Business Credit You Control

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1 t Business Credit You Control BY JEREMY ZIGMAN DIKo-an easy new w~y to ge( S200,000 of busonesscredllon 90 days ~ ZecTedi

2 Week 5: How To Improve Your Credit Report And Raise Your Credit Score The information contained in this course is designed to provide you with techniques to improve the your credit score. FACTORS THAT LOWER YOUR CREDIT SCORE Derogatory information such as late payments, charge-offs, judgments, evictions, foreclosures, and bankruptcies negatively affect your credit score more than anything else. If you have derogatory items on your credit report, read the section below that discusses how to remove them. The second factor that will negatively impact your credit score is the amount of unsecured debt (i.e., credit card) that appears on your credit report. Once your credit card balances reach 50% of your limits, your credit score will drop significantly. For example, if your credit card limit is $10,000 and the balance is $5,000, then your credit score will drop significantly. The closer the balance gets towards $10,000, the greater your credit score will diminish. Another factor that will negatively impact your credit score is credit inquiries. According to section 604 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a creditor must have your authorization in order to pull your credit file. You may not be aware of the fact that your name and personal information appear on several marketing lists. The companies that own the marketing lists circulate your information to other marketing companies, who in turn sell that information to lenders. These lenders pull your credit file, thereby creating credit inquiries without your authorization. The sum total of all of inquires lowers your credit score significantly. One of my clients had over 40 unauthorized inquiries on her credit report. After teaching her how to have them deleted, their removal (along with other factors) helped increase her credit score by 120 points. In addition to the preceding factors that negatively impact your credit score, closed accounts whose status is listed as open, as well as accounts that do not belong to you, will adversely affect your score. I have had three credit cards for over 10 years. All three accounts required me to pay an annual fee in exchange for earning mileage points on purchases. I later requested that my accounts be changed to non-mileage bearing accounts to avoid paying the annual fee. When I made the change, each creditor issued me a new account number, each of which was listed on my credit report in addition to the original three. The creditors failed to report to the credit bureaus that the old

3 account numbers had been closed. Thus my credit report reflected that I had six accounts when in fact I only had three. One of my clients was listed as a joint responsible account holder with a person from another state whom she had never met. She and the other account holder coincidentally had the same last name, which might have been the reason why my client s name was erroneously listed with the other person as a joint account holder. This particular account has a credit balance that exceeded 50% of the credit limit, therefore reducing the credit score of my client. Sometimes family members account information can appear on your credit report, particularly if you bear a similar name to theirs. For example, John Doe s account information could appear on John Doe, II, John Doe, Jr., John Doe, Sr., and so on. DISPUTING A DEROGATORY ITEM WITH CREDITORS Now that I have explained the factors that can negatively impact your credit score, I will provide you with techniques for how to raise your credit score. Disputing derogatory items such as a 30-, 60-, 90-, or 120-day late notice or a charge-off directly with creditors is easily accomplished by contacting the creditor. Call the creditor and have a letter faxed to you requesting that the credit bureaus remove the derogatory reporting from the credit report. In order to get the letter you are seeking, you may need to speak to a supervisor, and the supervisor may need time to research the inaccuracy. Ask the representative when he/she will complete his/her investigation so you may follow up with the person at that designated date and time. Although the representative may be genuinely interested in being helpful, he/she will not care about your credit score the way you will, so it is incumbent upon you to follow up. Often creditors send form letters that are signed customer service or are printed with an employee s name but no signature. The letter must be written on bank letterhead and must bear a printed name accompanied by a signature of a company employee in order for the credit bureaus to authenticate the letter. Once you receive a copy of the letter in the proper format, forward a copy of the letter to each of the three credit bureaus. The credit bureaus will normally delete the derogatory item from your credit report within one to four weeks from their receipt of the letter. If you are not able to get a supervisor to fax or send you a letter, send the creditor a written dispute demanding that the creditor provide you with proof of the derogatory item or instruct the credit bureaus to delete the derogatory item from your credit report. Make sure that the dispute letter instructs the creditor to prove the accuracy of the derogatory reporting or delete the derogatory item(s) from the credit report.

4 The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) puts the onus on the creditor to prove the accuracy of any item report on a credit file within 30 days or order its removal from the credit report. In the last years, many banks have merged with one another or have sold many of their loans to other banks. These mergers and portfolio sales have made it very difficult for banks to verify the accuracy of the derogatory items within 30 days because paperwork and documents are archived or are in the possession of the previous holder of the loan. You may find that the creditors respond to your dispute letter acknowledging receipt of it and stating that their reporting is accurate. However, in most cases, they do not provide you with the proof requested in your dispute letter. Reply to the creditors responses and insist that they provide the requisite proof. In most cases, creditors will eventually send you a letter stating that they have instructed the credit bureaus to remove the disputed item. If the creditors will not remove the disputed item from your credit report and refuse to provide you with requisite proof, you might want to consider suing the creditor. Contact an attorney for legal advice on this matter. DISPUTING BANKRUPTCIES, FORECLOSURES, AND JUDGMENTS Bankruptcies, foreclosures, and judgments need to be disputed differently than 30-, 60-, 90-, or 120-day late payments. Credit bureaus index or classify credit files by your first name, last name, address, and social security number. How does the credit bureau s computer system know to which credit file it should list a bankruptcy, foreclosure, or judgment item for someone who has a common name such as John Smith? A bankruptcy filing and foreclosure notice lists the name and address of the filer, not the social security number. The bureau s computer system picks up a foreclosure notice with the name John Smith and the address listed on the filing. Since the computer has a credit file for John Smith bearing the same address listed on the foreclosure filing, the computer system connects the filing to John Smith and adds a foreclosure filing to John Smith s credit report. What happens if the bureau s computer system mistakenly places the foreclosure notice on the credit file of another person also named John Smith? The mistaken John Smith can dispute the accuracy of the reporting if the address on the foreclosure notice does not match his address listed on his credit report. Consequently, the bureau will remove the foreclosure notice from the other John Smith s credit report. The FCRA puts the burden of proof on creditors and credit bureaus to prove the accuracy of any reporting. Why not make it difficult for the credit bureaus to prove the accuracy of a public item such as a bankruptcy, foreclosure, or judgment? To do so, perform the following measures: Remove the address listed on the bankruptcy, foreclosure, or judgment notice from your credit file. If you currently reside at the same

5 address listed on the bankruptcy or foreclosure filing, you will need to call every creditor and provide them with a new address; your statements will be sent to that new address. Perhaps you can use a friend or relative s address. If you cannot use a friend or relative s address, find a business that offers mail service (not a P.O. Box). Make sure your new address is in a different city than the current one listed on your credit report. Once you have changed the address with your current creditors, contact the credit bureaus and dispute the address that is listed on your bankruptcy, foreclosure, or judgment filing; give the credit bureaus your new address. In all likelihood, the credit bureaus will remove the address listed on the bankruptcy filing from your credit file. Wait until you get confirmation that the credit bureaus have deleted the address from your credit file. If you do not change the address with your current creditors, then those creditors will report your ad-dress along with the rest of your account information at the end of the next billing cycle. By changing your address with the creditors, the creditors will report your new address to the credit bureaus. Once you receive confirmation from the credit bureaus that the old address has been deleted from your file, dispute the bankruptcy, foreclosure, or judgment filing with each credit bureau. If the credit bureau is unable to match your name to the address listed on the bankruptcy, foreclosure, or judgment filing, then chances are high that they will not be able to verify the accuracy of the filing. And if they cannot verify the accuracy of the filing, they will have to remove the filing from your credit file. DISPUTING COLLECTION ITEMS I suggest dealing with collection items in a very specific way. To understand how to strategically deal with a collection item, let s first look at the nature of a collection. A collection item appears when a creditor is not paid on an account. The creditor then assigns that account to a collection company. In addition to collection attempts, the collection company reports that collection item to the credit bureaus. Collection companies often offer the borrower the option of paying a reduced amount to settle the debt. Once the borrower pays the agreed upon settlement amount, the collection company updates the credit report to show the collection as paid. A paid collection item improves your credit score slightly as opposed to an unpaid collection item. However, your credit report will show that you had a collection account at some previous point in time,. Any history of a collection will significantly reduce your credit score. If you have an unpaid collection item, contact the collection company to make a settlement. The collection company will often settle for a far less amount than the original amount of the debt, especially the older the collection item is. For example, a collection item that is five years old can usually be settled for 10% of the amount owed. A collection item that is six months old is more likely to be settled for 75% of the amount owed. The more time that goes by, the less likely the collection company will collect anything. Regardless of how old the collection is, I always make my first offer at

6 10% of the amount owed. Normally, the collection agent will gyrate in disgust and disbelief. The agent will counteroffer, usually a lot higher than 10%. Continue countering each other until you settle on an amount that you can afford. I start my negotiations at 10% in the hopes of settling somewhere around 30%. As a rule of thumb, I would never pay more than 50% of the amount of the debt. Once you agree on a settlement amount, inform the collection agent that you want the collection company and the original creditor to remove any and all derogatory reporting on the account from your credit report in exchange for your paying the agreed settlement amount. Sometimes the agent will state that their company cannot remove the item from the report. Bear in mind that the credit bureaus will remove any items that the creditor requests. It is not a matter of the collection company not being able to remove it, but it is rather a matter of the collection company not wanting remove it. It makes no financial difference to the collection company or the original creditor whether or not they delete the derogatory item from your credit report, but it does make a financial difference if you do not pay them. When dealing with collection agents, inform them that you are aware that their company has the capacity to remove the derogatory item with a letter written to the credit bureaus. Further inform them that you have no incentive to pay them any amount if they do not agree to remove the item. After all, if your credit score does not improve dramatically, why pay the collection company anything? You may have to deal with a supervisor or manager to get this last and most important detail finalized. Be sure you get an agreement in writing stating that the collection item will be settled for a specific amount and in exchange the derogatory reporting will be removed from your credit report prior to paying the collection company any sum of money. Here is an example of a collection settlement letter. Be sure the letter states that the collection company will fax you a letter instructing the credit bureaus to remove the derogatory item from your credit report within 48 hours of receiving your payment. Once you get the agreement in writing, pay the collection company the agreed amount and have the collection company fax you the letter instructing the bureaus to delete the derogatory item. Make sure the letter is formatted in the manner discussed above. Forward the letter to the credit bureaus, and watch your credit score increase. One more item about collection accounts: in most instances, the collection company is collecting on behalf of the creditor that is owed the money. If the collection company does not own the debt, the company will have to seek approval from the creditor. If the creditor is a credit card company, then chances are that there are two derogatory items reported for the same account. The first reporting is from the credit card company, usually showing a 30-, 60-, 90-, or 120-day late payment and a charge-off. The second reporting is from the collection company. Make sure that your agreement states that any

7 and all-derogatory reporting (from the credit card company and the collection company) are deleted from your credit report in exchange for payment. If the collection item is related to a medical bill, normally the medical facility does not report to the credit bureaus, as they are not set up to do so. However, often Medical Groups will assign a collection account to a collection company who will report that item to the credit bureaus. At some future date, that collection company might turn the collection item back to the medical group, who in turn might assign it to another collection company. That second collection company will report that item to the credit bureaus using their own collection account number. In such a situation, you could have two collection items listed on your credit report when you in fact have one outstanding amount in collection. I had a client who had three collection ac-counts, but each account had been assigned to four different collection companies. His credit report listed 12 collection items. In reality, he had three accounts that were not paid. Make sure that any agreement you make states that all derogatory reporting pertaining to the original account and the amount owed be removed in exchange for the agreed upon settlement amount. In some instances, the collection company purchased the account from the original creditor, usually for a nominal percentage of the debt. If the company owns the debt, then no approval is needed. REMOVING UNAUTHORIZED CREDIT INQUIRIES In order to remove unauthorized credit inquiries, submit a package consisting of an affidavit, and a sample inquiry dispute letter to the credit bureaus. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Fraud Affidavit which you will need, can be obtained by visiting Click on the ID Theft Affidavit link next to item 2. Filling out the information on page 1 of the affidavit is selfexplanatory as it pertains to your personal information. On page 2 of the affidavit, check items 11, 12, and 16. You may check items 17, 18, and 19, on page 3. Sign the affidavit in the presence of a Notary Public on page 4 of the document. My suggestions for filling out the FTC Affidavit are just that, suggestions. If you are unsure about the legal consequences of filling out the affidavit, consult an attorney. In addition, be sure that all the information listed on the affidavit is true to the best of your knowledge because knowingly submitting false information on the affidavit could subject you to criminal prosecution for perjury. DISPUTE WITH THE CREDIT BUREAUS In addition to disputing derogatory items with the creditors, dispute the items with the credit bureaus as well. Begin by contacting the credit bureaus with which the inaccuracies appear. Sometimes inaccuracies may appear on only one bureau s report, while the others

8 may appear on all three. Contact the bureau(s) to verbally dispute the inaccuracy of the item(s) in question. In addition to verbally disputing the item, send a dispute letter to the bureau(s) to document your dispute(s); keep copies of all written correspondence. The bureau(s) will place the item(s) in dispute and will contact the creditor(s), who have 30 days within which to verify the accuracy or inaccuracy of the item(s) disputed. If the creditor is unable to verify the accuracy of the disputed item, it will instruct the credit bureau(s) to remove the derogatory reporting. If the creditor does not respond within 30 days, then the bureau(s) will remove the disputed item. Let s review. When disputing any type of derogatory item: Try resolving your disputes with the creditor by calling them and getting a supervisor to fax you a letter for easier and quicker updating of your credit report. Remain calm and speak respectfully and courteously to any representative helping you. I have found that beginning with, I could really use your help tends to yield positive results. Be sure to journal the representative s name and employee I.D. number (if available) along with the date and time of the call. If you cannot get a supervisor to fax you a letter within a few days, send and fax a written dispute letter. If you do not receive a response stating that the creditor will remove the negative item, re-dispute the item with the creditor and reiterate your demand for proof of accuracy of the derogatory item. Once you receive a letter from the creditor stating that the derogatory item will be removed, forward the letter, along with a cover letter, to each of the three credit bureaus. DEREOGATORY ITEMS THAT DO NOT BELONG TO YOU Several years ago, someone opened up numerous accounts fraudulently in my ex-wife s name. By the time we discovered what had happened, a couple of these fraudulent accounts had appeared as 30 days past due on my ex-wife s credit report. We contacted the credit bureaus and were told that the fraudulent accounts would be deleted from her credit upon sending the credit bureaus a cover letter explaining what happened along with a FTC Fraud Affidavit. My ex-wife sent the bureaus the cover and the affidavit and the accounts were removed approximately 30 days later. About a year later, I had a client named Diane Smith. As you can imagine, there are many people with the named Diane Smith. Upon pulling her credit report, she discovered many derogatory accounts for another person with the same name. Diane sent the bureaus a cover and the FTC Fraud Affidavit stating that the accounts did not

9 belong to her, and these accounts and all the derogatory history associated with the accounts were removed from her credit report. This method is essentially a spin off of the method used to remove unauthorized inquiries. You fill out the FTC Fraud Affidavit. And instead of listing the unauthorized credit inquiries, you simply list any accounts not belonging to you in the same place you listed the inquiries as being past due. And likewise, you state the following account do not belong to you on the cover letter to each credit bureau. Send a cover letter and FTC Affidavit to the credit bureaus. About 30 days later, these accounts will be deleted from your credit report. Copyright 2007 by Jeremy Zigman. All Rights Reserved

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11 Back Sample Inquiry Dispute Letter This letter is addressed to Experian. Equifax and Trans Union s addresses are as follows: Equifax P.O. Box Atlanta, GA Trans Union 1561 E. Orangethorpe Ave Fullerton, CA (Your Name) (Your Street Address) (Your City, State, Zip) (Social Security No.) (Date) Experian P.O. Box 9701 Allen, TX To Whom It May Concern: The credit inquiries listed below were made without my authorization and therefore, need to be deleted from my credit report. Attached is an FTC Fraud Affidavit relating to the following unauthorized credit inquiries. I visited my local police department and reported the events described in the attached affidavit. Specifically, I spoke with the financial fraud division about this matter. The police department did not write a report because they told me there is nothing for them to investigate. Hence, I do not have a copy of a police report. But I am enclosing the FTC Affidavit (see item 16 which lists the accounts I am contesting) relating to this matter 1. (Name of Creditor) (Date of Inquiry) 2. (Name of Creditor) (Date of Inquiry) Please delete these inquiries from my credit file right away. Sincerely yours, (Your Name)

12 Back Sample Dispute Letter to Creditor (Your Name) (Your Street Address) (Your City, State, Zip) Social Security No. (Date) (Name of Creditor) (Street Address of Creditor) (City, State, Zip of Creditor) RE: Sections 611, 616, 617 and 623 of the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act Notice of Accuracy Dispute Account Number: Dear Credit Department: I have recently obtained my credit report from Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union. The report shows that the above account with your company was one time 30 days late. According to the best of my recollection, I was never 30 days late in remitting payment. This incorrect information is highly injurious to my credit rating. Please mail me the following substantiations: Copy of original application showing terms of agreement. Activity on my account, including all payments made, late charges, and interest. All documents signed by me, and all other items PROVING the amount and the delinquency of the obligation In the event you cannot, or will not, supply me with this information, I demand that you cease reporting this information to the credit reporting bureaus. I hope this matter can be resolved immediately. Otherwise, I will not hesitate to instruct my attorney to protect my rights as a consumer granted to me under Sections 611, 616, 617 and 623 of the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act Notice of Accuracy Dispute. Thank you very much for your immediate attention to this matter. Sincerely yours, (Your Name)

13 Back Sample Collection Settlement Letter (Your Name) (Your Street Address) (Your City, State, Zip) (Date) (Name of Creditor and/or Collection Company) (Street Address of Creditor and/or Collection Company) (City, State, Zip of Creditor and/or Collection Company) RE: Account Number (fill in your account number) In consideration of paying $ to settle the collection account listed above, (Name of Creditor and/or Collection Company) agrees to instruct Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union to delete the collection account as well as any other derogatory reporting associated with the above-listed account from my credit report within 48 hours of receiving good funds in the amount $. Furthermore, (Name of Creditor and/or Collection Company) agrees to mail and fax me a copy of said instruction within 48 hours of receiving good funds in the amount $. Moreover, in consideration of paying $ to settle the collection account listed above, (Name of Creditor and/or Collection Company) also agrees NOT to report any derogatory information to the credit bureaus in the future pertaining to this above-listed account. Accepted and Agreed: (Name of Creditor and/or Collection Company) (By Name & Title)

14 Back Sample Dispute Letter This letter is addressed to Experian. Equifax and Trans Union s addresses are as follows: Equifax Trans Union P.O. Box E. Orangethorpe Ave Atlanta, GA Fullerton, CA (Your Name) (Your Street Address) (Your City, State, Zip) (Social Security No.) (Date) Experian P.O. Box 9701 Allen, TX To Whom It May Concern: The accounts listed below do NOT belong to me and therefore, need to be deleted from my credit report. Attached is an FTC Fraud Affidavit relating to this matter. I visited my local police department and reported the events described in the attached affidavit. Specifically, I spoke with the financial fraud division about this matter. The police department did not write a report because they told me there is nothing for them to investigate. Hence, I do not have a copy of a police report. But I am enclosing the FTC Affidavit (see item 16 which lists the accounts I am contesting) relating to this matter. Name of Creditor Account No. 1. (Name of Creditor) (List partial account number as listed on your credit report) 2. (Name of Creditor) (List partial account number as listed on your credit report) Please delete these accounts from my credit file right away. Sincerely yours, (Your Name)

15 Name Phone number Page 1 ID Theft Affidavit Victim Information (1) My full legal name is (First) (Middle) (Last) (Jr., Sr., III) (2) (If different from above) When the events described in this affidavit took place, I was known as (First) (Middle) (Last) (Jr., Sr., III) (3) My date of birth is (day/month/year) (4) My Social Security number is (5) My driver s license or identification card state and number are (6) My current address is City State Zip Code (7) I have lived at this address since (month/year) (8) (If different from above) When the events described in this affidavit took place, my address was City State Zip Code (9) I lived at the address in Item 8 from until (month/year) (month/year) (10) My daytime telephone number is ( ) My evening telephone number is ( ) DO NOT SEND AFFIDAVIT TO THE FTC OR ANY OTHER GOVERNMENT AGENCY

16 Name Phone number Page 2 How the Fraud Occurred Check all that apply for items 11-17: (11) I did not authorize anyone to use my name or personal information to seek the money, credit, loans, goods or services described in this report. (12) I did not receive any benefit, money, goods or services as a result of the events described in this report. (13) My identification documents (for example, credit cards; birth certificate; driver s license; Social Security card; etc.) were stolen lost on or about. (day/month/year) (14) To the best of my knowledge and belief, the following person(s) used my information (for example, my name, address, date of birth, existing account numbers, Social Security number, mother s maiden name, etc.) or identification documents to get money, credit, loans, goods or services without my knowledge or authorization: Name (if known) Address (if known) Phone number(s) (if known) Additional information (if known) Name (if known) Address (if known) Phone number(s) (if known) Additional information (if known) (15) I do NOT know who used my information or identification documents to get money, credit, loans, goods or services without my knowledge or authorization. (16) Additional comments: (For example, description of the fraud, which documents or information were used or how the identity thief gained access to your information.) (Attach additional pages as necessary.) DO NOT SEND AFFIDAVIT TO THE FTC OR ANY OTHER GOVERNMENT AGENCY

17 Name Phone number Page 3 Victim s Law Enforcement Actions (17) (check one) I am am not willing to assist in the prosecution of the person(s) who committed this fraud. (18) (check one) I am am not authorizing the release of this information to law enforcement for the purpose of assisting them in the investigation and prosecution of the person(s) who committed this fraud. (19) (check all that apply) I have have not reported the events described in this affidavit to the police or other law enforcement agency. The police did did not write a report. In the event you have contacted the police or other law enforcement agency, please complete the following: (Agency #1) (Officer/Agency personnel taking report) (Date of report) (Report number, if any) (Phone number) ( address, if any) (Agency #2) (Officer/Agency personnel taking report) (Date of report) (Report number, if any) (Phone number) ( address, if any) Documentation Checklist Please indicate the supporting documentation you are able to provide to the companies you plan to notify. Attach copies (NOT originals) to the affidavit before sending it to the companies. (20) A copy of a valid government-issued photo-identification card (for example, your driver s license, state-issued ID card or your passport). If you are under 16 and don t have a photo-id, you may submit a copy of your birth certificate or a copy of your official school records showing your enrollment and place of residence. (21) Proof of residency during the time the disputed bill occurred, the loan was made or the other event took place (for example, a rental/lease agreement in your name, a copy of a utility bill or a copy of an insurance bill). DO NOT SEND AFFIDAVIT TO THE FTC OR ANY OTHER GOVERNMENT AGENCY

18 Name Phone number Page 4 (22) A copy of the report you filed with the police or sheriff s department. If you are unable to obtain a report or report number from the police, please indicate that in Item 19. Some companies only need the report number, not a copy of the report. You may want to check with each company. Signature I certify that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, all the information on and attached to this affidavit is true, correct, and complete and made in good faith. I also understand that is affidavit or the information it contains may be made available to federal, state, and/or local law enforcement agencies for such action within their jurisdiction as they deem appropriate. I understand that knowingly making any false or fraudulent statement or representation to the government may constitute a violation of 18 U.S.C or other federal, state, or local criminal statutes, and may result in imposition of a fine or imprisonment or both. (signature) (date signed) (Notary) [Check with each company. Creditors sometimes require notarization. If they do not, please have one witness (non-relative) sign below that you completed and signed this affidavit.] Witness: (signature) (date) (printed name) (telephone number) DO NOT SEND AFFIDAVIT TO THE FTC OR ANY OTHER GOVERNMENT AGENCY

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