How can I tell a credit repair scam from a reputable credit counselor?
There are counselors who can help you with your credit report, and others who take your money but don’t help you. Warning signs for credit repair scams include companies that ask you to pay before providing services. The company may claim that it can guarantee a specific increase in your credit score or get rid of negative credit information in your credit report, even though the information is accurate and current.
Recognizing a credit repair scam
Warning signs for credit repair scams include companies that ask you to pay before providing services. A credit repair scam company may also tell you it can guarantee a specific increase in your credit score or get rid of negative credit information in your credit report, even though the information is accurate and current.
If you see ads or receive offers to repair or fix your credit, it could be a warning sign if the company:
- Pressures you to pay up-front fees. The company wants you to pay before it provides any services. A simple rule to follow is “Don’t pay upfront.” Under the federal Credit Repair Organizations Act, credit repair companies can’t request or receive payment until they’ve completed the services they’ve promised. Some companies will structure monthly payment plans to try to avoid this requirement. You should know that all forms of upfront payment before services are completed are illegal.
If the company is telemarketing, the federal Telemarketing Sales Rule may apply. When telemarketing, credit repair services must meet certain requirements before they can charge for their services. First, the company cannot request a fee until after the date that the company said it would provide the goods or services. Also, the company must give you a consumer report showing the results, and the report must be generated more than six months after the results were claimed to have been achieved. Only then can the company charge you fees or accept your payment. If a credit repair organization violates this law, you may have a right to sue.
- Promises to remove negative information from your credit report. The company tells you it can get rid of negative credit information, even if that information is accurate and current. No one can do this.
- Requests you dispute accurate information in your credit report. The company advises you to dispute all the information in your credit report, even if it is correct and timely.
- Refuses or avoids explaining your rights to you. The company doesn’t tell you your rights and what you can do for yourself for free. Disputing errors in your credit reports is a free legal right available to you under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. You don’t need to pay a credit repair organization to do it for you. Also, if you have just signed up for a credit repair service, you have the right to cancel your contract with the company for any reason within three business days at no charge to you.
- Tells you to not contact credit reporting companies. The company recommends that you don’t contact any of the nationwide credit reporting companies directly.
Credit repair companies are subject to numerous federal laws, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act and often the Telemarketing Sales Rule, both of which forbid credit repair organizations from using deceptive practices and from accepting up-front fees. These laws prohibit many deceptive practices by credit repair organizations.
How do I find a reputable credit counselor?
Most credit counselors offer services through local offices, online, or on the telephone. You can find a list of approved credit counselors online.
Once you've developed a list of potential counseling agencies, check them out with your State Attorney General’s office, and local consumer protection agency.
Finally, ask the credit counseling agency for free information about their services and what they provide. A reputable credit counseling agency should be willing to send you free information about itself and the services it provides without requiring you to provide any details about your situation. If a service doesn’t do that, consider it a red flag and go elsewhere for help.
If you're having trouble with credit reports and scores, you can submit a complaint with the CFPB.