Managing credit and debt

Credit is a normal part of life. It can be a valuable tool permitting you to buy a home or a car, finance an education, or take advantage of special sales and offers. Abusing credit can lead to financial problems. Knowing your legal rights and remedies is a first step to resolving those problems.

Table of Contents

Your credit report

Your credit report is an essential part of your financial future. Employers, insurance agencies, and creditors use your report to get information about you. Laws offer protections against incorrectly reported information.

Negative information more than seven years old cannot be included in your credit report. There are several exceptions to this rule - the main one is bankruptcy, which may be reported for up to ten years.

Each year you can get one free copy of your credit report from each agency. You should request a copy every year to ensure your report is correct.

If you were denied credit, you should get a copy of your report to make sure the information reported is correct. You have the right to know which reporting agency prepared the report used to deny you credit. Under state law, you have the right to a free copy of your credit report within sixty days of a credit denial.

If there is incorrect information in your credit report, the reporting agency can investigate it. An investigation must begin within 30 business days of your investigation request. The agency does not have to investigate your claim if it believes the dispute is "frivolous or irrelevant." The credit reporting agency must fix any information that is wrong, incomplete or unverifiable.

If you disagree with the results of the investigation, you have the right to explain your dispute in writing. The reporting agency then must include your written statement each time it sends out your credit report.

Credit problems

If there is legitimate negative information in your credit report, there is nothing you can do to change it. Negative information includes late payments, bankruptcy, liens, and collection accounts.

Negative information in your files does not always mean your credit request will be denied. Creditors review your credit history in different ways.

Credit repair clinics charge a fee to "fix" your credit report. These clinics cannot remove or change correct information on your credit report. You can do at little or no cost anything a credit repair clinic can do.

Trouble paying bills

Steps to take if you are having trouble paying your bills:

  1. Create a budget detailing your income and expenses.
  2. Prioritize your spending.
  3. Contact creditors to work with you to develop a payment plan.

If you are still having trouble after attempting these steps, another option is to contact a credit counseling services to create a debt repayment plan. In these plans, you work out a payment agreement with a counselor, and the service distributes your payments.

Other methods of dealing with debt include consolidating debt through loans and bankruptcy. These are steps with serious consequences, and should be taken only after consulting an attorney.

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