Why Use a Credit Repair Company?
The top performers in our review are Lexington Law, the Gold Award winner; Sky Blue Credit Repair, the Silver Award winner; and The Credit People, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a service to meet your needs, along with details on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 services.
Life is full of happenings that can negatively affect your credit: late payments, bills sent to collection, loan applications and, more devastating, identity theft. There are times when items are incorrectly applied to your credit report, thus unfairly lowering your credit score. If you've been wondering how to repair your credit, credit repair services can help you correct those mistakes by combing through your credit report, finding those dings that should never have appeared and disputing them with the three national credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
However, if the deficiencies are valid, the credit repair company likely cannot remove them from your report. Further, if a disputed item is removed from your credit report but is later shown to be valid by your creditors or credit bureaus, it can be placed back on your report without your creditors notifying you.
Below we explain what you should know about credit repair programs, what to look out for and what other options you have. You can also learn more about credit repair in our articles on credit and debt management.
Some Upfront Warnings About Credit Repair
The credit repair industry often gets a bad rap. This is because there are so many scammers out to get you, particularly in this industry. We have researched credit repair companies and selected services we feel are more legitimate than others, but you need to know that this industry is still a risky one to work with. Keep the following warnings in mind as you select a credit repair service:
You Can Repair Your Credit Yourself
Some companies may tell you otherwise, but you don't have to hire a service to dispute negative items on your credit report. Credit repair services don't have a special formula that makes them any more effective than you at disputing items with the credit bureaus. You can dispute items on your credit report that you feel are fraudulent or inaccurate, and, legally, the bureaus are required to respond to you within 30 days. You can do this for free and avoid all of the costs that come with credit repair services. If, however, you don't want to spend the time or the stress disputing items yourself, credit repair services can be useful.
Only Inaccurate Items Can Be Removed From Your Report
Another claim made by some credit repair companies is that they can improve your credit, no matter what's negatively impacting your report. Remember, though, that bureaus and creditors are only going to remove items if they are inaccurate or can't be proven. For example, if you have a couple of late payments listed on your report, but you have receipts showing they were paid on time, these items will most likely be removed from your report. However, if you paid all of those bills past their due date, despite what the credit repair company may claim, the hit remains on your credit report.
Beware of the Jamming Technique
Jamming is when an excessive number of items are all disputed with the credit bureaus at once. It's a technique favored by some credit repair companies, but it only acts as a temporary stopgap measure. Since the credit bureaus are required by law to respond to disputes within 30 days, many items may be removed from your credit report because they can't be proven in the allotted time frame. However, this is not a permanent fix. If creditors and the credit bureaus prove that these hits are accurate, these deficiencies are then added back on to your credit report.
A couple of credit repair companies on our lineup claim to dispute all of your items at once, which may be helpful if you are a victim of identity theft and all of the items that you need to dispute are legitimate. If you don't have many items to dispute and you know the charges are either fraudulent or inaccurate, these companies could work well for you. However, if the charges are legitimate, you risk that after 30 days and less any fees you spend, these items can, and usually do, reappear on your credit report. For consumers with a large number of items on their credit report and who have legitimate grounds, we recommend working with a credit repair service that disputes items in smaller batches. This might seem like an unattractive option since it takes more time to repair your credit, but the repair will more likely be a permanent fix instead of a temporary one.
Credit Repair: How It Works & What You Should Know
The goal of a credit repair program is to find errors on your credit report. These services can dispute anything that a creditor or bureau can't verify as legitimate by providing paperwork that has your signature or other kinds of proof to show that the hit to your credit score was invalid.
Many credit repair companies work only with the credit bureaus to dispute your claims, which may mean that your creditors can add the hit back to your file later (without your knowledge); other services, such as MSI Credit, work with the major bureaus and your creditors to help permanently remove dings from your credit record. When evaluating credit repair services, below are some additional things to keep in mind:
The Free Consultation – What Questions Should You Ask?
If you choose to use a credit repair service, talk to your representative during your free consultation (which all of the services on our review offer) about which plan would work best for you. Ask questions about what items need to be disputed, how the bureaus and creditors have to prove their validity, what all of the fees are, and how long you can expect the process to take. The money and time you spend in a program varies greatly depending on how many items on your report you need to dispute and the credit repair company you choose.
Some companies, like 180 Credit Solutions, dispute all of your items at once instead of a few at a time so you only work with the company for a short time. This can save you both time and money, but, again, disputing too many items at once may seem excessive to the bureaus and could result in fewer items removed from your report, or in items only being removed temporarily. If you have a lot of items to dispute, a longer program is likely a better fit.
How Long Will It Take to Repair Your Credit?
While there are many out there claiming to be fast credit repair companies, most of the companies we reviewed offer programs that last anywhere from three to nine months on average. Further, with the exception of two companies, Park View Credit and 180 Credit Solutions, eight of the companies on our lineup did not require a contract, so you can cancel the service at any time. In general, it takes between 30 and 45 days to begin to see results from credit repair efforts. Credit bureaus and creditors are legally required to respond to disputes no more than 30 days following the filing of the dispute.
Choose a Company That Disputes the Right Number of Items for You
The number of items a credit repair service is willing to dispute varies depending on which one you choose. The average we found was five items disputed per credit bureau at a time, or 15 items total. Depending on the state of your credit report, this may seem like a small number, or it may seem excessive. For this reason, choose a credit repair company that disputes the number of items you feel is reasonable for your situation – keeping in mind that filing a large number of disputes at once can hurt your chances with the credit bureaus.
What Does Credit Repair Cost?
Credit repair services impose costs like monthly fees, setup fees and fees for pulling your credit report. Among the companies we reviewed, the price-per-month fee ranges from $49 to $99.
Each company in our review charges some type of setup fee. These fees cover things like paperwork, setting up a plan that's best for disputing the hits on your credit and, sometimes, the cost of pulling your credit report. Some charge a separate fee for pulling your credit report while still others require that you pull your own credit report or use a free trial of a third-party service to pull your own report.
Each service in our review offers a discount if you and a partner sign up together. These savings come in different forms and might include a discount on the monthly fees, waiving the setup fee, a percentage off or other discount, depending on the company.
Does It Come with a Money-Back Guarantee?
Legally, credit repair services cannot promise that they will increase your credit score, especially since your score can only be boosted by the removal of fraudulent entries or errors in your report. However, many companies in our lineup offer money-back guarantees. These guarantees are different from legal guarantees.
In scrutinizing companies' money-back guarantees, we found that one, MSI Credit Solutions, for example, guarantees at least a 50-point credit score increase or your money back. Other companies refund your money for the month where there was no improvement to your credit score. These guarantees are meant to protect you rather than lure you in with promises that the credit repair company can't ultimately keep. In other words, while these companies cannot absolutely guarantee they will raise your credit score, you have the added peace of mind of receiving at least some of your money back in the event that there is not a significant improvement in your credit.
Other Credit-Improvement Options
Credit repair services can be risky. There is no guarantee that your credit score will improve, and, as shown above, even money-back guarantees are limited. You may want to pursue other avenues, like credit counseling or debt management programs, to improve your credit instead of using credit repair companies, especially if the hits to your credit are accurate. These other options can help you manage your credit and debt by providing you with education and other tools to develop good financial habits and tackle debt. Below is a breakdown of these services and what they do:
Credit Counseling: The goal of a credit counseling service is to educate customers on how to repair their credit and develop good financial habits. This is the starting point for the majority of credit counseling companies, and most offer further debt management programs if your credit and situation warrant more attention. Be aware though that this is a popular industry for scammers. Before you pay for credit counseling, we recommend doing some research to be sure the service you're thinking of using is legitimate. Be especially wary of services that want to push you into a debt-management plan immediately without educating you on how to improve your credit.
Debt-Management Programs: These services contact your creditors and negotiate with them to try to avoid collections, secure lower interest rates and fees, and negotiate due dates. Sometimes, debt-management plans can also offer you debt consolidation services. Debt settlement, where a company tries to negotiate how much you owe to your creditors, can be a part of debt management, but debt management does more for you and is often seen as more legitimate than debt settlement.
Credit Repair: What We Evaluated; What We Found
In our review, we looked for credit repair services that offer money-back guarantees, which demonstrate a willingness on the company's part to stand behind its service. We also sought out and ranked companies that offer consumers solid program features, such as working with creditors as well as the major credit bureaus, and offering pay for delete negotiations, which simply means the credit repair company will negotiate with your creditors on your behalf so that you pay the bill in exchange for them removing the hit from your credit report.
In addition to gathering information on each company's fees, time frames and services, our scores reflect the quality of customer service and the educational materials they provide to consumers. Below is more detail about what we found with each service and how each credit repair company was evaluated:
Customer Service Score
Since you'll work with your team or representative about a sensitive subject, you want to receive stellar customer service. We calculated a customer service score for each company based on our contact with representatives via phone and email. This grade also reflects the company's transparency about its services and the accuracy and consistency of information we received from representatives gleaned from multiple phone calls.
Customer service scores vary across the board as we had a range of experiences with each company. MSI Credit Solutions was especially helpful and earned the highest customer service score in our review due to the helpfulness of its representatives as well as their transparency about their services and their limitations, i.e., what they could and could not do.
Education is an important part of credit repair. The more you know about credit and finances, the less likely it is you'll need these services again. We created an education score based on the materials available on each company's website.
Our score reflects the quality of the supplemental education materials, the number of topics available and the usefulness of calculators, if any are available. Many of the education scores the companies in our review earned were not high, as education is not a primary focus of these companies. However, this is an important element to consider, because the more you can learn about credit and finances, the more in control of your finances you become.
Other Criteria: Pricing & Program Features
In evaluating credit repair services, we considered the overall cost of each service. Keep in mind that price is not always equivalent to value, though it is helpful to know what you can expect to get for your money.
We included couples discounts in our cost evaluation. The better companies offer a percentage discount on each month's fees. Discounts like these, as opposed to a one-time discount offered by some companies, save you the most. The best couples discount on our lineup is offered by Park View Credit, which offers a 40 percent discount off your spouse's or partner's fee (Park View Credit charges a lump sum rather than monthly payments).
We also looked for companies with program features like identity theft protection, monthly credit monitoring and pay for delete negotiations. Some, though not all, of the companies on our lineup offer these services. Also, many of the credit repair companies we reviewed work with your creditors as well as the bureaus, which can be especially helpful in permanently removing fraudulent or inaccurate items from your report.
Our Verdict & Recommendations
Credit repair comes with no guarantee that your credit will improve. It all depends on the legitimacy of the credit hits against you. This industry can be helpful in limited situations. In addition to this article, we recommend reading the review of each credit repair service on our lineup so you have a clear picture of the pros and cons of each company and what you can expect. Our top three picks for credit repair companies are Lexington Law, Sky Blue Credit Repair and The Credit People, due to the value of their service, the high scores they earned from us and the features they offer.