable overall
  • Offers a pricing model for indefinite assistance
  • Has a great moneyback guarantee
  • Good monthly rate as well

Cons

  • Not as many new features as other companies

Need a credit repair agency but can’t afford to shell out lots of cash? The Credit People might be the perfect choice. They’re a bit newer than other agencies on the market, but they have a lot to like.

For starters, you can try out their package for $19 over seven days. This is a pretty reasonable fee for what essentially amounts to a trial period. The only downside, of course, is that credit improvements are unlikely within this timeframe for any credit repair company.

However, if you decide to stick with them, you can opt to pay a one-time flat rate of $420 to get everything they offer indefinitely. You read that right.

You’ll never need to pay another dime for their credit repair services. You can also choose a month by month payment plan of $79 a month, which is pretty affordable and at the lower rate for average charges in this industry.

You’ll also get a moneyback guarantee – this comes in the plate if you don’t see any positive results within 60 days, which is a generous period compared to other moneyback guarantees.

There are a few downsides to all this affordability. They only provide customer care during central time zone business hours, and they also don’t offer additional features like identity theft protection that more established companies can boast.

Still, they provide solid credit repair services for all the major credit bureaus and can help you find and repair negative items on your credit report for affordable prices. They might be a great choice for you if your budget is tight, but you need to start fixing things soon.

7. The Credit Pros – Best for Hands-On Credit Repair

The Credit Pros Logo

Pros

  • Provides several packages ranging from basic to comprehensive services
  • Decent prices across the board
  • Provides you with a FICO expert
  • Lots of educational resources and bonus features

Cons

  • A bit more hands-on than other credit repair companies
  • May require a bit more time investment on your part

Those looking for a credit repair company that they can work with more as a partner will appreciate The Credit Pros. This agency gives you a one-to-one relationship with a certified FICO professional who acts like your personal credit repair expert. They’ll work with you to create a plan to repair your credit over time and they can be an invaluable resource for pointing out where you can avoid going wrong in the future.

But you’ll also get budgeting tools, prescription discounts, store lines of credit, payment reminders, and plenty of other bonus goodies to make them worth your while.

They also have lots of innovative benefits like identity theft restoration, cease-and-desist letter templates, and will even go above and beyond by writing goodwill letters to various creditors. They’re extremely easy to sign up with, requiring only about 90 seconds to register. Once in the site, you’ll benefit from a detailed blog that has plenty of credit education resources to help you maintain good credit over the long haul.

Your client portal provides you with live updates on your credit scores and any progress that your FICO expert is making at the moment. They offer several comprehensive packages that range between $69 a month all the way up to $149 a month. But they also have a basic credit monitoring package for $19 a month if you just want to keep an eye on your credit score and don’t need extra assistance. 

A Buying Guide to the Best Credit Repair Companies

How do you know whether a credit repair company is legitimate? What purpose do these companies actually serve? Let’s dive into credit repair companies in more detail.

How Do Credit Repair Companies Work?

In a nutshell, credit report companies work for you by getting negative items from your credit report taken off in exchange for fees. Negative items are any incidents on your credit report that lower your overall credit score.

In this way, credit repair companies don’t deliberately add more points to your credit score. They just remove negative influences so your whole score goes up.

💡 Helpful tip: The best way to keep your credit from dropping even further is by carefully watching it. While this is quite labor intensive to do yourself, there are a number of top credit monitoring services that will do this for you — automatically.

What Do Credit Repair Companies Actually Do?

Credit repair companies do this by ordering credit reports and reviewing them for various errors or negative items they think they can contest. In lots of cases, minor negative events on your credit report can be contested with the credit bureaus and they’ll remove them just to avoid the hassle of a fight. In other incidences, there really are negative items on your credit reports that were improperly placed and can be removed after a review.

Some of the negative items credit repair companies can get removed include:

  • charge-offs
  • bankruptcies
  • late payments
  • tax liens
  • and more

Credit repair companies will send direct communications to various creditors to contest these charges or get the items removed. This may involve sending letters to dispute the information, sending cease-and-desist letters to debt collectors personally, and requesting validation for certain items on your credit report.

They’ll also normally begin their services to you by asking for your personal information, especially so they can compare it against items on your credit report.

What credit repair companies can’t do is arguably just as extensive. Knowing what they can and can’t do is one way you can spot a credit repair scam before you fall for their tricks. Credit repair companies cannot:

  • replace your credit file with a new one
  • charge fees if you cancel
  • charge upfront fees before they perform a service
  • promise specific results, especially within a certain timeframe
  • force credit bureaus to get rid of negative items – they can only ask or point out incorrect information
  • advise you to make false statements, like claiming that an accurate negative item on your credit report is inaccurate for the purposes of boosting your score

Furthermore, credit repair companies can’t do anything you can’t do by yourself. Their value comes from other factors, not from unique skills that only they possess.

Why Use Credit Repair Companies?

Credit repair companies can be worthwhile in the long run because, even though they don’t do anything you can’t handle yourself, they provide expertise and more man-hours to work on your credit score. Think of it as hiring specialists to help you improve your credit score over time instead of a fix-all approach.

Credit repair companies are staffed by financial or crediting experts. They spent every day negotiating with various creditors and credit bureaus, so they know exactly who to contact and what channels to use if you want to dispute an item on your credit report. They also know exactly what to look for.

For instance, you might be boggled at the number of items on your credit report. A credit repair agency can scan that list and find areas where there might be incorrect information or places where you can quickly improve.

Another good analogy is to liken them to a tax specialist. You can file your taxes yourself. But tax specialists have college degrees qualifying them to look at tax forms and find you tax breaks that you would otherwise miss.

So many people use tax specialists to net a greater return at the end of the year. You should look at using a credit repair agency the same way.

Are Some Credit Repair Companies Illegitimate?

Yes. Some credit repair agencies are actually scams or may not be legitimate business entities. There are some ways in which you can spot these scams, however, including:

  • if the agency doesn’t inform you of your rights – specifically, they should provide you with a written disclosure called “Consumer Credit File Rights Under State and Federal Law
  • if they don’t put your agreement in writing. Never trust any financial organization that relies on word-of-mouth for their agreements
  • if they demand payment before doing any work – this is explicitly illegal
  • if they can remove any legitimate or accurate information from your credit report
  • if they swear or “guarantee” that they can increase your credit score by a set amount. No credit repair company can provide guaranteed results; they just increase the odds of you improving your credit score over time and can possibly provide some benefits

Aside from all these bad signs, you can also check out the customer reputation or history of a credit repair company through resources like the Better Business Bureau or our guide. See what other people have to say before forking over some cash.

All in All, is Credit Repair Worth the Money?

Overall, credit repair companies can be worth your time and money. But you shouldn’t expect them to magically repair your credit score alone. In fact, we’d recommend working on your credit score through DIY measures in conjunction with the services a credit repair agency can provide.

This will put extra pressure on your credit score and help you maximize the improvement you can make in a short period of time. Credit repair companies can also sometimes save you time that you might otherwise have to spend investigating your own credit report or negotiating with creditors and credit bureaus yourself.

However, if you’re strapped for cash, there’s no reason why you can’t improve your credit score by yourself. Again, everything credit repair agencies do, you can do yourself, and almost always for free. Consider your budget and any debts you might need to pay off before paying for a credit repair company.

What Other Measures Improve Credit?

There are lots of ways you can “DIY” your credit repair efforts and find debt relief.

The most obvious of these is paying off your debts and making payments to your credit cards and other debt obligations on time. This will slowly but surely drag your credit score back up into the positive numbers. However, this takes a lot of time and you may need to eliminate negative items before you can see real growth.

To that end, it could be helpful to look into credit repair software. These software solutions can cost several hundred dollars, but they let you look into your own credit reports and provide you with several of the same tools, letter templates, and lists of things to look out for that credit repair companies already use in a professional context.

It’s essentially an automated assistant to help you do the credit repair company’s job, but on your own time. You still have to negotiate with the creditors yourself, of course.

You can also look into credit counseling, which may even be free if you find someone to help you from a nonprofit organization. You have to be careful about scams just like with credit repair agencies, though.

Credit counselors are essentially financial specialists that can review your free credit reports and help you figure out a credit repair plan. They don’t negotiate with creditors for you but give you insight into your problems and possible DIY solutions.

When it comes to managing your debts, you can consolidate lots of your high-interest debt into a low-interest loan through debt consolidation. Our guide on debt consolidation can tell you more; it’s a great way to increase your credit score and make lots of debt significantly easier to manage.

Debt settlements are an option, too. Settlements relieve you of existing debt by deleting charges like late fees and the like. But be careful when using these, as they may show up as charge-offs or otherwise hurt your credit score in the long run.

Does Paying Off Collections Improve Credit?

Debt collection accounts are credit report entries that show that you defaulted on a previous debt or loan. Your creditor eventually sold the loan to a collection agency or a debt buyer, who is now more than likely trying to collect your debt with frustrating persistence.

Naturally, collections debts and their associated accounts are extremely bad for your credit score. However, paying off collections doesn’t directly increase your credit score; it just stops more negative items from accruing over time.

How Can You Raise Your Credit Score By 100 or 200 Points?

Remember that building credit takes a lot of time. Credit bureaus usually only collect the payment information that they use to build their scores once a month. This means that your score will only update once a month, and not by very much.

Raising your score by 100 or 200 points (or even more) is likely to take you several months, even with more aggressive credit repair efforts. However, the best ways to raise your credit score significantly include:

  • paying all recurring payments on time
  • paying off debts procedurally and aggressively
  • not taking on additional debt
  • not opening new credit cards
  • closing credit cards or credit accounts you don’t use
  • eliminating negative items on your credit report

Doing all these things, with or without the help of a credit repair company, will go a long way toward progressively raising your credit score over a couple of months.

How Long Do Closed Accounts Remain on Your Credit Report?

It depends on whether the account was in good or bad standing with the credit bureau in question. Most credit bureaus remove any closed accounts after 10 years if the accounts were in good standing. They remove accounts that were in bad standing (i.e. with a history of late payments) 7 years from the date of the account’s closure. All this is to say that your closed accounts can still affect your credit score positively or negatively for a long time, so treat every account you open carefully.

What Credit Score is Acceptable for Buying a House?

Technically, you can buy a house with any credit score. Your credit score just affects the types of loans you might be approved for. Lower scores usually lead to lenders giving you loans with high-interest rates and extra fees. The reverse is true if you have high credit. 

In most cases, those with credit scores of 700 or above will enjoy excellent loan options. If you have a credit score in the 600s, you’ll likely have to deal with subpar loans. Anything below 600 and you may not be approved for a home loan at all – beware of scammers or bad mortgage deals if someone claims otherwise.

Is It Better to Use a Credit Repair Company or DIY Methods?

Ultimately, neither option is specifically better than the other. Credit repair companies have significant advantages that include:

  • the expertise of individuals who know what they’re doing
  • relieving you of the time and effort needed to fight for a better credit score
  • the advice of professionals who can tell you what to work on first
  • and so on

However, your credit score is your own responsibility and you shouldn’t shy away from taking some DIY steps to build your credit back up to a high score. We’d recommend using a credit repair company to some extent if you can afford it while also working proactively on your own credit repair efforts.

Credit Repair FAQs

How Much Does Credit Repair Cost?

This can vary dramatically from company to company. Most credit repair agencies will charge you around $70-$150 every month depending on how many actions they take. Remember that any legitimate credit repair company won’t charge you an upfront fee unless they fully onboard you into their services or make some progress with your report. If they ask for money before doing anything, like if they approach you unprovoked, they’re likely a scam.

How Long Does it Take to Repair Credit?

With or without the help of a credit repair company, it’ll take you between 3 to 6 months to repair your credit from a low (400-500) score to a middling to high (600-700) score, if you’re aggressive with paying your debts and use the help of a credit repair company. Of course, this timeframe can vary based on how many negative items you need to handle. Those with only a few errors might be able to repair their credit in as little as one month.

Can Credit Repair Companies Guarantee Credit Improvement?

No. If they do, they’re likely trying to scam you. Remember, a credit repair company could look at your credit report and find no item they can directly affect or contest, meaning they’d be no help to you at all.

Does Paying Off All Debt Immediately Fix Your Credit?

Not entirely. Paying off all your debts as fast as possible (or immediately if you get a sudden lump sum) will have a positive effect on your credit score. But some negative items, like bankruptcies or loan defaults, stay on your credit report for quite some time. It doesn’t immediately boost your score into the 700s if you eliminate all your debt.

Summary

All in all, credit repair companies can be valuable tools in your kit when you need to repair your credit and overcome your debts. If you have bad credit and don’t attempt to responsibly fix it, further problems could arise.

If you need to borrow, for example, you could be stuck with a bad credit loan. While there are some bad credit loans with guaranteed approval, their interest rates are far from ideal.

At the same time, credit repair companies aren’t magical miracle workers. Keep your expectations in check, look for and use credit repair companies wisely, and be prepared to do some legwork yourself. You’ll be well on your way to repairing your credit score.

All reviews, research, news and assessments of any kind on The Tokenist are compiled using a strict editorial review process by our editorial team. Neither our writers nor our editors receive direct compensation of any kind to publish information on TheTokenist.io. Our company, Tokenist Media LLC, is community supported and may receive a small commission when you purchase products or services through links on our website. Click here for a full list of our partners and an in-depth explanation on how we get paid.

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Bad Credit

Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders

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Illustration by Sarah Maxwell, Folio Art

When Bridget Davis got started in the family’s payday lending business in 1996, there was just one Check ’n Go store in Cincinnati. She says she did it all: customer service, banking duties, even painting walls.

The company had been established two years earlier by her husband, Jared Davis, and was growing rapidly. There were 100 Check ’n Go locations by 1997, when Jared and Bridget (née Byrne) married and traveled the country together looking for more locations to open storefront outlets. They launched another 400 stores in 1998, mostly in strip malls and abandoned gas stations in low-income minority neighborhoods where the payday lending target market abounds. Bridget drove the supply truck and helped select locations and design the store layouts.

But Jared soon fired his wife for committing what may be the ultimate sin in the payday lending business: She forgave a customer’s debt. “A young woman came to pay her $20 interest payment,” Bridget wrote in court documents last year during divorce proceedings from Jared. “I pulled her file, calculated that she had already paid $320 to date on a principle [sic] loan of $100. I told her she was paid in full. [Jared] fired me, stating, ‘We are here to make money, not help customers manage theirs. If you can’t do that, you can’t work here.’ ”

Photograph by Brittany Dexter

It’s a business philosophy that pays well, especially if you’re charging fees and interest rates of 400 percent that can more than triple the amount of the loan in just five months—the typical time most payday borrowers need to repay their debt, says the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit organization focused on public policy. Cincinnati-based Check ’n Go now operates more than 1,100 locations in 25 states as well as an internet lending service with 24/7 access from the comfort of your own home, according to its website. Since its founding, the company has conducted more than 50 million transactions.

What the website doesn’t say is that many, if not most, of those transactions were for small loans of $50 to $500 to working people trying to scrape by and pay their bills. In most states—including Ohio, until it reformed its payday lending laws in 2019—borrowers typically fork over more than one-third of their paycheck to meet the deadline for repayment, usually in two weeks. To help guarantee repayment, borrowers turn over access to their checking account or deposit a check with the lender. In states that don’t offer protection, customers go back again and again to borrow more money from the same payday lender, typically up to 10 times, driving themselves into a debt trap that can lead to bankruptcy.

Jared and Bridget Davis are embroiled in a nasty court battle related to his 2019 divorce filing in Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court. Thousands of pages of filings and 433 docket entries by April 26 offer the public a rare glimpse into the business operations of Check ’n Go, one of Cincinnati’s largest privately-owned companies, as well as personal lifestyles funded by payday lending.

The company cleared $77 million in profit in 2018, a figure that dipped the following year to $55 million, according to an audit by Deloitte. That drop in revenue may have something to do with the payday lending reform laws and interest rate caps passed recently in Ohio as well as a growing number of other states.


The day-to-day business transactions that provide such profit are a depressing window into how those who live on the edge of financial security are often stuck with few options for improving their situations. If a borrower doesn’t repay or refinance his or her original loan, a lender like Check ’n Go deposits the guarantee check and lets it bounce, causing the borrower to incur charges for the bounced check and eventually lose his or her checking account, says Nick DiNardo, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. After two missed payments, payday lenders usually turn over the debt to a collection agency. If the collection agency fails to collect the full amount of the original loan as well as all fees and interest, it goes to court to garnish the borrower’s wages.

That devastating experience is all too familiar to Anthony Smith, a 60-year-old Wyoming resident who says he was laid off from several management positions over a 20-year period. He turned to payday lenders as his credit rating dropped and soon found himself caught in a debt trap that took him years to escape.

Two things happened in 2019, Smith says, that turned around his financial fortunes. First, he found a stable manufacturing job with the Formica Company locally, and then he took his mother’s advice and opened a credit union account. GE Credit Union not only gave him a reasonable loan to pay off his $2,500 debt but also issued him his first credit card in a decade. “I had been a member [of the credit union] for just two months, and I had a credit rating of 520. Can you imagine?” he says. Smith says he is now debt-free for the first time in 10 years.

Consumer advocates say Check ’n Go is one of the biggest payday lending operations in the nation. But knowing its exact ranking is difficult because most payday lending companies, including Check ’n Go and its parent company CNG Holdings, are privately held and reluctant to disclose their finances.

Brothers Jared and David Davis own the majority of the company’s privately held stock. David bought into the company in 1995, but CNG got its game-changing infusion of capital from the brothers’ father, Allen Davis, who retired as CEO of then-Provident Bank in 1998. Allen sold off $37 million in stock options and essentially became CNG’s bank and consultant.

By 2005, however, the sons were part of a public court battle against their father. Allen accused Jared and David of treating his millions in CNG stock as compensation instead of a transfer from his ex-wife (and the brothers’ mother), sticking him with a $13 million tax bill. In turn, the brothers accused Allen of putting his mistress and his yacht captain on the company payroll, taking $1.2 million in fees without board approval, and leading the company into ventures that lost Check ’n Go a lot of money. Several years of legal fighting later, the IRS was still demanding its $13 million. CNG officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Jared and David split $22 million in profit from CNG in 2018 and, according to the Deloitte audit, CNG’s balance sheet showed another $42 million that could be split between the two brothers in 2019. Jared, however, elected not to receive his $21 million distribution “in order to create this artificial financial crisis and shelter millions of dollars from an equitable split between us,” according to Bridget’s divorce filing.

Worse, she claims, Jared said they would be responsible for paying taxes out of their personal accounts rather than from CNG’s company earnings, making her personally responsible for half of the $5.5 million in taxes for 2019. She believes it wasn’t happenstance that $5.5 million was wired to Jared’s private bank account in December of that same year. Bridget has refused to sign the joint tax return, and Jared filed a complaint with the court saying a late tax filing would cost them $1 million in penalties and missed tax opportunities.

“For the duration of our marriage and to the present, Jared has full and complete control of all money paid to us from various investments we have made in addition to our main source of income, CNG,” Bridget wrote in her motion. She suspects that Jared, without her knowledge or consent, plowed the money for their taxes and from other sources of income into Black Diamond Group, the fund that invests in the Agave & Rye restaurant chain. Beyond the original restaurant opened in Covington in 2018, “they have opened four other locations in one year,” she wrote, including Louisville and Lexington. (The ninth location opened in Hamilton this spring.) Agave & Rye’s website touts its Mexican fare as “a chef-inspired take on the standard taco, elevating this simple food into something epic!”

In his response, Jared wrote, “We have very limited regular sources of income.” He says he isn’t receiving any additional distributions from CNG, the couple’s primary source of income, “and this is not within my control. The company has declared that we would not make any further distributions in 2020 given economic circumstances. This decision is based on a formula and is not discretionary.” Agave & Rye helped produce $645,000 in income for Black Diamond in 2020 but has paid out $890,000 in loans, he says. Through August 31, 2020, he wrote, the couple’s “expenses have exceeded income from all sources.”


The divorce case filings start slinging mud when the couple accuses each other of breaking up their 22-year marriage and finding new partners. Jared claims Bridget began an affair during their marriage with Brian Duncan, a contractor she employed through her house flipping business. Bridget, he says, paid Duncan’s company $75,000 in 2018 as well as giving him a personal gift of $70,000 that same year. Jared says she also bought Duncan at least one car and purchased a house for him near hers on Shawnee Run Road for $289,000, then loaned money to Duncan. Jared says Duncan has been late in repaying the note.

While Bridget says Duncan has been drug-free for several years, he has a rap sheet with Hamilton County courts from 2000 to 2017 that runs five pages long. It lists a half-dozen counts of drug abuse and drug possession, including heroin and possession of illegal drug paraphernalia; assaulting a police officer; stealing a Taser from a police officer; criminal damaging while being treated at UC Health; more than a dozen speeding and traffic violations; a half-dozen counts of driving with a suspended license; receiving stolen property; twice fleeing and resisting arrest; three counts of theft; two counts of forgery; and one count for passing bad checks.

Bridget has fired back that Jared not only is hiding his money from her but spending it lavishly on vacations, resorts, and high-end restaurants with his new girlfriend, Susanne Warner. Bridget says Jared gifted Warner with $40,000 without Bridget’s knowledge, then declared it on their joint tax return as a “contribution.” Bridget’s court filings include photocopies of social media posts of Jared and Warner globetrotting from summer 2019 to summer 2020: vacation at Beaver Creek Village in Avon, Colorado; cocktails at High Cotton in Charleston, South Carolina, and dinner at Melvyn’s Restaurant and Lounge in Palm Springs, California; getaways at resorts in Nashville and at a lakefront rental on Norris Lake ($600 per night); in the Bahamas at a Musha Cay private residence ($57,000 per night), at South Beach in Miami, and at a private beach at Fisher Island; in Mexico at Cabo San Lucas; in the U.S. Virgin Islands at Magen’s Bay and on a private yacht ($4,500 per night); in California at Desert Hot Springs, the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, and Montage at Laguna Beach; and in the Bahamas at South Cottage ($2,175 per night).

For her part, Bridget has gone through some of the top lawyers in town faster than President Trump during an impeachment—six in all, two of whom she’s sued for malpractice. She sent four binders of evidence to the Ohio Supreme Court, asking for the recusal of Hamilton County Judge Amy Searcy and claiming Searcy was biased because of campaign donations from Jared and his companies. Rather than deal with the list of questions sent to her by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Searcy stepped down. Two other judges have since stepped into the fray, and in March Bridget filed for a change of venue outside of Hamilton County, arguing she can’t get a fair trial in her hometown. At press time, a trial date had been set for June 28 in Hamilton County.

The poor-mouthing in the divorce case has reached heights of comic absurdity. Jared claims he’s “illiquid” because he didn’t get his distribution from CNG in 2019. Bridget has received debt collection notices for the nearly $21,000 owed on her American Express card and a $735 bill from Jewish Hospital. There’s no sign yet that anyone is coming to repossess her Porsche, which according to her filings has a $5,000 monthly payment. Each party has received $25,000 a month in living expenses, an amount later reduced to $15,000 under a temporary legal agreement while the divorce case is being sorted out. Court filings show that Jared’s net worth is almost $206 million and Bridget’s is $22.5 million.


In the early 1990s, Allen Davis was raising eyebrows at Provident Bank (later bought by National City), and not only because of his very unbanker-like look of beard, ponytail, and casual golf wear. He was leading the company into questionable subprime home loans for people with bad credit and a frequent-shopper program for merchants, though the bank’s charter barred him from getting involved in full-blown predatory lending practices. With guidance and funding from his father, Jared, at age 26, launched Check ’n Go in 1994 and became a pioneer in the payday lending industry. Jared and his family saw there were millions of Americans who didn’t have checking or savings accounts (“unbanked”) or an adequate credit rating (“underbanked”) but still needed loans to meet their everyday expenses. What those potential customers did have was a steady paycheck.

Conventional banks share a big part of the blame for the nation’s army of unbanked borrowers by imposing checking account fees and onerous penalties for bounced checks. In 2019, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation estimated there were 7.1 million U.S. households without a checking or savings account.

The Davises launched Check ’n Go on the pretext that it would “fill the gap” for people who occasionally needed to borrow money in a hurry—a service for those who couldn’t get a loan any other way. But consumer advocates say the real business model for payday lending isn’t a service at all. The majority of the industry’s revenue comes from repeat business by customers trapped in debt, not from borrowers looking for a quick, one-time fix for their financial troubles.

Ohio’s payday lending lobbyists got a strong hold on the state legislature in the late 1990s, and by 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray could rightfully claim in a campaign ad that “Ohio’s [payday lending] laws are now the worst in the nation. Things have gotten so bad that it is legal to charge 594 percent interest on loans.” His statement was based on a 2014 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The frustration for consumer advocates was that Ohioans had been trying to reform those laws since 2008, when voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative placing a 28 percent cap on the interest of payday loans. But—surprise!—lenders simply registered as mortgage brokers, which enabled them to charge unlimited fees.

The Davis family and five other payday lending companies controlled 90 percent of the market back then, an express gravy train ripping through the poorest communities in Ohio. The predatory feeding frenzy, especially in Ohio’s hard-hit Rust Belt communities, prompted a 2017 column at The Daily Beast titled, “America’s Worst Subprime Lender: Jared Davis vs. Allan Jones?” (Jones is founder and CEO of Tennessee-based Check Into Cash.) In 2016 and 2017, consumer advocates mustered their forces again, and this time they weren’t allowing for loopholes. The Pew Charitable Trusts joined efforts with bipartisan lawmakers and Ohioans for Payday Loan Reform, a statewide coalition of faith, business, local government, and nonprofit organizations. Consumer advocates found a legislative champion in State Rep. Kyle Koehler, a Republican from Springfield.

It no doubt helped reform efforts that former Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger resigned in spring 2018 amid an FBI investigation into his cozy relationship with payday lenders. Rosenberger had taken frequent overseas trips—to destinations including France, Italy, Israel, and China—in the company of payday lending lobbyists. In April 2019, Ohio’s new lending law took effect and, since then, has been called a national model for payday lending reform that balances protections for borrowers, profits for lenders, and access to credit for the poor, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. New prices in Ohio are three to four times lower for payday loans than before the law. Borrowers now have up to three months to repay their loans with no more than 6 percent of their paycheck. Pew estimates that the cost of borrowing $400 for three months dropped from $450 to $109, saving Ohioans at least $75 million a year. And despite claims that the reforms would eliminate access to credit, lenders currently operate in communities across the state and online. “The bipartisan success shows that if you set fair rules and enforce them, lenders play by them and there’s widespread access to credit,” says Gabe Kravitz, a consumer finance officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Other states like Virginia, Kansas, and Michigan are following Ohio’s lead, Kravitz says. Some states, such as Nebraska, have even capped annual interest on payday loans. As a result, Pew researchers have seen a reduction in the number of storefront lending op­erations across the country. Even better, Kravitz says, there’s no evidence that borrowers are turning instead to online payday lending operations.

Cincinnati is one of five cities chosen for a grant to replicate the success of Boston Builds Credit, an ambitious effort that city launched in 2017 to provide credit counseling in poor and minority communities by training specialists at existing social service agencies. The program also encourages consumer partnerships with credit unions, banks, and insurance companies to offer small, manageable loans that can help the unbanked and underbanked improve their credit ratings. “Right now, local organizations are all kind of working in silos on the problem in Cincinnati,” says Todd Moore of the nonprofit credit counseling agency Trinity Debt Relief. Moore, who applied for the Boston grant, says he’s looking for an agency like United Way or Strive Cincinnati to lead the effort here.

Anthony Smith is thankful that he’s escaped the downward spiral of his payday loans, especially during the pandemic’s economic turmoil. “I’m blessed for every day I can get paid and have a job during these difficult times, just to be able to pay my bills and meet my responsibilities,” he says. “I’ve always kept a job, but until now I’ve had crappy credit. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad guy.”

Can others worth millions of dollars say the same?

Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders Source link Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders



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What’s Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?

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Questionable’s definition means that something’s quality is up for debate. If a lender says that your credit score is questionable, it’s likely that they mean it’s poor, or at the very least, they’re hesitant to approve you for vehicle financing. Here’s what most lenders consider questionable credit, and what auto loan options you may have.

Questionable Credit and Auto Lenders

Many auto lenders may consider questionable credit as a borrower with a credit score below 660. The credit score tiers as sorted by Experian the national credit bureau, are:

  • Super prime: 850 to 781
  • Prime: 780 to 661
  • Nonprime: 660 to 601
  • Subprime: 600 to 501
  • Deep subprime: 500 to 300

The nonprime credit tiers and below is when you start to get into bad credit territory and may struggle to meet the credit score requirements of traditional auto lenders.

This is because lenders are looking at your creditworthiness – your perceived ability to repay loans based on the information in your credit reports. Besides your actual credit score, there may be situations where the items in your credit reports are what’s making a lender question whether you’re a good candidate for an auto loan. These can include:

  • A past or active bankruptcy
  • A past or recent vehicle repossession
  • Recent missed/late payments
  • High credit card balances
  • No credit history

There are ways to get into an auto loan with questionable credit. Your options can change depending on what’s making your credit history questionable, though.

Questionable Credit Auto Loans

If your credit score is less than stellar, it may be time to look at these two lending options:

  • What Is Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?Subprime financing – Done through special finance dealerships by third-party subprime lenders. These lenders can often assist with many unique credit situations, provided you can meet their requirements. A great option for new borrowers with thin files, situational bad credit, or consumers with older negative marks.
  • In-house financing – May not require a credit check, and is done through buy here pay here (BHPH) dealers. Typically, your income and down payment amount are the most important parts of eligibility. Auto loans without a credit check may not allow for credit repair and may come with a higher-than-average interest rate.

Both of these car loan options are typically available to borrowers with credit challenges. However, if you have more recent, serious delinquencies on your credit reports, a BHPH dealer may be for you. Most traditional and subprime lenders typically don’t approve financing for borrowers with a dismissed bankruptcy, a repossession less than a year old, or borrowers with multiple, recent missed/late payments.

Requirements of Bad Credit Car Loans

In many cases, your income and down payment size are the biggest factors in your overall eligibility for bad credit auto loans. Expect to need:

  • 30 days of recent computer-generated check stubs to prove you have around $1,500 to $2,500 of monthly gross income. Borrowers without W-2 income may need two to three years of professionally prepared tax returns.
  • A down payment of at least $1,000 or 10% of the vehicle’s selling price. BHPH dealers may require up to 20% of the car’s selling price.
  • Proof of residency in the form of a recent utility bill in your name.
  • Proof of a working phone (no prepaid phones), proven with a recent phone bill in your name.
  • A list of five to eight personal references with name, phone number, and address.
  • Valid driver’s license with the correct address, can’t be revoked, expired, or suspended.

Depending on your individual situation, you may need fewer or more items to apply for a bad credit auto loan. However, preparing these documents before you head to a dealership can speed up the process!

Ready to Get on the Road?

With questionable credit, finding a dealership that’s able to assist you with an auto loan is easier said than done. Here at Auto Credit Express, we want to get that done for you with our coast-to-coast network of special finance dealerships.

Complete our free auto loan request form and we’ll get right to work looking for a dealer in your local area that can assist with many tough credit situations.

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Entrepreneur Tae Lee Finds Her Fortune

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By Jasmine Shaw
For The Birmingham Times

Birmingham native Tae Lee had plans last year to visit the continent of Africa, the South American country of Columbia, and the U.S. state of Texas.

“I was going to stay in each place for like four to six weeks, and then COVID-19 happened,” she said. “So, I just was like, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna go to Mexico and stay for six months.’”

Once home from Playa Del Carmen, located on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the 33-year-old entrepreneur put the final touches on “Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt,” a financial literacy card game for ages 10 and up.

“We created ‘Game of Fortune’ because we realized there was a gap in learning the fundamentals of money,” said Lee. “We go through life not knowing anything about money and then—‘Bam!’—real life hits. Credit, debt, and bills come at us quick!”

Lee believes the game “gives players a glimpse of real life” by using everyday scenarios to teach them how to make wiser financial decisions without having to waste their own money.

“I feel like [financial literacy] can be learned in ways other than somebody standing up and preaching it to you over and over again,” she said. “You can learn it in ways that are considered fun, as well.”

Which is why “we want the schools to buy it, so we can give students a fun way to learn about financial literacy,” she added.

Lee, also called the “Money Maximizer,” is an international best-selling financial author, speaker, coach, and trainer who is known for her financial literacy books, including “Never Go Broke (NGB): An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Money and Freedom” and the “NGB Money Success Planner High School Edition.” The Birmingham-based financial guru focuses on creating diverse streams of income in the tax, real estate, insurance, and finance industries.

For Lee, it’s about building generational wealth, not debt.

Indispensable Lessons

Lee got her first glance at entrepreneurial life as a child watching her mother, Valeria Robinson, run her commercial cleaning company, V’s Cleaning. Robinson retired in 2019.

“My grandmother had a cleaning service, too,” said Lee. “So, even though I didn’t start out as an entrepreneur, watching my mom and grandma do it taught me a lot.”

Lee grew up in Birmingham and attended Riley Elementary School, Midfield Middle School, and Huffman High School. She then went on to Jacksonville State University, in Jacksonville, Alabama, where she earned bachelor’s degree in physical education. She struggled to find a career in her field and became overwhelmed by student loans.

“My credit and stuff didn’t get bad until after college,” she said. “I was going through school and taking money, but nobody told me, ‘Oh, you’re gonna have to pay all of this back.’”

Before embarking on her extensive career in money management, Lee had not learned the indispensable lessons that she now shares with clients.

“‘Don’t have bad credit.’ That’s all I learned,” she remembers. “Financial literacy just wasn’t taught much. I learned the majority of my lessons as I aged.”

In an effort to ward off collection calls and raise her credit score, Lee researched tactics to strategically eliminate her debt.

“I knew I had to pay bills on time, and I couldn’t be late with payments,” she said.

Lee eventually began helping friends revamp their finances and opened NGB Inc. in 2017 to share fun, educational methods to help her clients build solid financial foundations.

“People were always coming to me like, ‘How do I invest in this?’ and ‘How do I do that?’ So, I said to myself, ‘You know what, people should be paying to pick your brain.’”

Legacy Building

While Lee enjoyed watching her clients reach milestones, like buying a new car with cash or making their first stock market investment, she was also designing “Game of Fortune” to teach the value of legacy building.

“The game gives players the knowledge to build generational wealth, not generational debt,” she said. “It gives you a glimpse of life, money, and what can truly happen if you mismanage your coins.”

Using index cards to create her first “Game of Fortune” sample deck, Lee filled each card with pertinent terms related to debt elimination and credit and wealth building. She then called on a few friends to help her work through the kinks.

Three of her good friends—Barbara Bratton, Daña Brown, and Sha Cannon—were just a few of the people that gave feedback on the sample deck.

“From there I met with Brandon Brooks, [owner of the Birmingham-based Brooks Realty Investments LLC], and four other financial advisors to fine-tune the definitions and game logistics,” Lee said.

Though Lee was unable to land a job in physical education after graduating from college, she now sees her career with NGB Inc. as life’s unexpected opportunity to teach on her own terms.

“Bartending and waitressing taught me that working for someone else was not for me,” she replied. “In order to get the life I always wanted, I had to create my own business.”

In her entrepreneurial pursuits, Lee strives to be an open-minded leader who embraces the need for flexibility.

“COVID-19 has shown me that in entrepreneurship you have to maneuver,” she said. “When life changes, sometimes your business will, too. You may have to change the path, but your ending goal can be the same.”

“Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt” is available and sold only on the “Game of Fortune” website: gameoffortune.money. To learn more about Tae Lee and Never Go Broke Inc., visit taelee.money and nevergobroke.money or email tae@taelee.money; you also can follow her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/nevergobrokeinc) and Instagram (@nevergobrokeinc).

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