Debt Management Guide
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11 credit report myths

8. All credit reports are the same

Way wrong. These days, most creditors across the country do report their information to all three major agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

But "that was not true in the past," Sweet says.

And, because they are separate companies, the speed in which they update records isn't necessarily equal.

Additionally, the agencies use inquiry activity to update your address, phone numbers, employment status and the like. Because creditors typically pull only one company's report, it's possible that, say, TransUnion doesn't show your current address.

McNaughton says she's never seen a client yet for whom all three reports spit out the same records and scores.

9. A divorce decree automatically severs joint accounts

The judge may have rubber-stamped your plans to divide credit card, car and house payments, but that carries absolutely no legal weight with the creditors themselves, Sweet says.

"We see so many people who, a year or two after the divorce, are just outraged and hurt because their credit report reflects their ex-spouse's missed payments," she says.

Unfortunately, at that point, they are helpless to erase the damage.

Divorcing parties must contact the creditors and either close current accounts or have the booted name sign a letter of consent for this action. And assuming certain debts isn't a unilateral decision on your part, says Sweet. Creditors typically do a credit check on your name and if they don't deem you financially stable enough to assume that $30,000 car loan, for instance, they won't agree to remove the other person.

10. Bad news comes off in seven years

Some of it does. Chapter 13 (reorganization of debt) disappears seven years from the filing date. But if you filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy (exoneration of all debt), the window is 10 years from the filing date.

On the good-news side, accounts in bankruptcy can be deleted seven years after the date of your first missed payment, so those individual pieces may disappear before the word "bankruptcy" on your report. And if you pay off or close an account that had no delinquencies or problems, it, too, remains on the record for 10 years rather than the previous seven, say Experian experts. Again, this means positive information hangs around longer, which benefits consumers.

11. I can always pay someone to fix or repair my credit

Yes, you can clear up erroneous information posted to your account, such as a repossessed car that you didn't purchase in the first place. But if you paid your Sears bill three months late in 2004, that's a hard fact.

Companies claiming to fix your credit deliver on their promises by generating a flood of dispute letters to the credit reporting agencies, which in turn ask the creditor to verify or document the entry. If they cannot, the listing must come off at that time. But if the creditor later does verify or document it, the agency slaps it right back into the file after 30 days.

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