According to the FTC website “No one can legally remove accurate and timely negative information from a credit report. The law allows you to ask for an investigation of information in your file that you dispute as inaccurate or incomplete.”
This is a message that is seemingly black and white on the surface. In fact, many critics of credit repair and credit repair law firms such as Lexington Law will try to use this message to imply that there is little that can be done about bad credit, that the only recourse for people with a bad credit score is to wait for their credit to improve on its own, and that it is a futile attempt and a waste of money to work with any credit repair company.
When you take time to research the credit reporting system and your rights to dispute the questionable negative information in your credit reports, you will find that there is much more ambiguity in the FTC quote than critics of credit repair would have you believe.
This primarily has to do with the concept of accurate vs. inaccurate when it comes to the items listed in your credit reports. When we typically think of these terms, we think of them according to the dictionary definitions. In the credit reporting world, however, these two words do not mean what people think they do. While they are not wholly redefined, the definitions of these two words as they are used in the Fair Credit Reporting Act are altered when they are applied to your credit reports.
When trying to define what is accurate when dealing with the items listed in your credit reports, it is helpful to identify those things that are not accurate.
To start with, there are items that are patently inaccurate or untimely. These are listings on your credit reports that belong to another person, are duplicate entries, are the result of identity theft, have been listed longer than 7 years, etc. Because of the nature of the credit reporting system, it is surprisingly common for these types of items to end up on your credit reports.
For many people, this is the only type of negative item they believe can be disputed and removed from a credit report. The truth is there are a number of other classifications of negative items on your credit reports that you have the right to dispute.
Along with disputing negative items that are patently inaccurate or untimely, you also have the right to dispute any item you feel is misleading, incomplete, ambiguous, unverifiable, biased or unclear (“questionable”). To get a better idea of what types of negative items fall into these categories, consider the following real life account from the book “Credit Revolution: Path of the Smart Consumer“:
Mr. Telford* subscribed to the Ditech mortgage payment service, which was offered to him when he initiated his mortgage, and which breaks his monthly mortgage payment into two semi-monthly payments. A slight change in the property taxes on the property caused an increase in the amount owed each month. This change was never communicated to the semi-monthly mortgage payment service. Therefore, each month, Mr. Telford was unknowingly paying slightly less than his full mortgage amount. He did not receive any notices reflecting this shortfall. Even though Mr. Telford was making nearly the complete mortgage payment through the automated service, his credit report showed that he wasn’t making his payment at all, due to the fact that the amount paid was insufficient. When Mr. Telford went to purchase a new home, he was surprised to discover that his credit report included many non-payments of his previous mortgage.
*Name has been changed
In this case, all of the negative listings on Mr. Telford’s credit reports are accurate when using the dictionary definition of the word because the listings correspond to something that actually happened. Mr. Telford was not making full payments on his mortgage on time. But fortunately for Mr. Telford, the legal interpretation of what is accurate and inaccurate on consumer credit reports is not as cut and dried.
Mr. Telford disputed the questionable negative items listed on his credit reports because he believed they were misleading. The negative items in his credit reports showed that he missed making mortgage payments when in fact he had completely complied with the terms of his loan agreement. Mr. Telford was still a responsible consumer although when he tried to purchase a new home, his credit score mislead lenders into thinking that he was a high credit risk.
Situations like this are not at all uncommon and are the reason why you are able to dispute any of the questionable negative items on your credit reports. So when you hear that no one can legally remove accurate and timely negative information from a credit report, remember that when it comes to your credit reports, accurate has a much different meaning that most people believe.