Is there a legit company to fix my credit score?

Bankrate.com

Dear Debt Adviser,

Is there a legitimate company out there I can consult to assist with increasing my credit score and deleting derogatory marks on my credit report? Thanks for your time and consideration to my question.

-- Quan

Dear Quan,

If there is, I haven't found it. I know it seems strange that in our age of instant everything, some things still take months or even years to accomplish. But, in the case of credit scores, it's true. Your credit score is based on your past actions, and your past took time to create. Sometimes, it's even longer to outlive. When you're late on a bill, it stays on your credit report for a long time and there is little you can do about it. But yes, there are still some things you can do.

[Related: Four Things Making You Poor This Week]

That you can "erase" bad credit is a common misconception, which some companies add to by misleading or outright false advertising. Accurate negative information such as a late bill payment, a default or a collection account can and will be reported for as long as the Fair Credit Reporting Act's, or FCRA's, reporting time frame for that particular item says it can be reported -- which in most cases is seven years.

[Click here to check current credit card offers, including rates and terms.]

Trouble begins for many consumers when they pay a company that promises to remove derogatory information from their credit reports, and the company is able to supply a credit report without the negative information. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately the reason the company is able to provide you with a report without the negative items is because of a temporary sleight of hand. The FCRA requires disputed items to be removed from a consumer's credit report until the dispute is researched and resolved. However, if during the course of the investigation on the disputed item the credit bureau learns the item is accurate, the disputed item is once again placed on the consumer's report. So, the accurate negative item may remain off the credit report only temporarily.

Your FICO credit score is the most commonly used score. There are others as well, but they all use basically the same information with differing scoring scales and weights. Your FICO score is calculated using information from your credit reports in the following categories.

[Related: 6 items that can kill your credit score]

Elements of your credit score

Most negative items included in a credit report affect the "payment history" category. To improve your score if you have past-due or collection accounts, you need to add positive information to your reports each month on all your other accounts. The positive information will begin to outweigh the negative information, and your score will show improvement within the next two years. Additionally in your favor, negative information counts for less as time goes by.

The next largest area that can hurt your credit score is "amounts owed." If you have several revolving and installment accounts where you owe more than 50 percent of the credit limit or loan amount, you will lose points. To boost your score in this area, pay down your credit card accounts to less than 50 percent of the credit limit as quickly as possible. The further below 50 percent you are, the better for your score.

[Related: Steps to boost credit score when a mortgage is the goal]

I know this can be a complex area, so if you have a specific question about your credit reports, you can drop me an email at debtadviser@bankrate.com and I will let you know what I believe is the best way for you to improve your credit score.

Good luck!

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