Life can be difficult without good credit. With a poor credit score, it's tougher to qualify for a mortgage, car loan, apartment lease, and credit card. And even if you can qualify for these things, you'll end up paying a lot more than someone with excellent credit.
Unfortunately, scammers know how much people want to improve their credit scores, and they try to take advantage of this fact. Here are three common credit-related scams to watch out for and how you can avoid becoming a victim.
Quick credit repair
There are hundreds, if not thousands of companies that promise to raise your credit score in a very short amount of time, in exchange for a fee. There are several versions of this, but they are all scams. And some could potentially get you into serious legal trouble.
One common version involves the "credit repair" company disputing the negative (but accurate) information on your credit report in the hopes that the creditors won't respond in time. According to the law, if the accounts are not verified within 30 days, they must be removed from the credit report.
While this may temporarily raise your score, virtually all accurate information will eventually be verified, and when it is, your score will drop right back to where it was.
Another version of the credit repair scam promises you a "new credit identity". Basically, this involves applying for an EIN (employer identification number) or worse, receiving a stolen Social Security number to use. Either way is 100% illegal.
An EIN is designed for businesses to report financial information to the IRS, not as a substitute for a Social Security number. And worse yet, if you use a Social Security number the company sells you, you are involving yourself in identity theft.
These scams are easily avoided by keeping one simple fact in mind -- there is no such thing as "quick" credit repair. Any company that offers a quick fix to your credit problems should be avoided.
Credit cards that will "rebuild" your credit
There are companies with credit card products specifically designed for people with bad credit. And while these companies aren't exactly "scammers", their products should be avoided at all costs, so it's worth mentioning here.
These credit cards generally come with very low credit limits ($300 seems to be typical), and charge fees that use up a lot of the credit limit before you even make any purchases. Plus, many of these also have monthly fees as well as interest rates that border on the absurd.
For example, the First Premier card is one of the most popular "bad credit" credit cards and charges a $75 initial fee, $75 annual fee ($45 after the first year), a $6.25 monthly fee after the first year, and a sky-high 36% interest rate. To put this in perspective, if you get this card and charge a $200 purchase to pay off over the course of a year, you'll end up paying $391 in total, or nearly twice as much as your purchase.
Fortunately, there is a much better alternative called a secured credit card. I have written full articles about these, but basically they require you to put down a security deposit in exchange for a credit card. Secured cards have fees and rates much closer to "traditional" credit cards, while still reporting to the three credit bureaus and building up your credit.
Debt reduction, for a fee
Another common scam is the offer of interest rate or debt reduction in exchange for an upfront fee.
Generally, a company will call and claim that they have a special relationship with the credit card companies and that they can reduce your interest rates or reduce the amount of your debt, making it easier to pay off quickly. They may make some "too good to be true" claims like you'll be able to pay down your debt three to five times faster or save you thousands in interest charges.
However, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), these companies are charging for something you can do all by yourself. These companies have no more ability to bargain with your creditors than you do, and you can call your creditors directly and discuss modified terms if you are having trouble paying your bills.
You won't get the type of deal these companies are promising -- but neither will they. And before you call, be aware that negotiating a settlement or debt reduction could end up harming your credit, but it's still better than defaulting and having a collections account on your credit file.
The best way to improve your credit
You don't need any gimmicks to improve your credit. There is no such thing as a quick fix, or a miracle cure for poor credit. The only things that can heal credit wounds are responsibility and time.
While it's true that bad information can remain on your credit report for up to seven years, missed payments and collections matter less as time goes on.
If you commit to handling your credit responsibly from here on out, your "credit repairs" will take care of themselves over the coming months and years.