Connect with us

Credit Repair Companies

How To Avoid Being Scammed

Published

on

There is a constant barrage of advertisements for credit repair companies on radio, television, print media and the Internet that target people with bad credit. They imply or directly promise that they can “fix” your credit or significantly raise and improve credit score. In many cases these solicitations or statements are misrepresentations or lies as to what legally can and cannot be done. And they charge a lot of money, often more than a thousand dollars for each account to “fix.” Some of these companies are total scams, preying on the poor, uneducated, or people that have found themselves in dire financial straits. They desperately need credit which is unavailable, ultimately because of low credit scores. These scores, which are relied upon by virtually every creditor, provide a snapshot of an individuals’ financial responsibility.

Anyone that has a low score understands that bad credit costs a lot of money in terms of higher interest rates, if they are even able to obtain credit at all. It can also mean higher insurance rates, larger deposits for apartments and utilities, and more difficulty in anything that involves payments.

So an entire industry of “credit report fixers” has evolved to “help” the consumer improve their credit scores and their ability to get the things they want or need. The problem is that a lot of these companies are fly-by-night, they are making and charging for promises they cannot legally accomplish, and are taking money for services that the consumer can perform for themselves for free. In some cases credit repair companies are even set up to steal identities which then drives the debtor farther into trouble.

Credit scores are complicated

The critical factor and product that these companies sell are all tied to credit scores. The scores assess hundreds of factors on an instantaneous basis as new data is fed to the Credit Reporting Agencies about you. Ultimately your credit score will determine whether you are able to obtain credit, and how much it costs you.

Depending upon what kind of credit you are applying for, the score can be different because of individual lending parameters and the creditor’s appetite for risk. Your score can even differ between lenders for the same amount of credit. The issue is further complicated by which credit reporting agency produces the score. Thus, one CRA may report a score of 759, while another will report 793 and a third, a score of 777.  And it does not matter what your income is, but rather how you pay your bills. Your credit history is what is important, not your assets or ability to pay.

There are two primary credit scoring systems (and hundreds of variants customized for a specific lender)  which are relied upon by a majority of creditors in assessing the credit worthiness of an applicant. The most known system is called FICO, developed by Fair Isaac Corp. It was the first scoring model that was developed for banks and came into wide use in 1989.  The other scoring system is known as VantageScore 3.0 and was developed by all three of the Credit Reporting Agencies to compete with FICO.

It is relied upon by about 80% of lenders and creditors. Depending upon where you live, information is generally fed to one of the three CRAs by creditors. Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax all do the same thing: they store your information and feed it, on demand, to lenders. How your credit report is accessed from which CRA can affect the score. The other important factor is that credit scores are dynamic indicators that constantly change. They are a real-time yardstick and are affected by a great deal of data about you.

I interviewed several senior Experian representatives about credit reports and credit repair companies, in addition to talking with Adam Levin, Chairman of Credit.com, which was a follow-up discussion with Adam about protecting your credit reports from identity theft. Adam is one of the leading experts on credit in the United States.

Credit Repair Organizations and the law

The applicable federal statute is called the Credit Repair Organization Act, (15 USC 1679). It provides the legal framework for companies to provide services, and makes it a federal crime and provides civil remedies against those that violate the Act. A credit repair organization is defined as any person or business who makes money in exchange for improving your credit.  Unfortunately, there is little enforcement for violations by the FTC, so you must know who you are dealing with before you obtain any services. There is a five-year statute of limitations to file a complaint, once a violation is discovered.  And remember, many of these companies state that they offer “legal credit repair.” It does not mean they do, and is often simply a ruse to induce you to sign up with them.

Here is what credit repair organizations cannot legally do:

  • Ask for money before they perform services;
  • Make false statements about you or your credit history, or induce you to do so;
  • Make any changes in your identity which would prevent a valid search from being conducted. This means changing any part of your social security number or employer identification number, which would allow you to establish a new identity in order to start a new credit history;
  • They cannot misrepresent services they will provide to you;
  • They must provide you with a disclosure statement called “Consumer Credit File Rights Under State and Federal Law”;
  • They must inform you that you have a right to obtain a free credit report from all three CRAs each year. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com
  • They must inform you that you have the right to dispute inaccurate information without their help;
  • You have the right to file a lawsuit against a credit repair organization if they violate the provisions of CROA and you may be entitled to actual and punitive damages and attorney’s fees for violations;
  • You cannot be charged for canceling a contract within the three day period;
  • Before any services can be performed, they must give you a written contract, and you must sign it;
  • Any contract you sign can be revoked within three days;
  • Any contract you sign must include, at a minimum:
    • The amount of payment that will be required;
    • A description, in specific terms, of the services they wil perform;
    • An estimate of time it will take to perform the services;
    • Be certain that the contract includes a form to provide notice of cancellation;
    • You cannot be required to waive your rights under CROA. Any such waiver is deemed void and not enforceable.

Warning signs that it is a scam:

  • They will claim that they can increase your credit scores, but will not be specific;
  • They will not give you a copy of the contract prior to signing it;
  • They fail to tell you that you have a right to dispute information and that you can obtain your credit report without their help;
  • The company promises to create a new identity;
  • They promise to remove accurate, but derogatory information from your credit report;
  • They demand money up-front before they perform services;
  • They do not tell you that you can cancel within three days;
  • They will not provide any date by which services will be performed, nor will they specifically identify each service;
  • They will not tell you exactly how much will be charged;
  • They want money, usually up-front and on a per-account basis to increase your credit score.

Creditors and your credit information

Credit information is analyzed somewhat differently by each lender or creditor and can be affected by many factors. Most consumers do not understand how the system works and often take steps in the mistaken belief that it will improve their credit scores.

The entire credit reporting system is voluntary and is for the benefit of all lenders as well as consumers. It is based upon trust and the integrity of the information. The improper removal of accurate data would undermine the entire system, which is why creditors are prohibited from removing negative but correct information from your credit file. Creditors are bound by federal law to report accurate information and also by contracts with the credit reporting agencies to do so.

The entire system is based upon the sharing of information so lenders can make sound decisions. The system helps people obtain credit at the lowest possible costs, so it is valuable as a tool to mitigate risk. The credit reporting system is an integral part of business, and depends upon everyone cooperating. These fundamental principles are why most credit repair organizations are ultimately a scam, because they cannot make bad credit good if the underlying data is accurate.

Actions that can affect credit scores

  • Use of ATM, debit, or prepaid credit cards will have no affect because they are not reported, but use of secured cards can help in building a good credit history;
  • If you close accounts, your credit score will be adversely impacted;
  • If you do not need credit, do not apply for it. It is especially important not to open accounts just because they are offering you a discount, such as in a department store. Unless you are going to make a lot of purchases, these accounts hurt your credit;
  • The utilization ratio of your credit accounts is important. If you close one or more accounts, your utilization of credit ratio will go up, and have a negative effect on your score;
  • If you are going to be applying for credit, leave your accounts alone. Utilization is a better indicator of risk in comparison to how many open accounts you have;
  • High school kids should establish a credit history as a joint cardholder, not as a separate account;
  • Pay all your bills on time, including utilities and rent;
  • Credit inquiries can hurt your credit. Too many “hard” credit inquiries on your account signals distress;
  • Do not drive up your credit limits, and only use a maximum of 30% of your credit limits on each account;
  • Open credit cards have a positive impact on your credit, so long as you do not exceed the 30% limits rule;
  • More weight is given in your credit score to open accounts;
  • Dormant accounts, or paid and closed and never-late will not boost your score;
  • Do not have any delinquency or derogatory information;
  • Do not continue to have zero balance accounts. Make a charge periodically to show some activity;
  • Do not close all cards at once, but on a random basis if you want to reduce the number of credit cards you have. Your credit score is looking at what is active;
  • Your creditor will add up all your account balances to determine whether you are over-extended;
  • Do not leave debts unpaid, even if late;
  • If you make a settlement agreement with a creditor, get it in writing;
  • When you pay a debt, it does not mean it will be removed from your credit report if it was late, or settled;

The following specific issues will always hurt your credit:

  • Too many credit cards;
  • Debt ratios;
  • Slow payment history;
  • Late payment history;
  • Defaults and write-downs
  • Judgments and liens;

How long information is stored in your file

Information is stored on the system for up to ten years, depending upon its classification

  • Credit items, credit cards, bank accounts, and every late-pay will remain for seven years;
  • The status of an account as paid, closed, never-late will appear for ten years from date of closure;
  • Open, never-late remains forever;
  • Payment history and closed account, ten years;
  • Credit inquiries remain for two years and one month;
  • Current creditors have a right to review your credit files. These will not show up on your repot as hard inquiries but will also remain for 25 months. They will not affect your credit scoe;
  • Merchants are required to either fix a disputed item, or respond within 30 days of being notified;

According to Rod Griffin, the Director of Public Education at Experian, here is what many illegitimate credit repair companies really do in the guise of helping their clients:

  • They send hundreds of disputes to credit reporting agencies. They rely on the fact that some creditors may miss the 30 day mandatory response period, which requires the CRA to suppress the information from the credit file. Unfortunately for the debtor, this information can now be re-inserted later. This means that what the credit repair company was paid to accomplish actually was reversed and the money paid to the company was for nothing;
  • More than half of the disputes to redit repair agencies are from credit repair companies. It is a paper game;
  • If the dispute is identified as frivolous from a credit repair organization, it will be declared as fraudulent, and the CRA can block, the process;
  • Consumers are constantly scammed into spending money for things they can do themselves;

Actions that consumers can do themselves to fix their credit

I interviewed a senior credit counsellor at Experian to review the intricacies of a credit report, and what a consumer should and should not do to affect their scores. Here is what she told me:

  • Consumers can contact credit reporting agencies by email, by mail, or on-line to dispute inaccurate information. The process is simple and straightforward. They do not need someone else to do it for them for a fee;
  • Consumers should use the money they would pay to repair organizations and give it to their creditors. Credit repair organizations are a short-term solution, which usually ends up in the debtor taking on more debt. Consumers are far better off paying down their debt;
  • Credit reporting agencies can only remove inaccurate or erroneous information. They cannot legally alter or remove any accurate data, so the premise of what credit repair organizations claim they can do is flawed;
  • Get a written statement from the creditor that indicates the information is wrong, or the account has been paid;
  • Place a statement on your credit file if you have experienced a significant event in your life that has had an adverse impact on your ability to meet obligations. Fraud, identity theft, lost wallet, and serious medical issues can be noted in the file. There are instance where debtors get into trouble and a lender may waive the content of a negative report. As the result of an action by the New York Attorney General, credit reporting agencies will not report medical collections for up to 180 days;
  • Work directly with your credit reporting agency;
  • Check your credit report before you apply for credit, so you can correct any errors.

 

Before you apply for credit

Ask your creditor about their relationship with the credit reporting agency. Remember that credit reporting agencies only store data and cannot provide a credit score, unless it is based upon the Vantage 3.0 model.

Specifically ask your creditor:

  • Do they report information, and if so, how and what information do they report, and to whom;
  • What is the policy of the company regarding late payments;
  • Does your company use credit scores, and if so, which model;
  • Do they rely upon these scores;
  • What is the range of credit scores they require for the credit you are applying for;
  • If you are dealing with a property rental, do they report information, how soon do they begin reporting, and to what data base.

If you are in trouble and thinking about using a credit repair company, remember there is nothing they can legally do to remove accurate yet derogatory information from your file. Whatever they can do, you can do for free. You have the right to dispute any information that is wrong and have it removed from your credit report. If you commit fraud in attempting to change the information on file, you can be prosecuted.

If a negative item is erased from your credit report, it may reappear after a period of time, so you will likely accomplish nothing by paying an illegitimate company to “fix” your credit. And if you succeed in totally wiping out your credit history by altering or creating a new identity, you will not be able to obtain any credit either, because a lender will have no data upon which to base a credit decision.

If you need help in repairing your credit, there are many legitimate companies that can assist you, but you need to research carefully to be certain the company is not a scam.

My best advice: work directly with a credit reporting agency like Experian. For $40 they will analyze your credit file and discuss it in detail with you, as well as running a simulation of payments to help you optimize the application of resources against your debt to drive up your credit score. All three CRAs have such programs.

Source link

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Credit Repair Companies

Credit Repair Review Methodology

Published

on

When it comes to managing your finances, thoroughly researching any company you work with is of the utmost importance. This couldn’t be truer than with credit repair companies.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), credit repair scams are incredibly common. There have been several recorded cases of criminals setting up false credit repair schemes designed to steal Social Security numbers, and some completely legitimate companies have been accused of violating consumer rights by charging illegal fees and making false promises to customers.  Even those with a clean record often face high volumes of consumer complaints for a variety of reasons, such as overpriced services and failure to deliver results.

The FTC makes it clear that no credit repair company is authorized to perform any action you can’t do on your own for free. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you’re legally entitled to access your credit report for free once per year or if you’ve been the victim of identity theft. Additionally, the law dictates that you can dispute inaccuracies on your report and have negative information removed after a certain number of years. The FTC offers a clear, step-by-step guide on how to do this without paying a credit repair company.

At the end of the day, many people still choose to work with a credit repair company because they feel overwhelmed by the dispute process and are willing to pay for expert help. There are a number of ways in which credit repair companies can provide value, such as spotting errors on your report that you might otherwise miss. The FTC advises that reputable companies will also help you achieve long-term financial success that goes beyond your credit report by providing budgeting help and free educational materials.

So how do you tell a legitimate credit repair company from a scam? That’s the question we set out to answer in our series of credit repair reviews. We looked at some of the most popular companies and closely examined their services, pricing structures, and reputations to determine whether or not they offer value. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the methodology we used to evaluate each company and explain why each factor that we examined is important when dealing with credit repair.

Credit Repair Methodology

Credit repair is a complex service that involves many moving parts. What’s more, no two credit repair companies offer the exact same approach. To get a fair evaluation of each company we reviewed, we broke our scoring sheet down into five categories as listed below.

Within each category, we ranked each company on specific aspects of their service on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). We then took the weighted average of all scores according to the importance of each in deciding whether or not to work with a credit repair company. The percentages used to weigh each category are outlined in the following table.

Stability 2%
Reputation and Customer Satisfaction 11%
Customer Experience 7%
Services 30%
Costs and Fees 50%

In the end, each company received an overall rating from 1.0 to 5.0, with 5.0 being the best possible score and 1.0 being the worst.

The following sections will give a more detailed breakdown of the specific data points we used to evaluate credit repair companies in each category.

Evaluating Stability

Unlike other financial industries such as insurance, there is no authoritative body that rates the stability of credit repair companies. With this information unavailable, we used the next best measure of evaluating stability: number of years in business.

The number of years a credit repair organization has been in business is important because it demonstrates that the company has achieved long-term stability. Not only does this mean the company isn’t likely to go out of business before completing the services you paid for, it also means they’ve gained years (or even decades) of experience helping others in your situation. A credit repair company that has been around for a long time is likely to have earned enough respect from customers to continue attracting business.

Based on industry averages, we scored each company’s number of years in business using the following scale:

Excellent (5) More than 25 years in business
Great (4) Sixteen to 25 years in business
Good (3) Eleven to 15 years in business
Fair (2) Six to 10 years in business
Poor (1) Five or fewer years in business

Company Reputation and Customer Satisfaction

In credit repair, a company’s reputation says a lot about the type of experience it provides to customers. There are many channels for regulating authorities and consumers to file complaints about a credit repair company, both official and unofficial. We looked at complaint data from three of the most recognized third-party sources:

  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau complaints and actions
  • Better Business Bureau reviews
  • Google reviews

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Complaints and Actions

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a government agency that acts as a consumer advocate in financial markets related to banks, loans, and credit. One of the CFPB’s core functions is to field complaints that result from unfair practices. Complaints are published in a database on the CFPB website that anyone can access.

While the CFPB doesn’t verify the specific facts in complaints, the bureau does refrain from publishing those that don’t meet strict criteria. If a credit repair company has accumulated many complaints, it’s usually a good sign that something in the business’s practices doesn’t sit well with consumers. The CFPB has the power to take enforcement action against the company if it investigates a complaint and finds that the law has been violated.

In reviewing each credit repair company, we looked up the number of complaints they had received in the CFPB database and assigned a score based on the following ranges:

Excellent (5) No complaints within the past three years
Great (4) No complaints within the past year
Good (3) One to five complaints within the past year
Fair (2) Five to 10 complaints within the past year
Poor (1) Ten or more complaints within the past year or enforcement action

Better Business Bureau Reviews

Contrary to what many consumers believe, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is not an official government agency, but a private nonprofit that independently evaluates companies and fields customer complaints. The BBB allows companies to pay a fee for official accreditation and assigns ratings to all businesses, regardless of accreditation status.

In recent years, the validity of BBB ratings has been called into question by journalistic investigations that found discrepancies based on whether the business had paid for accreditation. Knowing this information, it’s important to take BBB ratings with a grain of salt.

Ultimately, we chose not to include BBB accreditation status or agency ratings into consideration when calculating companies’ overall score. However, we did include each company’s average customer review score. Customers can leave a review for businesses on the BBB website without filing a complaint, giving a score of 1 to 5 based on their experience with the company. We factored in these reviews based on the following point system:

Excellent (5) 5 stars
Great (4) 4 stars to less than 5 full stars
Good (3) 3 stars to less than 4 full stars
Fair (2) 2 stars to less than 3 full stars
Poor (1) Less than 2 full stars or no reviews

Google Reviews

A company’s Google profile is a common place for customers to go when they want to leave a review for a business they’ve interacted with. These reviews often appear when you search a company’s name using the Google search engine. Reviews consist of a star rating on a scale of 1 to 5 and an optional section for the customer to write a more detailed explanation of the score they gave.

In our methodology, Google reviews were assigned scores based on average star rating as follows:

Excellent (5) 5 stars
Great (4) 4 stars to less than 5 full stars
Good (3) 3 stars to less than 4 full stars
Fair (2) 2 stars to less than 3 full stars
Poor (1) Less than 2 full stars or no reviews

Customer Experience

A credit repair company’s dedication to customer experience is often a strong indicator of the quality of services they provide. When credit repair organizations don’t put enough effort into providing a good experience, customers tend to have difficulty contacting the company and getting updates on their case status. Since most credit repair services are now offered digitally, this generally means providing a helpful, easy-to-use website and virtual tools like an app or customer portal.

Taking all of this into account, we evaluated customer experience by looking into these three areas:

  • Website content
  • Website usability
  • Digital accessibility

Website Content

In the digital age, your first interaction with any company is often through its website. Credit repair companies use their websites to attract customers by providing information about their services and the benefits of credit repair. Unfortunately, not all companies are honest, and some publish inaccurate information that may mislead customers into thinking the company can do more than it really can.

While reviewing credit repair companies, we looked for three key items that illustrate the quality of information being presented:

  • Price disclosure
  • Online resources
  • FAQ page

Price Disclosure

One of the most common complaints about credit repair companies is that they aren’t upfront about their pricing, leading some customers to inadvertently accrue charges they weren’t aware of. Companies that value transparency should publish their pricing clearly online so that customers know exactly what they can expect to pay for services before they call.

For each credit repair company, we looked for pricing information on their website and assigned the following points:

Excellent (5) Price disclosed online
Poor (1) Price not disclosed online

Online Resources

A truly reputable credit repair company should approach fixing your credit as a multi-stage solution. In addition to disputing credit errors, the best companies will also provide resources that cover big-picture financial planning and debt management. Most companies that offer resources do so for free, demonstrating value to potential customers who are thinking about signing up for services.

We evaluated credit repair companies’ online resources based on this scale:

Excellent (5) Free app or interactive tool
Great (4) Free e-books and/or videos
Good (3) Blog
Fair (2) Basic information
Poor (1) None

FAQ Page

Credit repair can seem daunting for those who have never disputed an error on their report before. It’s completely normal to have questions about how the process works and what to expect along the way. To answer these questions transparently, credit repair companies should have an FAQ page that provides in-depth answers to questions not only about the credit repair process, but also the company’s specific practices such as pricing and policies.

Companies were given the following points depending on whether or not they had an FAQ page:

Excellent (5) Has an FAQ page
Poor (1) Does not have an FAQ page

Website Usability

The information included in a credit repair company’s website is important, but it won’t do you any good if you can’t locate it. We gave companies more points if they had dedicated resources to designing a responsive website that made it easy to find what you’re looking for.

We made our website usability analysis as objective as possible using these criteria:

Excellent (5) Intuitive design, interactive tools, easy to locate information
Great (4) Well-designed, highly informative but few tools
Good (3) Average design, includes useful information
Fair (2) Design lacking, information is difficult to find
Poor (1) Outdated design, poor experience, missing key information

Digital Accessibility

The technology available today enables companies to offer much more than just a website. We rewarded credit repair businesses for making additional technologies available that help customers more easily navigate the credit repair process. These technologies are:

  • Online customer portal
  • Mobile app
  • Web chat

Online Customer Portal

An online customer portal is a tool that customers can access using a username and password. Upon logging in, customers might find information such as important documents, dispute status, and updates from the credit repair specialist handling their case.

The credit repair companies we reviewed earned the following points for the presence or absence of a customer portal:

Excellent (5) Has an online customer portal
Poor (1) Does not have an online customer portal

Mobile App

Mobile apps are another trend in technology that make a big difference in the credit repair experience. Since most consumers spend more time on their phones than their computers throughout the day, a mobile app can make it easier to receive information and access resources.

Our rubric assigned points to companies with mobile apps using this scale:

Excellent (5) Has a mobile app
Poor (1) Does not have a mobile app

Web Chat

Not everyone wants to pick up the phone or wait for an email every time they have a question. Web chat is a convenient customer service channel that tends to be much faster and more efficient than traditional contact methods.

The companies we reviewed were rewarded for having a web chat as follows:

Excellent (5) Has a web chat
Poor (1) Does not have a web chat

Credit Repair Services

Credit repair isn’t a one-size-fits-all service. Most companies offer several different options which might include different credit repair options, tiered service levels, and additional non-credit repair offerings. To further explore the scope of services available, we broke them down into two main categories:

  • Credit repair service packages
  • Additional services offered

Credit Repair Service Packages

No two credit repair services are the same. Credit repair organizations often split their services into tiered packages that vary by the number or type of services included. For example, some companies may ask you to pay more for unlimited disputes per month, while others exclude services like credit monitoring from base packages but offer them in premium plans.

Some companies offer just one service package while others let customers choose from several different options. No matter how many choices a company makes available, not all of them include the same scope of services in their monthly fee.

To create a standardized method of evaluating credit repair service packages, we looked at data in three main areas:

  • Variety of service packages offered
  • Whether credit monitoring is offered
  • How many monthly disputes are included

Service Packages Offered

Every credit repair customer has a different set of needs. While some only have one or two minor errors to remove from their report, others require significant help with a major discrepancy. Ideally, a credit repair company will offer packages at various price points so that customers don’t overpay for a full-service option they don’t need.

The credit repair companies we reviewed were given points for the number of service packages they offered according to this scale:

Excellent (5) More than three service packages
Great (4) Two or three service packages
Good (3) Single service package

Credit Monitoring

Credit monitoring is a type of service that tracks your credit report and notifies you if there are any significant changes you should know about. If you need credit repair services, chances are you should also enroll in credit monitoring so that you’re always up to date on changes to your report as they happen.

Unfortunately, not all credit repair companies include credit monitoring in their service packages. Some even make credit monitoring mandatory but require customers to pay an additional fee for this service, often through a third party.

We used the following points system to grade credit monitoring availability from each company:

Excellent (5) Credit monitoring included
Great (4) Additional charge
Good (3) Not offered or not disclosed

Monthly Disputes Included

Each time a credit repair company contacts a credit bureau on your behalf to contest inaccurate information, the company counts this as a dispute. Some credit repair companies place a limit on the number of disputes they’ll file on your behalf in a given month. If you have a lot of information to dispute on your report, this could mean it takes much longer than planned to have it all corrected.

Keep in mind that there are three major credit bureaus, each of which requires disputes to be filed separately. Credit repair companies almost always count disputes per credit bureau, even if the same information is being called into question. For example, if the same misspelling appears across all three of your credit reports, the credit repair company will count that as three individual disputes.

We looked at the number of disputes included per month with each credit repair company and rated them using this scale:

Excellent (5) Unlimited with all plans
Great (4) Unlimited with higher-tier plans
Good (3) Limited number of monthly disputes (>30)
Fair (2) Limited number of monthly disputes (<30)
Poor (1) None or not disclosed

Additional Services

As we’ve discussed, credit repair is often a single part of a much larger effort to repair your finances. This might involve debt management and/or refinancing your current loans, both of which are offered by certain credit repair companies. If a company offers this, you may find it easier to come up with a more comprehensive financial plan for your personal credit issues.

Oftentimes, credit repair services are required by someone’s business, which falls outside the scope of what credit repair companies offer to individuals. To meet this demand, some credit repair providers have additional services tailored to business owners who need help improving their business’s credit.

Companies were awarded a point if they offered the following additional services:

  • Debt management
  • Financing and loans
  • Business services

Costs and Fees

Costs and fees made up 50% of our overall weighted score when evaluating credit repair companies. This is because cost is one of the main pain points for credit repair customers who may already be in a difficult financial situation.

We evaluated the cost of credit repair services based on five key points:

  • Fee structure
  • Cost of services
  • Money-back guarantee
  • Discounts
  • Cancellation policy 

Fee Structure

There are generally three different types of fee structures with credit repair companies. Some ask for a one-time fee that covers the entire cost of all agreed upon services, no matter how long they take. Others charge customers by the month for the duration that it takes to address all disputes. However, some companies charge both a one-time fee to get started (often called a “discovery fee”) and a monthly fee as services continue.

Since customers tend to pay more when companies charge both types of fees, we graded fee structure using the following system:

Excellent (5) Either a one-time or monthly fee
Poor (1) Both a one-time and monthly fee or not disclosed

Cost of Services

Once a credit repair company’s fee structure has been determined, it all boils down to how much they charge for services. We gathered pricing information from all the companies we evaluated and compared them to one another, creating separate tiers for both one-time and monthly fees. 

One-Time Fees

Average one-time fees usually fall in the range of $51 to $100, although some companies charge more and others less. Points were assigned for pricing using this scale:

Excellent (5) $0
Great (4) $1 to $50
Good (3) $51 to $100
Fair (2) $101 and up
Poor (1) Not disclosed

Monthly Fees

Typical monthly fees we saw started between $71 and $90 for the most entry-level service package, although some are cheaper and others more expensive. Companies were rated based on the following price brackets:

Excellent (5) $0
Great (4) $1 to $70
Good (3) $71 to $90
Fair (2) $91 and up
Poor (1) Not disclosed

Money-Back Guarantee

There are certain claims that credit repair companies cannot legally make according to the Credit Repair Organizations Act. For example, companies can’t guarantee results in their marketing materials in order to attract customers. This is because there’s no way to completely guarantee a certain outcome from the credit dispute process, even if you hire a credit repair company.

However, some companies offer money-back guarantees if no results are seen within a certain period of time. This is essentially a way for the company to stand by their services and give customers their money back if no successful disputes are made.

We looked into the money-back guarantees advertised by each company we reviewed and gave points using these criteria:

Excellent (5) Results guaranteed within 30 days
Great (4) Results guaranteed within 31-60 days
Good (3) Results guaranteed within 61-90 days
Fair (2) Results guaranteed within 91+ days
Poor (1) No money back guarantee or not disclosed

Discounts

As with most services, some credit repair companies offer discounts to those who qualify. Discounts vary by company, but common ones include military discounts and reduced pricing for couples who sign up for services together.

Our credit repair review methodology rewarded the companies that offered discounts based on this points scale:

Excellent (5) Discounts available
Poor (1) No discounts available or not disclosed

Cancellation Policy

If you’re enrolled in credit repair services and want to cancel your monthly subscription, there are generally two factors to note. First, some companies charge a fee to those who cancel before a certain period of time has elapsed. Second, many require customers to give notice a specific number of days before their next billing period, typically 30. If a credit repair company has this type of policy, you may be charged for an additional month after you cancel.

By law, credit repair companies must allow customers to cancel and have all their fees refunded within the first three days of signing up for service. Since this is required of every company, no additional points were given to those that advertised this type of policy.

Our rating system gave points to companies based on how customer-friendly they made their cancellation policy. Points were assigned using the following guide: 

Excellent (5) No cancellation fee or notice required
Great (4) No cancellation fee, notice required
Good (3) Cancellation fee, no notice required
Fair (2) Cancellation fee and notice required
Poor (1) Legal minimum (first three days) or not disclosed

Shopping for Credit Repair Companies

No consumer financial industry is immune to pitfalls, but credit repair is particularly known for being rife with scams. While there are plenty of respectable credit repair companies, you should use extreme care when shopping for a service provider.

The FTC maintains up-to-date information regarding the credit repair industry on its website, including specific warnings as potential scams come to light. The agency recommends avoiding companies that show any of these five red flags:

  • Asking for payment before any work has been performed
  • Instructing you not to contact the credit bureaus
  • Suggesting that you dispute information you know to be accurate
  • Telling you to provide false information to a lender or financial institution
  • Failing to explain your legal rights during the credit repair process

When dealing with a credit repair company, you are entitled to certain rights outlined by the Credit Repair Organization Act. The company should provide a written contract up front that includes the following information:

  • The full cost you will pay
  • How long services will take
  • Any guarantees the company offers
  • A clause entitling you to cancellation and a full refund within three days

If a credit repair company doesn’t meet the above guidelines, the safest bet is to walk away and look for a more reputable organization. However, if you’ve already paid and are unhappy with the services provided, you can file a complaint with the FTC.

Take the Next Step to Invest

×

The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation.

Source link

Continue Reading

Credit Repair Companies

Sky Blue Credit Repair Review

Published

on

Just getting started with credit repair and not sure what type of service you need? If so, Sky Blue Credit may be a good place to start. The company’s flexible credit repair service can be tailored to meet the needs of those preparing to buy a home, facing debt collectors, or simply trying to rebuild their credit score. But as with all credit repair companies, there are a few drawbacks to consider, too. Our review lays out all the pros and cons to help you decide whether Sky Blue Credit is the right credit repair choice.


Pros Explained

  • Simple cost structure: Sky Blue Credit charges a $79 setup fee and an additional $79 for each month of service.
  • Tailored services: The single service plan covers optional services like mortgage preparation and debt settlement consultations.
  • Offers a 90-day guarantee: If you aren’t happy with the service you receive from Sky Blue, the company will refund all fees paid within the first 90 days.
  • Easy to pause or cancel membership: Pause or cancel your membership in seconds through the Sky Blue Credit membership portal, by email, or over the phone.

Cons Explained

  • Limited monthly disputes: Sky Blue Credit will only send 15 disputes per month, or five per credit bureau. Many competitors offer unlimited disputes.
  • Lacks online resources: The company doesn’t provide a library of free educational resources as offered by some other credit repair companies.
  • Doesn’t offer credit monitoring: If you’re interested in ongoing credit monitoring, you’ll need to sign up through a third party.
  • No free consultation: Initial consultation costs are included in Sky Blue Credit’s $79 setup fee. The gold standard in credit repair is to offer an initial consultation for free.

Types of Services

It’s fairly common for credit repair companies to offer multiple tiers of service packages, selling premium services at a higher monthly cost. Sky Blue Credit offers just one. However, this single plan is more flexible than most, covering a broad scope of services that can be personalized to suit individual needs.

Professional Credit Analysis

One of the main benefits of working with a credit repair company is having an expert set of eyes check your credit report for potential discrepancies. A seasoned credit repair professional may be able to spot errors you would have otherwise missed. Sky Blue provides a detailed analysis of each credit report upon signup.

Credit Disputes

Once Sky Blue Credit has gone through your credit reports, the company begins sending disputes to the credit bureaus on your behalf. Up to 15 disputes, or five per bureau, are included with each month’s membership fee.

Score Rebuilding

In reviewing your credit, Sky Blue Credit will offer suggestions for steps you can take to improve your credit score. This may include prioritizing paying off certain balances or opening a secured credit card. The company will also work with you to form a long-term credit rebuilding plan.


Optional Add-Ons

Since Sky Blue Credit’s service package is all-inclusive, there aren’t any paid upgrades to mention. However, the monthly membership fee does cover a list of services the company considers optional as they’re only applicable to a handful of specific cases.

Debt Validation

If you’ve received a letter from a collections agency for a debt you believe is erroneous, Sky Blue Credit will help you navigate the debt validation process by asking the agency to provide proof of the amount owed.

Goodwill Letters

In some cases, goodwill letters can be sent to ask creditors to remove an accurate derogatory mark from your report. Sky Blue Credit advises that these letters are useful if the event (such as a late payment) was a one-time occurrence and you’ve been making payments on time for at least six months since.

Cease and Desist Letters

Sky Blue Credit customers who have been inundated with debt collection calls can ask the company to send cease and desist letters to stop communications. However, the company notes, this is only used as a last resort as it may trigger a lawsuit from the collection agency.

Debt Settlement Consultations

While Sky Blue Credit isn’t a debt settlement company, customers can ask for advice regarding the possibility of negotiating a reduced payoff amount with the creditor.

Mortgage Preparation

If you’re fixing your credit in preparation to purchase a home, Sky Blue Credit specializes in mortgage lender requirements and will adjust your credit repair strategy according to your timeline.


Customer Service

The best way to get in touch with Sky Blue Credit is by phone or email. Note that phone lines are only open from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. EST, hours that might be inconvenient for busy professionals. Sky Blue doesn’t offer live webchat or a smartphone app, although customers can manage their account by logging into an online portal.


Company Reputation

To gauge the reputation of credit repair companies, we often turn to the complaint database maintained by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Sky Blue Credit has been named in two complaints in the past three years, both related to customer service issues. The CFPB notes that both complaints were closed in a timely manner.

Sky Blue Credit also has a profile with the Better Business Bureau, although the company isn’t accredited and has a rating of C-. Despite this, customer reviews on the website average an impressive 4.5 stars. Sky Blue also maintains a 4.3-star rating on Google.

If you have a complaint about the services of a credit repair company, you can file a complaint with the FTC or call 877-FTC-HELP.


Contract Duration

Customers who sign up with Sky Blue Credit are not subject to any long-term contracts. The company’s cancellation policy is among the most customer-friendly in the industry. Memberships can be canceled at any time by logging into the online portal, calling the customer service phone line, or sending an email. There are no fees associated with canceling.

If you need a break from paying membership fees but don’t want to cancel entirely, Sky Blue Credit lets you pause service at any time and pick things back up when you’re ready. By taking advantage of this option, you won’t have to pay another $79 setup fee when you resume service.


Cost

Sky Blue Credit’s cost structure is fairly straightforward. Customers pay a $79 upfront fee for the initial setup and consultation process. There’s also a $79 membership fee for each month of service. Both fees are right around average for the credit repair industry.

If you’re not happy with your service for any reason, Sky Blue Credit will refund all fees paid within the first 90 days.

Sky Blue Credit’s money-back guarantee sets the company apart from competitors as it doesn’t depend on a specific outcome. Most companies only offer a refund if no successful disputes have been made within a certain period of time.


The Competition: Sky Blue Credit vs. Ovation Credit Services by Lending Tree

There’s a lot of competition in the credit repair industry, so we compared Sky Blue Credit to longstanding rival Ovation Credit Services by Lending Tree to see which offers better value. Ovation prices its base package in the same range as Sky Blue Credit’s sole offering, although the company also makes a premium membership available with unlimited credit disputes and TransUnion credit monitoring.

But Ovation also provides members with comprehensive educational tools designed to empower them to take control over their own credit, resources that Sky Blue Credit doesn’t come close to matching. For this reason, we’d pick Ovation Credit Services by Lending Tree as the better value.


Source link

Continue Reading

Credit Repair Companies

Credit Repair Company Earns Top Ranking from TopConsumerReviews.com

Published

on

News Image

When it comes to top-notch customer service, affordable pricing, and effectiveness, no one does Credit Repair better than Sky Blue

TopConsumerReviews.com once again awarded their highest ranking to Sky Blue Credit Repair, an industry leader among providers of Credit Repair services.

American consumers are starting to catch on: having a good credit history, leading to a good credit score, can make all the difference when it comes to getting the financial stability and life satisfaction they want. Whether that’s to qualify for a lower home mortgage rate, get accepted as a tenant, or secure a student loan, a higher credit score equals more opportunity. But, for people who haven’t had a great track record with credit – late payments, overspending, and so on – it often requires the use of a reputable Credit Repair service to get moving in the right direction again. These services partner with consumers to clean up negative marks on their credit history, advocating on behalf of their clients as they work with creditors and credit bureaus as well as with collection agencies. And, the most reputable Credit Repair services work hand-in-hand with customers to design a plan that will maintain those positive financial decisions in the future.

“When it comes to top-notch customer service, affordable pricing, and effectiveness, no one does Credit Repair better than Sky Blue,” according to Brian Dolezal of TopConsumerReviews.com, LLC. “The company promises a ‘happy, stress-free experience’, and who doesn’t want that when dealing with something as sensitive and potentially stressful as Credit Repair? The process is very simple, starting with a free initial review and consultation with a Sky Blue representative. Once signed up as a customer, you submit your credit report and let Sky Blue get to work for you, disputing at least 5 items per credit bureau every 35 days. Plus, in the first 90 days of your membership, you can take advantage of a condition-free guarantee: cancel for any reason and get a full refund of any fees paid to date. Customers continue to praise Sky Blue for their knowledgeable, friendly service – and for their effectiveness in making bad credit better. For all of these reasons, Sky Blue continues to come in first place among Credit Repair services in 2019.”

To find out more about Sky Blue and other Credit Repair services, including reviews and comparison rankings, please visit the Credit Repair Services category of TopConsumerReviews.com at https://www.topconsumerreviews.com/credit-repair.

About Sky Blue

Sky Blue Credit is dedicated to credit repair, focusing solely on helping customers reaching their credit goals through repair and restoration services since 1989. They pride themselves on speed, disputing 15 items every 35 days, as well as giving intelligent guidance with respect to optimizing customers’ credit scores.

About TopConsumerReviews.com

TopConsumerReviews.com is a leading provider of reviews and rankings for thousands of consumer products and services. From Credit Repair to Debt Relief and Personal Loans, TopConsumerReviews.com delivers in-depth product evaluations in order to make purchasing decisions easier.

Share article on social media or email:

Source link

Continue Reading

Trending