Watch out for phantom money
Lohrenz says consumers with a history of collections in their past can have their outstanding balances appear larger than they actually are because of the booming secondary market for collections. Here's how it happens: If a consumer has a credit card balance that becomes delinquent, the issuer will attempt to collect for a while, then give up and sell the account to a collection agency.
The card balance should then drop to zero, and a new account, this time with the collection agency, will appear on the report. Sometimes, though, the issuer won't strike that balance from their records, so it will appear as if the consumer has two outstanding debts. If the debt is bought and sold numerous times, which is common, the problem can multiply.
Another instance of phantom money can occur when a consumer has a closed bank account that has an overdraft protection line of credit tied to it. In some instances, that line of credit will remain on a person's report even after the account is shuttered, says Bucci.