Tag Archives: Credit Score

How to stop debt collectors from ruining your credit

Think your credit history is good enough that you can thumb your nose at a $150 disputed medical collection without much consequence? Think again.

Even if debt collectors have stopped calling and mailing demand letters to you over a $150 debt that you owe, a bill collector might have the last laugh by posting that small debt on your Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax credit reports.

Young woman thinking about her credit problems

Even a small debt in collection can hurt your credit score.

Of the 35.1% of American consumers with collection bureau delinquencies, a full 10% of these debtors owe less than $175. Those old cell phone contracts, forgotten medical lab bills, and cancelled gym membership charges can cost you thousands in increased interest expenses. What’s more, you may also find that you pay much more in car insurance premiums and borrowing costs as a result.

Even a small amount of debt placed for collection can cut your credit rating by 20–100 points. As a matter of fact, those with better credit scores will experience larger reductions in their credit scores, according to an article on the credit.com blog. The author’s research indicates that the report of your first late payment on your credit report might drop you from excellent credit (740 points) to mediocre (640 points). Collections agencies sometimes single out debtors with better credit ratings to focus their collection efforts on because those debtors are more likely to pay overdue bills faster than debtors with poor credit, according to the credit.com blog.

Get a Free Annual Credit Checkup

It’s a good practice to check your credit reports for free once a year at Annualcreditreport.com to determine whether your credit report has any forgotten debts listed on one or more of the three credit bureaus.

What should you do when you find a small negative item on a credit bureau history?

Make a choice. Pay it or dispute it.

First, take a look at your financial picture. Are you carrying high credit card balances on revolving accounts? Are other bills overwhelming you?

If you feel as though you cannot escape financial pressures that seem overwhelming, then a bankruptcy filing could be the right solution for you and your family to help you get a fresh start on a brighter financial future.

  • If you are a higher earner, filing a Chapter 13 case might allow you to retire debts with 36 easy payments.
  • If you are a lower earner, or if you have a large household size, then you might be able to wipe away all the debts at once by filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

With the amendments to the bankruptcy code that took effect in 2005, many high earners can breeze through a Chapter 7 case even though the stated purpose of those amendments was to make qualification to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy “tougher”.

Act Now to Make Your Financial Future a Bright One

Contact us to make an appointment at one of our convenient locations. We can help; our customer reviews show how hard we have worked for clients in many difficult circumstances. It’s never too late to take charge of your life and to make the right decision for you and your family.

You Can Add Points to Your Credit Score by Beating the “Charge off Date” Scam

You may be able to knock a few negative items off of your credit report by disputing old debts that are no longer due, and watch your credit score rise as a result!

Reporting invalid “out of statute” debt as currently collectible obligations is an old bill collector’s scam. If you fall into this trap, you could be tricked into paying money you don’t owe.

Did you know that consumer debt that has been in default for more than six years is not collectible using any sort of lawsuit or legal process, and therefore should not be reported on your credit report? However, there is an important exception to that rule in the case where debt is owed as a result of a lawsuit judgment that was issued at some time within that six-year period. I’ll explain how this exception applies later in this article.

Many Americans have several “out of statute” debts –debts that should not be listed as currently due on their Experian, Transunion or Equifax credit report. These debts are too old to be carried on the credit report. In these cases, you should write to the collection bureau that lists the debt and dispute the entry so that the debt no longer appears on your credit report from that credit reporting bureau.

Q: How do bill collectors get away with this?

A: Once a debt has been in default (unpaid) for six years, the statute of limitations to collect the debt has expired. The creditor cannot file a suit to collect the debt once the debt is too old, as having been in default for six years. However, to trick you into thinking that the creditor has additional time to collect upon the debt, the creditor will (out of thin air) make up a phony date called the “charged off date”, and put that phony “charged off date” on your credit report as the date of default.

Q: Why is my credit score important?

A: The benefits of improving your credit score are undeniable; improved employment prospects, cheaper car insurance, and low-interest rates for future car loans and mortgages are among the perks of a better credit score. A FICO credit score of 700 or higher is ideal for the best of benefits –850 is considered “perfect” credit.

Q: My credit is pretty rocky. Will disputing “out of statute” debts really help?

A: If your credit is already really troubled with many enforceable unpaid debts, then disputing a few here and there might not be that helpful–a bankruptcy filing might be the right call. We can help you determine your best course of action, contact us at www.washingtonbankruptcy.com. But if your credit is reasonably clean, you should make a habit of securing your free credit report each year, and checking it for errors. Even after a bankruptcy filing, you should get in the habit of making an annual review of your credit report. You can obtain your free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com.

Q: Why do creditors report “charge off dates” as occurring months or years after the date you defaulted on the debt?

A: It is a trick to fool you into believing that an aged and invalid debt is still valid and collectible. Actually, “Charge off date” is a term of no legal significance. So definitely make a written dispute of all credit report debts that have been unpaid and in default for six years or more, regardless of the “charge off date” reported in your credit report.

Q: Can you give me an example of a phony “charge off date” for an “out of statute” debt?

A: Let’s assume that you received medical or dental services on May 20, 2005 (8 years ago) that were billed to you on June 1, 2005. Let’s assume that you made one or two small payments and never paid again after August 1, 2005 (7 years 9 months ago). Finally, let’s assume that as of today, May 22, 2013, the remaining unpaid medical/dental bill balance appears on your credit report as “charged off” on December 31, 2009 –only 40 months ago. What should you do?

In this example, you should make a written dispute to each credit bureau that lists this debt as still due–based on your current credit report that you obtained for free at www.annualcreditreport.com–so that the debt can be removed from your credit report for each credit reporting bureau that lists the debt as due. The date of default for the debt was really July 1, 2005, the last date you made a payment that did not pay the debt in full. The last date that the creditor could file suit to collect the debt was six years later on July 1, 2011. You have been “free” of the debt for 1 year and 10 months, since July 1, 2011.

Q: What should my “out of statute” credit report dispute letter say?

A: The credit report dispute letter should be sent to each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Transunion, and Experian. In addition, I always recommend that you include a copy to the original creditor. In order to address the example debt we examined above, I suggest that your letter contain the following language: “If I even ever owed this debt reported as owing to _____, I dispute that I presently owe the debt. If I ever owed it, then I defaulted upon this debt on July 1, 2005 and the six-year statute of limitations to commence a collection lawsuit passed on July 1, 2011. Today is May 22, 2013. No lawsuit was ever commenced. This debt was erroneously reported on my credit report as a valid and collectible debt having a “charge off date” of December 31, 2009. This entry is thus not accurate because the debt would no longer be collectible under local law as it is an out of statute debt. I require that you remove any and all reference to this debt from my credit report at once and that you recalculate and amend my credit score without the effect of this debt computed into the calculation. Please provide me with a copy of the amended credit report within 30 days of the date when this letter was first written as shown above.”

Q: Do Sporadic Payments “Reset” the Default date?

A: Probably not. I do not believe that must judges would rule that a few sporadic payments here and there over the years would rescind your default on the debt. Back to our example: medical and dental bills are almost always “due upon receipt”. When you did not pay the debt off in full within a short period following the date you received the initial bill on June 1, 2005, you were then in default upon the terms, even if the medical or dental creditor did not “declare” you to be in default until 54 months later on December 31, 2009.

The “charged off date” is just the date at which the creditor declared the bill not readily collectible for its own internal accounting purposes, and in most scenarios the creditors choose an arbitrary and ridiculously late “charged off date” to fool you into thinking that the default date (and thus the commencement of the running of the six-year statute of limitations) occurred much later than was truly the case.

Q: But I always thought “Charged off” means “forgiven”?

A: Some folks innocently confuse “charged off” as meaning “forgiven”. Please, don’t make this mistake. “Charged off” does not mean “forgiven”, “written off” nor “pardoned”. If you see “charged off” on your credit report for a relatively recent debt, do not take comfort! The debt is still collectible by lawsuit for six years from the date that you were supposed to pay the debt—the amount of the debt that you did not pay. And there are more problems.

Q: How long can I be pursued for a valid debt?

A: If a debt is valid—the debt is still due and payable within six years of the date of default—the creditor can file a lawsuit and obtain a judgment provided that the lawsuit is filed with the court before the six-year period expires. Once a judgment is obtained in the creditor’s lawsuit to collect the debt, the creditor has ten years after the date of the judgment to pursue and garnish you based upon the lawsuit judgment. There is even worse news. After the first 10 year period draws to a close, the creditor can ask the judge to extend the judgment for an additional 10 years (for a total of 20 years!). That’s right; the creditor can have up to 20 years to garnish and collect from you.

Q: When is bankruptcy the best choice to recover and rebuild my financial life instead of disputing credit report contents?

A: If you have no hope of repaying your existing debt off within 24 months, consider a bankruptcy filing. Your credit can often return to health with amazing speed! To learn how, please read my article entitled, “Rebuild your credit score after bankruptcy”. Even better, please contact my offices to make an appointment for a free, confidential, personal consultation so that I can advise you about your individual circumstances. Don’t wait; the creditors won’t go away unless you act now!

Throughout our lives, we must remain ever vigilant of our credit report contents in order to protect our financial future. Remember, you can dispute any and all debts that have been in default for more than six years—regardless of the date reported by creditors as the “charge off date”.

Rebuild your credit score after bankruptcy

The Wall Street Journal’s “Smart Money” feature states it clearly: bankruptcy can help improve your credit score over the long term, even if your score hasn’t declined very much.

Just being cautious with your credit after bankruptcy is of number one importance, according to “Smart Money”. There are many consumers who may see quick gains in credit score recovery from a bankruptcy, and other consumers for whom a bankruptcy filing can arrest an otherwise inevitable long term credit score slide.

Consumers who fail to significantly reduce the amounts owed on high balance credit accounts my eventually see a decline in their credit score. Carrying high balances on credit over time can eventually be as harmful to your credit score as late mortgage payments, repossessions, or delinquent accounts placed with bill collection companies.

Some consumers may already have made payments late, missed payments altogether, or have had accounts turned over to debt collectors. These consumers are probably already out of the “good credit” 700+ credit score range. A credit score of 850 is considered “perfect”.

John Ulzheimer, president of Credit.com Educational Services, a consumer credit education group, is quoted in an article entitled “Declaring Bankruptcy Can Improve Your Credit Score” in ”Smart Money” by Aleksandra Todorova. Mr. Ulzheimer asserts that after filing for bankruptcy, consumers who fall into either the high balance or struggling to make payments categories may see their credit scores increase, depending upon the point where they have fallen on the credit decline trajectory. Why? To start with, credit reports are largely wiped clean with a bankruptcy filing.

According to Ulzheimer, many consumers see a fairly quick improvement in credit scores after bankruptcy. Here’s why: When calculating scores, the formulas developed by Fair Isaac (the company that calculates the most widely used credit score, known as the FICO score) are set up to grade someone’s credit standing as compared with that of consumers in a similar financial position. To do that, Fair Isaac divides consumers into 10 groups, using what it calls “score cards”. It then ranks the consumers in each group based on the others in the group. One of these score cards is bankruptcy filers.

With a bankruptcy filing, the FICO score is then determined based on how one does after bankruptcy compared with other bankruptcy filers, explains Fair Isaac spokesperson Craig Watts. The reason? Fair Isaac has found this to predict credit risk better. ”It’s a much fairer comparison,” says Mr. Watts. ”You’re not compared with people with rosy, perfect reports.” Thus with good after bankruptcy credit management, a good score in the 700s isn’t impossible, and when the bankruptcy drops off of your credit record in 7-10 years, you might even then hit that perfect 850.

The “V” Shaped Curve Leads to Inevitable Credit Recovery

In her article on About.com entitled, “How Much Will Bankruptcy Hurt Your Credit Score”, LaToya Irby, Credit / Debt Management Guide, takes us through the decline and recovery of a consumer credit score in various scenarios. The “worst case” scenario for a bankruptcy filing might be a temporary credit score drop of a mere 150 points for someone with an already mediocre credit score of 680-690, and even less than 150 points if a credit score is already in the troubled 500-650 range. If one’s credit score is already coasting down to 680-690, then bigger problems are probably already on the way. The good news is that a bankruptcy filing can 1) end the days of that forever lingering sub-700 mediocre to poor credit score or 2) halt and then reverse a downward-moving credit score trend. The reason is that with a long term credit score of 680-690, you will not receive many low-rate credit offers anyway, so a bankruptcy filing could easily be a step in the right direction to better credit offers in the near future. So consider taking the bankruptcy hit now to strip away the credit disaster, and then begin to rebuild a better financial future.

Ms. Irby does relate that if a consumer’s credit score is really high—a score of 780, for example—a bankruptcy filing could lower the score by 240 points to a poor score of 540. However, starting from that low point, a credit score can recover with amazing speed to the point of qualifying for a home mortgage in as few as two years after bankruptcy. Better yet, the consumer might even be able to comfortably afford the mortgage without the crushing debt burden eliminated after bankruptcy.

Is Chapter 13 better than Chapter 7?

Generally, bankruptcy in Chapter 13 where the debtor makes full or partial repayment of debts according to a reorganization plan is not better for rebuilding credit. A Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” filing offers the best financial recovery strategy for most consumers. In Chapter 7, all or nearly all debts are wiped out in a quick and short proceeding without any repayment required. Many people misunderstand Chapter 7, and mistakenly believe that they will lose their house in a Chapter 7 and that their car or 401k savings plan will be taken away. This is not correct. Rarely, if ever, is any property or item taken away in Chapter 7, and consumers can keep a house and car in Chapter 7 if they wish, so long as any mortgage or car loan payments are kept up. Ms. Irby of About.com Guides researched the question of whether 7 or 13 was better for quick credit recovery, and decided that Chapter 7 is better for a quick credit score recovery, relying upon information released by FICO.

In 2010, the Fair Isaac Company, the provider of the popular FICO credit scoring model in which a score of 850 is considered a “perfect” credit score, published information about how bankruptcy can affect a credit score by proving some mock scenarios with different credit profiles. The FICO mock examples did not differentiate between the effect of Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies, so the proprietary and secret FICO formulas do not seem to prefer or favor a debtor who makes full or partial repayment through a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan. This argument seems to suggest that most consumers might as well file for Chapter 7 when it comes to FICO credit scores, because a Chapter 7 filing is over so much more quickly than a three to five year Chapter 13 full or partial debt repayment plan. LaToya Irby authored an interesting article entitled “What Your Credit Score Is Made Of” that describes the components that make up consumer credit scores in more detail.

Credit Restoration 101

Restoring credit after bankruptcy is not nearly so hard as people might think, and there is an easy rule of thumb to begin the speedy recovery of a FICO credit score. That is, simply maintain a good credit record with any accounts which survive the bankruptcy, including child support payments, utilities, mortgages, and car loans that are kept after bankruptcy.

Ask.com Guide’s Ms. LaToya Irby sums it up: ”You might be surprised to see how soon after bankruptcy you begin receiving credit card offers again. If you file for bankruptcy, know that your credit isn’t lost forever.”

Aleksandra Todorova of the Wall Street Journal “Smart Money”‘s agrees: “[H]ere’s some surprising news: In many cases, the damage done (by bankruptcy) to one’s credit score isn’t nearly as bad as expected. Over the long run, obtaining a score high enough to make you eligible for very competitive rates isn’t out of the question.”

Advanced Credit Recovery

Consumers can turbocharge their after bankruptcy FICO credit score recovery with a little further reading and follow-up action. There are a number of online guides and some great books available to help you learn how to speed up your FICO credit score recovery after bankruptcy. Consumer debt expert Gerri Detweiler, www.gerriderweiler.com, is the author of “The Ultimate Credit Handbook: How to Cut Your Debt and Have a Lifetime of Great Credit, Third Edition,” for example. For starters, the first four credit recovery steps recommended in the aforementioned WSJ’s “Smart Money” column are really easy steps to get a credit score back into the desirable 700s – maybe even within two years. Here’s a summary:

(1) Damage Control. Make sure that all the accounts listed in your bankruptcy are listed in your credit report as $0 balances and/or “discharged in bankruptcy” because if the creditor keeps erroneously reporting it as having a collectible balance, it will slow down or stop your credit recovery progress. You may get your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com to check for erroneous reporting, and then learn how to dispute erroneous information on your credit report.

(2) Get a New Credit Card. If you can’t get a credit card with a small credit limit, then search for a lender who will issue you a “secured” card. A secured card is one that is backed by a modest cash deposit. Look for a lender who promises to let you “graduate” to a regular unsecured credit card following 18 months or so of on-time payments.

(3) Piggyback. If you have a very trusted friend or relative with good credit repayment habits, ask that person to allow you to become an “authorized user” on one of their credit cards. This may eventually “bootstrap” your friend’s good payment history into your credit report history.

(4) Bigger Loans. I have seen some people get a car loan while they are still in the 4 month Chapter 7 process. For others, a car loan within a few months after bankruptcy is often a possibility. Of course, only finance a car loan if in fact you really need a car. Should the need arise, start shopping for a lender and auto dealer who will work with you. It is important to be choosey about the terms of any car loan. If you are shopping when the auto dealership is under a crunch to make a sales quota, you might find that the auto dealership needs you more than you need them. Do not accept a ridiculous loan interest rate! If the car lot finance manager cannot get you a reasonable after bankruptcy interest rate of 8-14%, then move on immediately. Find a more flexible lender. I have heard tales of some people even getting a 5.0% interest rate car loan—or less—after bankruptcy on a car loan. Be tough, be polite and be fair during your negotiations, and you may be surprised at the favorable outcome.

Gerri Detweiler says that sometimes consumers have to face the music and file bankruptcy. Rebuilding a credit score into the FICO 700s range after bankruptcy isn’t necessarily that difficult, especially by starting with the four good credit restoration fundamentals reviewed above.

Ideas for Action

Saving a credit score in the short term shouldn’t be seen as a good reason to avoid or postpone filing for bankruptcy, particularly if you have either high debt balances or are struggling to make payments on time. If you find after a sober examination of your finances that you are unable to completely clear consumer debts to zero within a couple of years, bankruptcy may be the prudent choice. Even if your credit score isn’t below 700 currently, it is quite likely that it will end up there anyway if your financial resources are stretched too thinly. ”You have to be realistic about your ability to get back on your feet financially by repaying your debts within a reasonable time without an extreme or ridiculously small household budget which is not long-term practical” says Ms. Detweiler.

Articles quoted or referenced in this article:

How Much Will Bankruptcy Hurt Your Credit Score

http://credit.about.com/od/bankruptcy/qt/How-Much-Will-Bankruptcy-Hurt-Your-Credit-Score.htm

Credit expert Gerri Detweiler

http://www.gerridetweiler.com/

Amazon.com: The Ultimate Credit Handbook: How to Cut Your Debt and Have a Lifetime of Great Credit, Third Edition (9780452283923): Gerri Detweiler: Books

http://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Credit-Handbook-Lifetime-Great/dp/0452283922

AnnualCreditReport

https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp

How to Dispute Consumer Credit Reporting Errors and Fix Your Credit Report – Money Management

http://www.moneymanagement.org/budgeting-tools/credit-articles/credit/how-to-dispute-consumer-credit-reporting-errors-and-fix-your-credit-report.aspx

Declaring Bankruptcy Can Improve Your Credit Score – SmartMoney.com

http://www.smartmoney.com/borrow/debt-strategies/declaring-bankruptcy-can-improve-your-credit-score-20681/

25.5% of Americans now suffer with poor credit scores of 599 and below

“The credit scores of millions more Americans are sinking to new lows. Figures provided by FICO, Inc., show that 25.5% of consumers – nearly 43.4 million people – now have a credit score of 599 or below, marking them as poor risks for lenders. It is unlikely that they will be able to get credit cards, auto loans or mortgages under the tighter lending standards banks now use.” reports Eileen AJ Connelly of the Associated Press (See Tacoma News Tribune, 7/12/10, page A8). Ms. Connelly further reports: (a) 2.4 million more people are now in the poor credit 599 and below category than were there in 2008. (b) Only about 17.9% of Americans now enjoy a top credit score of 800 or above, while as recently as April 2008, 18.7% of Americans enjoyed top credit scores of 800 and above. (c) Mid-range credit score individuals who make up about 11.9% of people (FICOs of 650-699) are likely the most affected by the “credit crunch” in that prior to the late 2008-2009 financial meltdown, they readily obtained credit at reasonable rates, but now are often forced to pay much higher rates than they would have paid in early 2008.