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11 credit report myths

Most people have heard about the alligators in New York's sewers and the little kid with cancer who wants a zillion postcards. Unfortunately, those aren't the only myths floating around out there.

A lot of the things that people "know" about credit reports and credit scores have about as much validity as those monstrous Manhattan alligators.

Credit report myths
  1. Paying my debts will make my credit report instantly pristine
  2. Credit counseling always destroys my credit score
  3. Canceling credit cards boosts my score
  4. Too many inquiries hurt my score
  5. Checking my own credit report harms my standing
  6. FICO scores are locked in for six months
  7. I don't need to check my credit report if I pay my bills on time
  8. All credit reports are the same
  9. A divorce decree automatically severs joint accounts
  10. Bad news comes off in seven years
  11. I can always pay someone to fix or repair my credit

1. Paying my debts will make my credit report instantly pristine

A credit report is a history of your payments, not just a snapshot of where you are at the moment, says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education for Experian, one of the three major credit reporting agencies. As the author of the popular Web column "Ask Max," she reminds people that you can't change the past.

2. Credit counseling always destroys my credit score

Attending a credit counselor's debt management program is not considered negative in the scoring models.

"We don't want consumers to consider credit counseling to be detrimental to their FICO scores," says Craig Watts, public affairs manager at Fair Isaac Corp., the company that developed the FICO score.

However, if the credit counselor negotiates a lesser contractual obligation, the lender decides how it wants to report that. So if your $500 monthly payment is refigured for $300, the creditor may either legally report that as $200 in arrears every month or reward you for not filing bankruptcy by reporting the account as up to date.

"As long as the accounts are delinquent and not brought up to date, it will be viewed negatively by lenders," says Deborah McNaughton, owner of Professional Credit Counselors and author of "The Get Out of Debt Kit."

However, she says, "If everything is current, whether it's a home loan or not, they're not going to view it as negative. The FICO scores are not affected by it."

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The credit score system ignores any reference to credit counseling that may be in your file.

Although credit counseling does not by itself influence your credit score, it is apparent on the report that you've been through, or are currently in, counseling -- and that is something individual lenders may not like. Or they might never know.

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