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Tale of two credit scores

By Janna Herron · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Posted: 5 pm ET

What a difference one collection account can make.

A year ago, I received a credit score disclosure notice after I applied for a new credit card. I got one because, while I qualified for the credit card, I didn't receive the best rates because of my credit score. And what was my FICO credit score? 651.

Hardly a number to be proud of, especially since I dispense advice on credit reports and credit scores every day. So what did I do? I pulled my credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com and found the main item anchoring my credit score: a collections account from a hotly disputed dental bill. (You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each major credit bureau once every 12 months.)

Collections items hurt a FICO credit score significantly, according to Anthony Sprauve, spokesman for myFICO.com, the consumer education division of FICO.

"The higher a person's score before the negative action, the larger the drop," he says. "In some cases, that could be as much as 100 points."

That collections item would stay on my credit file for seven years since the date of the first missed payment. Under federal law, negative items must fall off credit reports after seven years except for bankruptcies, which can live on a credit file for 10 years.

At the time, my husband and I were planning to buy a house in the next year. But with a credit score of 651, I wouldn't get the best interest rates. And it was possible I wouldn't even qualify for a mortgage.

My only solution was to get the collections item off my credit report, a daunting task as anyone who has tried can tell you. The good news was that I genuinely had a dispute with this dental bill and wouldn't pay it out of principle. It wasn't a bill I couldn't pay.

So, I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau against the dental office and the state attorney general's office. I detailed my dispute as straightforward as possible without ranting and attached supporting documents. I sent a copy of my complaint to the collection agency and the dental office. Then, I waited. The dental office never responded to the BBB's request for response. The state attorney general's office sent a letter, saying it contacted the business and is investigating my dispute.

After two months, I checked my credit reports again. The collection item wasn't there. I called the collection agency, which informed me that the claim had been recalled due to an error. The collection agency said it was no longer reporting the claim to the credit bureaus.

This month, my husband and I applied for a mortgage, a year after I first got the credit score disclosure. The lender pulled my credit score for preapproval. The result? 805. Here's to a lot of letter-writing.

How have you improved your credit report?

Follow me on Twitter: @JannaHerron

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