What You Need to Know to Fix Your Credit
To hear Steve Weisman tell it, credit repair is part police work and part legal expertise.
“Legitimate credit repair companies,” Weisman says, “are knowledgeable about finding mistakes in credit reports and knowing how to provide evidence sufficient to persuade the credit reporting agencies to remove such false information.”
While it may not qualify as an episode on NCIS, Weisman, who is a noted lawyer, college professor, and one of the country’s leading experts in cybersecurity, identity theft and scams, paints a picture of a process not unlike a criminal investigation. In this case, the “crime” involves damage to you and your credit caused by false information.
Weisman, author of 50 Ways to Protect Your Identity and Your Credit, agreed to an exclusive interview with Investopedia on the subject of credit repair including how to find and hire the right credit repair agency or even whether to attempt to repair your credit on your own.
Defining Credit Repair
Investopedia: Let’s start with the basics. What, exactly, is credit repair?
Weisman: Credit repair is the process by which incorrect negative information on your credit report is removed from your credit report which will result in your credit score going up. A poor credit score can affect your ability to get a loan, rent an apartment, get a job, purchase insurance and more.
It is important to emphasize that no credit repair agency can legally remove accurate negative information from your credit report although there are a number of companies that attempt to do that. By law negative information stays on your credit report for seven years and bankruptcies for ten years.
Investopedia: Is this something credit repair companies only can do or can people repair their credit by removing incorrect information themselves?
Weisman: Credit repair companies help people get inaccurate information removed from their credit reports. They have no more power or authority to do that than individual people do, but some people prefer to have credit repair companies do the work for them.
Initiating Credit Repair
Investopedia: How does the credit repair process start? How do you know you may even be a candidate for credit repair?
Weisman: If you get your credit score and it is not particularly good, you can hire a credit repair company to go through your credit report to determine what was the cause for the low score.
Credit Repair versus Credit Counseling
Investopedia: We often see ads on TV for credit counseling. Is that the same as credit repair or different?
Weisman: Different. Credit counseling agencies attempt to negotiate plans with your creditors to accept reduced payments. Some of these companies are partially funded by the credit card companies themselves who see this as a win-win situation for their customers and themselves.
However, these credit counseling agencies are not credit repair companies. Credit repair companies work for their individual clients who hire them to correct their credit reports and thereby enhance their credit scores.
Investopedia: So, do credit repair companies ever offer credit counseling or vice versa?
Weisman: Credit repair companies do not generally provide credit counseling and vice versa. They each perform separate services.
The Effectiveness of Credit Repair
Investopedia: Does credit repair really work? In other words, are credit repair companies effective at what they do?
Weisman: Legitimate credit repair companies can do a good job of working with the major credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, to remove false negative information from your credit report and consequently increase your credit score.
Many credit reports have mistaken information that can reduce your credit score. Among the mistaken information that commonly appears on credit reports are accounts that are behind in payment that do not belong to you, bankruptcies of other people with similar names, misspellings of names that result in someone else’s negative information appearing on your report, negative information that is more than seven years old and debts that cannot be validated and verified.
Investopedia: Do credit repair companies only work with credit reporting agencies or do they sometimes work with creditors or others in the chain?
Weisman: While generally credit repair companies primarily work with credit reporting agencies, they also may work directly with creditors in order to have the creditors change what they report to the credit reporting bureaus. Credit repair companies may work extensively with creditors in order to induce them into correcting inaccurate information reported to the credit reporting bureaus or to negotiate a settlement with the creditor by which the creditor reports to the credit reporting bureaus that particular debts have been paid satisfactorily.
Credit Repair Timeline and Cost
Investopedia: Once the process of credit repair starts, how long does it generally take?
Weisman: How long credit repair takes depends on how much needs to be corrected and how promptly the credit reporting agencies respond to requests to correct the reports.
The law requires credit reporting agencies to investigate claims of mistakes and respond within 30 days of receiving notice by someone trying to fix their credit report, however, sometimes this time period can be extended if the credit reporting agencies require more information or documentation to complete their investigation. It is not unusual for credit repair to take many months to be completed.
Investopedia: What’s the cost of using a credit repair company?
Weisman: Legitimate credit repair companies will typically charge monthly fees of between $79 and $129 and some charge a set- up fee.
Evaluation and Regulation Credit Repair Companies
Investopedia: Who regulates credit repair companies and how does a consumer know if a particular credit repair company is legit?
Weisman: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates credit repair companies and is the place consumers should go if they have a problem with a credit repair company. In order to determine if a credit repair company is legitimate, you should check with the FTC to see if any complaints or legal actions have been made against them.
Investopedia: What about legislation or laws that protect people from scam credit repair companies?
Weisman: The Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA) requires credit repair companies to provide you with a written contract that details the services they will perform for you and explain your rights under the law, notify you of a three day right to cancel your contract with the credit repair company, inform you of how long it will take to perform their services and explain in detail the total cost to you.
Most importantly, they cannot charge you before they have completed their services. This is the biggest indication of a scam credit repair company. The scammers generally charge large upfront fees before they perform any services.
Investopedia: Is there anything else about the CROA guidelines people should know?
Weisman: The CROA also provides you with the right to sue in federal court a credit repair company that violates the law and obtain not just compensatory damages (money to compensate you for your losses), but also punitive damages (money to punish and deter the scammers from harming other people).
The End of the Process
Investopedia: How can you tell that your credit has been repaired?
Weisman: You can determine if your credit has been repaired by checking your credit reports and credit scores with each of the three major credit reporting agencies, however, you should regularly follow up checking your credit report and credit scores because sometimes inaccurate information that harms your credit score is removed after being disputed, but reappears on your credit report thereby lowering your score later.
Alternatives to Hiring a Credit Repair Company
Investopedia: Are there alternatives to using a credit repair company?
Weisman: The alternative to using a credit repair company is to do it yourself. Again it is important to note that a credit repair service cannot do anything that you cannot do for yourself.
Some people, however, prefer to have the work done for them rather than do it themselves particularly if they are unfamiliar with the process.
Common Misunderstandings About Credit Repair
Investopedia: What do you think are some common misunderstandings people have about credit repair?
Weisman: I believe that the most misunderstood aspect of the credit repair industry is (the belief) that true negative information can be legitimately removed from your report.
People also believe credit repair companies have more power to take actions to remove negative information from credit reports than individual consumers do. Finally, I don’t think people appreciate how much mistaken information commonly appears on credit reports.
Investopedia: Given all that, are there things credit repair companies do noticeably better than their clients can do on their own?
Weisman: Yes. Legitimate credit repair companies are knowledgeable about finding mistakes in credit reports and knowing how to provide evidence sufficient to persuade the credit reporting agencies to remove such false information.
Investopedia: What should people know about credit repair that we didn’t ask?
Weisman: Credit repair is a process that should continue. Even after your credit report has been corrected and your score increased, you should regularly review your credit reports at each of the three credit reporting agencies and check your credit scores regularly so that if a problem arises, you can deal with it in a timely fashion rather than having to deal with it in an emergency such as you have applied for a loan and just learned that your credit score is low.
Reliable and Sincere Credit Repair Services from James Warren Group Inc. – Press Release
The Credit Guru Credit Repair Review
Look at The Credit Guru’s website and you’ll find several enticing claims: credit dispute secrets the bureaus don’t want you to know about, settled debts for less than you owe, and better credit in as little as three months.
If these sound too good to be true, they just might be. Unfortunately, assertions like this rarely come to fruition—a lesson that many customers learn the hard way after losing hundreds or thousands of dollars in useless fees.
If claims like these have you thinking about hiring The Credit Guru to repair your credit, read our review that breaks down the good and the bad by evaluating services, pricing, reputation, value, and more.
- Free initial consultation: The Credit Guru’s initial phone consultation is offered free of charge, although you’ll need to supply your own credit reports.
- Two service package options: Customers can choose the right package and price range for their needs.
- Offers multiple discounts: Discounts are available for couples, military service members, and client referrals.
- Dedicated case management team: Each credit repair customer has a personal service team assigned to their case.
- Financial coaching available: Clients of The Credit Guru who choose the premium service package can benefit from a personalized credit repair plan to help raise their score from multiple standpoints.
- Expensive fees: Monthly prices start at $89.00, and that’s not including a $149.95 setup fee.
- Makes questionable claims: The Credit Guru’s marketing language includes a few claims we found to be potentially misleading.
- No educational materials: Many credit repair companies now offer free resource libraries to help customers improve their finances, but The Credit Guru hasn’t made a significant investment in consumer education.
- Lack of digital tools: You won’t find modern conveniences like an online portal, web chat, or mobile app with The Credit Guru.
- Strict cancellation policy: Customers only have five business days to cancel their membership and receive a refund. To discontinue monthly service, notice needs to be sent at least 15 days prior to the next billing cycle.
Types of Services
The Credit Guru makes two service packages available at different price points. Where most competitors create a strong distinction between their plans, however, The Credit Guru doesn’t offer much extra to those who upgrade.
All things considered, The Credit Guru’s regular service package is no more or less than what you’d expect from basic credit repair. The plan includes copies of your credit reports, unlimited monthly credit disputes, and phone and email from a dedicated case management team. Monthly account reviews are available, although the customer must request them.
The Credit Guru’s premium service package offers everything included in the regular package with three key differences:
- Credit disputes are processed every two weeks instead of once per 30-day billing period.
- Monthly account reviews are conducted automatically without the customer needing to ask for them.
- Each customer is provided with a personalized credit improvement plan that walks them through additional ways to build credit outside of the dispute process.
The only credit repair services offered by The Credit Guru are included in the two packages listed above. No optional add-ons like credit monitoring are available to further customize plans.
The Credit Guru may be one of the oldest credit repair firms, but the company hasn’t done much to keep up with industry trends. Many credit repair companies have adopted new digital technologies in recent years, providing customers with conveniences like online account management, web chat, and even mobile apps.
Customers who sign up with The Credit Guru will find themselves limited to traditional email and phone service. While those who prefer a more personalized experience may find themselves perfectly happy with their dedicated case management team, tech-savvy customers who are used to faster service could end up feeling frustrated.
Much of The Credit Guru’s website appears to be out of date; we found several pages and blog posts that hadn’t been refreshed since 2017 or earlier. But the information contained within the site raises a few red flags due to some troubling claims the company makes.
For example, The Credit Guru uses language claiming that the credit bureaus “don’t want you to use a credit repair company,” which isn’t accurate since the credit bureaus have nothing to gain from denying credit disputes. There’s also a particularly worrying claim that paying down past due bills won’t repair your credit, suggesting that a better option is to have The Credit Guru settle debts on your behalf for less money.
Credit repair companies sometimes offer to settle debts for their customers if they can’t be disputed as inaccurate. Those who agree don’t always realize the potential negative consequences of the debt settlement process. In some cases, customers end up owing more than they began with due to the high fees involved. Debt settlement can also ding your credit score more significantly than if you simply took the time to pay off the debt in full.
There isn’t much information available on The Credit Guru regarding customer feedback. While the company has a C+ rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), it’s hard to say what this rating is based on since the company has no reviews or complaints registered. Nothing is on file with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The company does have a five-star rating on Google, although too few reviews exist to give this rating much weight.
If you have a complaint about the services of a credit repair company, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or call 877-FTC-HELP.
The Credit Guru’s services don’t require a long-term contract. Customers are billed on a monthly basis and can cancel anytime. However, you’ll need to notify the company that you’d like to terminate your package at least 15 days prior to your next billing period to ensure you won’t be charged. The company states that most customers retain services for an average of three to eight months.
Unfortunately, The Credit Guru doesn’t offer a money-back guarantee if you don’t see any results after paying for services. Their refund policy is quite strict; you’ll need to request one within the first five days to have your fees returned, which is just two days longer than the legal minimum laid out in the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA).
By law, credit repair companies aren’t allowed to bill customers for services that haven’t yet been performed. If a credit repair service asks for payment in advance, find a more reputable company to work with.
Considering the services included in each package, The Credit Guru’s fees are exceptionally high. The regular service costs $149.95 upfront and $89.00 per month. For the premium service, you’ll be charged $199.95 in setup fees plus $129.00 per month. Most credit repair companies with fees in this range include a much broader scope of services, such as credit monitoring, identity theft insurance, and other value adds.
One positive note is that The Credit Guru is good about offering discounts. Couples who sign up together will only pay $269.95 in combined setup fees for the regular service plan and $369.90 for the premium service, a discount of about $30 in each case. Savings are also offered to military members and those who refer another customer.
The Competition: The Credit Guru vs. The Credit Pros
Similarly named competitor, The Credit Pros, is a credit repair company that also prices its services quite high, although not to the same extent as The Credit Guru.
But The Credit Pros’ entry-level plan, priced at $119.00 upfront and $69.00 per month, offers a comparable service lineup as The Credit Guru’s most expensive plan that costs nearly twice as much. The most premium package available from The Credit Pros also includes credit monitoring, debt management, identity theft protection, and discount programs, none of which are even offered by The Credit Guru. It’s easy to see that The Credit Pros is the winner between the two.
|The Credit Guru||The Credit Pros|
|Services Offered||Credit repair, financial planning||Credit repair, monitoring, identity theft protection, financial planning|
|Customer Service Touchpoints||Phone, email||Phone, email, client portal|
|Upfront Fee||$149.95 to $199.95||$119.00 to $149.00|
|Monthly Fee||$89.00 to $129.00||$69.00 to $149.00|
Given The Credit Guru’s outdated tools and limited services, it’s hard to see why anyone should pay the company’s lofty prices. Much more affordable options are available from competitors, many of which include even more valuable services. Even if value wasn’t a factor, we’re concerned about some of the misleading claims The Credit Guru uses to make its services seem more appealing to potential customers.
How We Review Credit Repair Companies
To help consumers avoid the pitfalls of the credit repair industry, we review credit repair companies using a rigorous set of criteria. Our quantitative scoring system analyzes each firm’s plan offerings, cost structure, customer service, and reputation within the industry. We assign each company points based on their performance in every area to calculate an overall score on a scale of zero to five.
Learn more: Read our full Credit Repair Review Methodology here.
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