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Bad credit comes hand-in-hand with a bad credit report, but it might not be entirely accurate. A bad credit report could mean two things. It could mean a consumer isn’t good with their finances and made financial mistakes such as missing payments, skipping payments, incurring too much debt, or leaving accounts unpaid for years. This is the fault of the consumer. The other thing a bad credit report might mean is there are numerous mistakes on the report dragging down a consumer’s credit score without accuracy. If you have a bad credit report, you might not even be aware of the mistakes on it until the next time you apply for a new job, a credit card, or a loan. It’s devastating to realize your credit report is filled with mistakes, but it’s not the end of the world. You can work on these mistakes and have them rectified.

View Your Credit Reports

The first thing you should do from this point forward is view your credit reports regularly. Each of the three major credit bureaus is legally obligated to provide you with a free copy of your credit report each year. This means you can order one every four months without paying a dime. Do this each year, and you provide yourself with the power to keep a close eye on your credit report, to fix mistakes, and to ensure no one else has borrowed your personal information.

Check for Mistakes

People who work for creditors and credit bureaus are imperfect, because they are human and all humans make mistakes. Everyone has made a mistake or two at work in life, and they will make more as they get older. It’s not always great, but it’s not uncommon. Since people are working on your credit report, they could be making mistakes. Your job is to check for them. Some of the most common mistakes include someone else’s information being reported on your report. This could happen if someone has the same name, if they have a similar social, or even if they have a similar address or other personal information. It could also happen if someone has a credit card with the same creditor as you, and their account number is similar to yours.

The mistake might be a simple addition or subtraction error, or the addition of too many zeroes at the end of a balance. Mistakes could include incorrect dates, and they can affect your credit. For instance, if a creditor reports that you made your last on-time payment on January 23, 2016 instead of January 23, 2017 and it shows there is still a balance due, it appears you haven’t made a payment on a credit card in a year. It’s dragging down your score.

Dispute Mistakes

Now that you’ve located all the mistakes on your credit report, it’s time to dispute them. You’ll need evidence, and you’ll need to write it down. Send in a copy of your report to the credit bureau highlighting the mistake, and send it to the creditor in question. Use certified mail to do this. The credit bureau’s job is to contact the creditor, and they wait 30 days for the creditor to respond. They can respond by saying the mistake is valid, or they can respond with a dispute of their own. If they don’t respond at all, you will find the credit bureau changes the disputed item whether it’s incorrect or not.

Another common mistake is your previous unpaid accounts. All unpaid debts sit on your credit report for 7 years. After that, it’s required they are removed from your credit report. Dispute any unpaid debts older than 7 years that haven’t been removed.

Pay All Past Due Balances

If your report is filled with past due balances, pay them. They won’t fall off the account right away, but they will appear favorable to the credit bureau and lenders. Paid accounts show lenders you’re willing to handle your debts when you can, and they’re more likely to want to work with you if they see collections accounts that have been paid rather than collections accounts that haven’t been paid. If past-due balances are a mistake, dispute them with all the evidence you can find.

Negotiate

Many of your creditors and debt collectors are willing to work with you to remove your charged-off accounts, your debts, and your collections from your credit. If you can get them to agree to take payment of the account and then remove it from your credit report, you can raise your credit score instantly. Just note that no creditor is obligated to negotiate with you in this manner. The best you can do is ask and then work with the creditor to come up with a good reason to help you out by removing accounts from your credit.

Bad credit reports aren’t always the worst thing that happened to you. If the bad part of your credit is a mistake someone else made, it’s usually easy to rectify that situation and see an improvement to your credit score inside of a few months. Don’t let a bad score keep you from working to improve it right away. Start now, keep checking your report, and stay on top of it.