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At Credit.com, our readers ask us questions every day on every kind of credit problem you can imagine.  While everyone has their own unique concerns, there are also many universal issues out there.  So we rounded up 11 of the more common questions asked and we answer them right here for you.

1. How can the credit card companies raise my interest rate if I’ve paid my bills on time? What can I do about it?

It used to be that credit card issuers could raise your rate, even on existing balances, at any time and for any reason. Thanks to the Credit CARD Act, a federal law, they can no longer do this. They can, however, raise your rate on your outstanding balance if you are more than 60 days late with a payment and they can increase the interest rate on new purchases, but only if they give you 45 days advance notice so you can cancel your account.

As for what you can do, the best thing is to try to negotiate a lower rate. Call your card issuer and suggest you will take your business elsewhere if you can’t get a better deal. This works best if you have other credit cards with available credit lines, since the issuer will no doubt review your credit report to decide whether or not to work with you. It’s always worth a try, though. As author Marc Eisenson says, “Not asking is an automatic no!”

If you can’t negotiate a better rate, try transferring your balance to another card — either one you already have, or a new one.


2. A debt collector has contacted me about an old debt. Do I have to pay it?

Maybe; maybe not. Every state has a statute of limitations, which governs how long the creditor or collector has to sue you. If this debt is too old, and they try to sue you to collect, you can raise the statute of limitations as a defense. That means they don’t have much leverage in terms of forcing you to pay. And that gives you more leverage to negotiate a settlement — or just to tell them to leave you alone. For more information, and to fully understand your rights, check with your state attorney general’s office or a local consumer attorney.

If the debt is too old, you can simply write to the collection agency, indicate that you believe the debt is outside the statute of limitations, and instruct it to stop contacting you. Send your letter via certified mail and keep a copy for your records.

If you are worried about your credit report, keep in mind that collection items may only be reported for up to 7 1/2 years from the date you fell behind with the original lender, regardless of whether they are paid or not.

3. What is the ideal number of credit cards to carry?

It depends on what you mean by “ideal.” Most people will be just fine with two major credit cards. One should be a low-rate card for times when you must carry a balance, and the other should be a card with a grace period. No annual fee is ideal, unless you plan to use the card heavily to earn some type of reward. If that’s the case, weigh the cost of the annual fee against the freebies you will earn.

If you are asking about the ideal number of credit cards to obtain a strong credit score, two is a good number as well, though you can have many more and still maintain a strong credit rating. Generally, it’s a good idea to have at least four credit accounts of different types (for example, a mortgage, car loan, a major credit card and a retail card). Keep your credit cards active by using them periodically. It’s good to pay your bill in full each month to avoid finance charges.

Finally, if you have a lot of credit cards already, don’t close them in the hopes that it will boost your credit score. Your score may actually drop if you close old accounts.

4. My child has a lot of debt. What is the best way to help?

The best way to help your child is to give him or her some financial literacy materials to learn about how to manage debt.

But my guess is that you may be writing because he or she is asking you for a consolidation loan to help pay off the debt and, while you want to be helpful, you are not sure that’s the route to go.

First, trust your instincts. If you think your child has trouble handling money, then it is likely you will just be enabling him or her to go a bit longer without having to shape up. Even if your child is truly in deep straits, your loan is unlikely to solve the problem. He or she needs crisis intervention, not a loan.

If you simply can’t say no, then do one of two things:

  1. Give a gift rather than a loan. You’ll never have to worry about whether you will get paid back and there will be no hard feelings if you aren’t.
  2. Agree to lend the money only if your child will agree to sign an official loan agreement. It would also be a good idea to have them set up automatic transfer of the payments  to your checking or savings account from your child’s. There will be no wondering about whether a check has been mailed.

5. My spouse/parent died and I discovered a lot of debt. Do I have to pay it?

In most cases you are not responsible for another person’s debt when they die, unless you are a co-signer on the account. If, however, that person was your spouse and you live in a community property state (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin), debts incurred during the marriage are considered community property and you are likely responsible for them.

When a person dies with outstanding debt, the creditor will first look to any co-signers and then to the estate for payment. The creditor may not bother to pursue the debt if it is a small amount, but there is no guarantee.

If you are feeling pressured to pay a debt you are not responsible for, or if you are not sure whether you have to pay your deceased relative’s debt, you may want to contact an estate planning or consumer law attorney.

6. I don’t have the money to file for bankruptcy. What can I do?

I am retired and Social Security is my only income (or I am on disability and have no income except Social Security Disability). That barely even covers my monthly rent, utilities, medicines, medical co-pays, food, etc. I am being hounded for credit card debts and the debt collectors are calling day and night.

It sounds like you have little income and no assets. If that’s the case, it may be that you are “judgment proof.” That means that even if someone tried to sue you, there wouldn’t be any way to force you to pay. Creditors generally cannot seize Social Security payments to pay debts. In addition, most retirement accounts (IRAs, pension plans, etc.) are also protected from creditor claims. If you are judgment proof, there may be no reason to file for bankruptcy.

You may want to talk with a bankruptcy attorney to assess your situation, especially if you have assets such as a home or money in bank accounts outside of retirement accounts.

If you are judgment proof, you will likely be able to stop the creditors or collectors from contacting you by simply writing a letter indicating that you have no income other than Social Security payments and no assets. Explain that you have no way to pay them and ask them to stop contacting you. At that point, they likely will stop. Keep copies of your letters, send the letters certified mail, and keep copies of any correspondence you receive. If you are sent any papers that indicate they may be trying to sue you, contact a consumer law attorney immediately.

7. Will checking my credit report hurt my credit score?

No. When you check your own credit report through a service that sells credit reports directly to consumers, you create what is called a “soft inquiry.” These inquiries are listed when you review your own credit report, but they are not shown to creditors and do not affect your score. You can pull a free copy of your credit report annually from each of the three credit reporting agencies or you can check your credit scores using the free Credit Report Card.

It’s a great idea to review your credit report on a regular basis, so go for it.

8. How many points does an inquiry take off your credit report?

There is no set number of points that will be deducted from your score for a single inquiry. The same inquiry from the same lender at the same minute can affect two people’s credit reports differently.

In general, inquiries are a small part of your credit score (less than 5%), and the stronger your score, the less likely one or two inquiries are to have an effect on your score.

Nevertheless, be very careful about applying for new credit, a cell phone, insurance, or anything that might result in a credit check if you are in the process of getting a mortgage. Sometimes a score drop of just a few points can drop your score below the range for the rate you are trying to get.

9. My ex-husband was supposed to pay this account, he didn’t, and it damaged my score. Now what do I do?

Joint accounts can create problems long after a marriage is over. Even though your ex-spouse is supposed to pay the bill according to the divorce decree, you are still on the hook for the debt to the lender if you are a co-signer. That’s because your divorce decree is an agreement between you and your ex. It doesn’t erase the original contract you had with the lender.

As far as your credit is concerned, the late payment will likely be considered accurate, since the account is still yours until it is paid off, closed, or refinanced into your ex-spouse’s name. Once in a while, a creditor will agree to remove the late payment from the innocent spouse’s credit report, but may require that it be paid off first.

Talk to your divorce attorney to find out what can be done in terms of forcing your ex to live up to the terms of the divorce decree. If he doesn’t have the assets to pay off the debt now, you may want to ask whether he can be required to make payments to your attorney, who can then make sure the payments are made. As long as the account remains unpaid, however, and he pays it late, your credit will be damaged.

10. I co-signed an auto loan for my daughter. When I tried to refinance my mortgage, I found out she has been paying it late, and it has hurt my credit score. What can I do to get that information removed?

Sorry, you’re likely out of luck. If there is one piece of advice we can give about co-signing, it is this: don’t do it. When you co-sign, you are agreeing to be fully responsible for the debt. And by law, if the issuer reports debts to a credit-reporting agency, it must report that information under the co-signer’s name as well as the primary account holder’s.

That said, the lender might be willing to remove those late payments if you will bring the account up to date and/or pay it off. If it does agree to “re-age” the account, get it in writing. Of course, by contacting the lender, you may find that you are inviting the creditor to contact you if your daughter gets behind again, whether or not your credit report is cleared. After all, you are the co-signer.

11. I’m deep in debt and have a terrible credit score. What should I do?

While it may not seem like a blessing right now, your lousy credit score may be a plus. It will keep you from digging the hole deeper with a “consolidation” loan. It’s time to focus all your effort on one goal — getting rid of that debt. I would first encourage you to get a free debt consultation to determine whether a credit-counseling program will work for you.

Even with bad credit, you may be able to get your interest rates lowered that way. And you’ll get advice to help you build money management skills. If it turns out this type of program won’t work for you, you may need to talk with a bankruptcy attorney.

Either way, once your debt is no longer an issue, you can begin to rebuild your credit. We have seen consumers significantly improve their credit scores in less than two years when they worked at it. Good luck!

More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:

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  • Noelle

    I just received a garnishment on a auto loan my husband took out in 2009 which they repossessed in 2010. They have his name listed as well as mine but I never signed for him. I know medical collections can sue the spouse but who else would the spouse be responsible to have to pay?

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      The answer here may hinge on what state you are in: some states are community property states, meaning spouses could be considered liable for debts incurred during the marriage, even if they weren’t a co-signer. You may want to consult a consumer attorney in your area to learn what state laws may apply (some do offer free consults.) Some more information on a spousal responsibility on debts in this article on estate planning:




  • Jeanine Skowronski

    Hi, Javier,

    The details here are a bit unclear to me, but if you are worried about missing a payment due to remittance issues, you may want to try to call your issuer and explain what happened and to see what recourse you may have.



  • sue s


    • Jeanine Skowronski

      It depends. Credit scoring models group inquiries for certain loan types, so if you have fill out a bunch of mortgage applications within 45 days, for instance, you wouldn’t get penalized for the inquiry. You also might not get penalized in the lender is doing a soft inquiry – usually classified as when they initiate the pull in lieu of you asking them to do so.



  • Paul

    I have several credit cards and a very good credit score, one of my cards closed the account because of inactivity. Does this hurt my credit score?

  • haleigh graham

    My husband has medical bills that are already in default on his credit score from a car accident 2 years ago. What’s the best way to go about fixing this so we can start to build his credit in order to get a home?

    • http://blog.credit.com/ Kali Geldis

      Hi Haleigh —

      Some hospitals and doctors may be willing to work with you to set up a payment plan and remove the items from his report — have the bills already been sent to a debt collector or are they still with the original creditor?

  • Mary

    I got a collection notice on an account that is not mine. When I checked my credit it does not show up at all. I found out my name was used and that was all. No personal information got the bill to the oerson that did it. But wht did it not show up on my credit score?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      We can’t say for sure why it didn’t get on your report (and continued monitoring would be smart). But the information is typically verified by Social Security number. (However, mistakes are made sometimes.) You’d be wise to check your free annual credit reports.

  • frank

    I co signed for my daughter on care credit, is it required of the lender to contact me for her delinquency prior to filing a negative report on me with the credit bureau? Is it right to ding my credit history/score with out informing me, before taking their actions so. For close to a year I’ve had no knowledge my daughter was delinquent.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Frank —
      No, unfortunately there is no requirement that you be contacted about a delinquency (and you are far from the only co-signer who did not realize this and suffered great credit damage as a result). Some co-signers choose to have bills sent to their residence (or to have online access to monitor that account) for exactly that reason. You can read more about the risks of co-signing here: How Co-Signing Can Affect More Than Just Your Credit Score

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    The main issue is how it will affect your utilization or debt usage ratio if you close it. FYI, you can find out what yours is when you get a free credit score from Credit.com.

    • Ish

      Would it really matter if I keep my other cards lower than 30% usage after closing? Also when does the utilization come into play if you pay your amounts in full? For example, if I have a limit of $4,000 and in one month I spend $3,000 but before the statement comes out I paid $2,000 and I pay the rest $1,000 couple days after the statement. For that month did I used 75% of my credit or only 25% because I only had the $1,000 to pay?

      • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

        If your debt usage ratio is low without that credit line then no problem. (And 30% isn’t a magic number — the 20 – 25% range is safer. FICO says consumers with the highest scores on average use less than 10%.)

        Debt usage is based on the balance and limit reported by the issuer. Most report the statement closing balance. So if you have a $4000 limit and you pay $3000 before the balance gets reported to the credit reporting agencies, your debt usage will be 25%.

        • Ish

          Thank you for all the information!

  • Madison Lee

    What if i will apply for credit card and I will not use it that much…will the bank deduct money in my credit card??

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      We’re not sure we understand the question. Can you try restating it?

  • terry

    how do i check on car loans at several places without my credit score dropping?

  • Craig

    is it better to pay a card to zero balance or make small monthly payments to leave a payment history

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      It is fine to pay the card in full each month. It is a myth that you need to keep a small balance unpaid. You DO need to use a card, but you will have a payment history by paying on time (and you will not have to pay interest). You can read more here:
      How to Improve Your Credit Score Without Debt

  • Mari Saucedo

    I really need some help here. I am 23 years old and I am barley building or trying to build my credit. My problem is that my older sister and I have the same name and same middle initial. Of course our dates of birth are different and our social security numbers, but when I check my credit information all her stuff is on my stuff. I have had so much trouble trying to get a a credit card or anything under my name. I need help!

  • Jasna Beba Ortiz

    If my husband took out a loan and put me down as his spouse but I never signed as a cosigner on the loan, is this loan allowed to report on my credit if he doesnt pay it? I just found a collection on my credit for a loan he took out that I had no clue about. They never called me and I never received a letter saying the payments werent being made or if I can pay it. I really had no clue about it. They just reported it to my credit without ever notifying me about it. I called them and asked them if they can give me a copy of the application and they said no because ita not in my name and that im not authorized…. so then how am I responsible, doesnt make sense

  • Rachel Albone

    Question, my mother co-signed on a education loan $35,000 and it’s now at $28,000. I have been paying monthly payments on the loan since 2011. I was enrolled in automatic payments. However, the student loan company switched companies who process the loan payments and didn’t enroll me in my automatic payment. Therefore, I went 2 months without knowing I was not paying on my loan. As soon I found out I rectified the situation and re-enrolled myself. However, they put a 60 day late on my credit report and my mother’s as well. Now my mother is claiming because of the 60 day late that is showing up on her credit it has effect her credit score by 100 points and that I have ruined her credit. Is that true? Could I have ruined her credit score that much? I hired a credit lawyer to help me remove the 60 days late off my score so that I can try and fix since the student loan company refuses to take it off. It seems a bit crazy to me that someone’s score can go down that much from this incident.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Rachel —
      The damage a late payment can do depends partly on how high the credit score was to begin with. (And the higher the score, the bigger the hit is likely to be.) And in an otherwise unblemished credit record, a 60-day late could cause a significant hit. Its impact will fade with time, and positive information (on-time payments, low credit utilization) will help your mother’s score recover. So her credit may be damaged by the oversight, yes. She can check it regularly to monitor it Here’s how to monitor your credit score for free. A final option is to check credit reports for any inaccuracies regarding that late payment. If she is able to successfully dispute it, it would come off her credit report.

      • Rachel Albone

        From everything I have read, 90-120 late days could have a big impact but the 30-60 day late would not have a 100 point impact on a credit score. Are you saying the one 60 day late could affect her credit score by 100 points?

  • ChaChing

    Would applying for an amazon CC ($30 off on current purchase deal) affect my credit negatively as I am recently unemployed and on SDI? Also in the same situation, would a balance transfer for the 0% APR incentive be an issue?

    Some yrs back I had an issue in spite of no missed payments, score of 740, I attempted a balance transfer between two active cards I had and both dropped my limits (one from $10k to $50 above my balance, the other was $0 balance but the limit $6k to under $1k). Effectively saying, no more credit for you. Would I be in danger of anything like this with JUST selecting my income as “disabled” for the Amazon card? Or applying for a balance transfer to reduce my APR? Unfortunately I have no explanation for that situation so am trying to learn what I can from here

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      The Amazon card with the $30 incentive is issued by Chase. Are any of your other cards Chase-issued? In any case, every “hard inquiry” (a credit check for purposes of extending credit) can cause a small, temporary drop in your score, and card issuers use a propriety combination of factors, including credit score and income, to decide whether to approve, at what limit and what interest rate. Keep in mind that if you get a 0% balance transfer card, you won’t be able to use it for a card from the same issuer.

  • Natasha Hawkins

    what can I do if a personal loan company gave my spouse my payment information and history and the past due amount? I thought that was against the privacy laws. is there something I can do? it has caused so much trouble.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Natasha —
      In most cases, it is legal to talk to a debtor’s spouse about that information.

  • jordan

    im trying to buy my wife something in secret for mothers day if i use a different e mail than whats on my card will it not go through? order sheet says make it match!

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      You could see if there is an option to call an order in, or you could consider buying and using a gift card.

  • nick

    I have about 8 collection accounts that are scheduled to fall off my credit report in the next few months. Will these automatically fall off or do I need to contact the credit bureaus? How long does it usually take for them to be deleted? Will this help my credit score?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      They SHOULD fall off automatically, but it’s worth your while to check. We recommend checking your credit reports and disputing them if they should have been deleted and have not been. Assuming you otherwise have a positive credit history and are paying your bills as agreed and on time, it should help. Here’s how to get your free annual credit reports.

  • Jess

    While I was married (now my ex husband ) he opened up credit cards in my name used them to the Max and never told me did this to cell phone bills cable internet and credit card. He was always home so he would just throw out the bills ans never paid and if he did it was with my bank account that had his name on it (figured bills he was paying was in his name) wrong now I look at my credit report and several counts in collections that he opened up in my name and used and some were from 2013-2014 and for an apartment I haven’t lived at for a year never saw this until after the divorce. Anything I can do?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      This could be tricky because you were married at the time and presumably benefited from these debts. But it’s also possible you could file an identity theft affidavit. I’d suggest you talk with a consumer law attorney to find out what your rights and options are here.

  • Arman sheth

    If my parents is alive & didnt pay their credit card bills for many years. So i am responsible for pay theirs debt & if i open account in that bank which debt didnt pay by my parents so bank asked me for this or harassing me & pressurizes me for pay.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      I am not certain I understand your question but it sounds like you opened an account at the same bank where your parents owe money and the bank is now pressuring you to pay their debt. Is that correct? If you did not cosign their debt you are not obligated to pay them anything. I’d suggest you move your bank account to another financial institution and then file a formal complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • Helen Hall

    I lost my home to foreclosure in 2008 and all the debt that went trying to save the house, also went with it .I left the home in 2007, knowing I would never be able to stay afloat. My mortgage which was an 80/20 went from $2500 to over $4000 and the bank just wouldn’t negotiate .I have not applied for credit since and all my bills are paid from that era except the last one which will be paid at the end of this year .I am concerned about one debt however, concerning the gas company .Until I vacated the house,i paid all of the utilities but notice there is a debt over $3000 owed to the gas company,All I can figure is that they were still charging me after I had vacated the house even though I had notified them. The debt was reported in Feb 2009 to the credit bureau and no one from the company has ever contacted me .I do believe in Mass. the statue of limitations is 6 yrs so should I make contact and try to make them understand this is a mistake because, I’m sure I don’t owe this bill

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      It’s very possible they continued to charge you even after you notified them to cancel the bill. I assume you don’t have anything in writing about the cancellation? My concern if you contact them is that you can open a can of worms. If this dates from 2009, then it sounds like it won’t be reported that much longer on your credit reports. But it’s also hard to say how long they kept billing you. (For example, did they keep it on and open in your name past 2009? It’s possible.) I don’t feel comfortable advising one way or another but I’d suggest if you do talk with them you try to get the debt verified in writing and keep good records of your conversations with them.

  • jeremy

    Hello. I am on pwem disability and make around $810 a month but I have a credit score of 745 and have 9 credit related accts and NEVER amissed payment. Will I have a hard time going to a car dealership and getting a loan. Also, I have about $1000 plus a well working trade-in car. Id be looking to buy a car of around $8000. Thanks

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Jeremy —
      Are you a member of a credit union? You may want to check with someone at your credit union about your situation, and ask for some guidance. Explain that you are not ready to apply (and do not want your credit pulled). Your income may make it difficult, but ask. The interest rate you could get from a credit union would be much lower than what you could get at a dealership.

  • Ivan

    Is it secure to use credit card on buying stuff on online game? I mean they’ll ask for your credit card # and CVV2 code, doesn’t that give them a chance to get a money from your card continuously knowing that they have full access on your account? i’m sorry for asking this but I’m planning to get one myself

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Ivan —
      It should be, but make sure you are using a secure site (it should start with https (instead of http). You can also consider getting mobile alerts to let you know when the account is used for a “card not present” transaction. That way, if there ARE unauthorized charges, you would know immediately and could call your issuer to put a stop to it.

      Also, credit cards have liability protection for unauthorized purchases. (By law, it’s no more than $50 if reported promptly, but most issuers have $0 liability protection.)

      Hope that helps.

      • Ivan

        thank you

  • Trish

    I signed for a auto loan with 3.44 apr n ow they’re saying i wasnt fully approved for the 3.44 and now it will be 15 apr can they do that?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Unfortunately it may be. It is called “Yo Yo financing” and some contracts work it in there. You may want to see if you can get a local bank or credit union to finance you more cheaply, and definitely file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and your state attorney general. We wrote about that here. Help! I Just Bought a New Car & Then Was Denied for the Loan

  • sandraHK

    I just started building my credit, I got 2 credit cards about 6 to 7 months ago, and I been paying them on time. But last month when I checked my credit score it says that I have a certain amount of credit card debt? Can any one help me out with this matter?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Sandra —
      You may be talking about the amount of debt compared to your credit limit. If, for example, you have a credit limit of $1,000, and you have a balance of $400, then you would be using 40% of your available credit. If you’re looking to improve your score, you will want to keep your amount of debt below 30% (and below 10% would be even better). So, even with on-time payments, a higher balance can hurt your credit. (Paying on time accounts for about 35% of your score, and amount of debt for about 30%.) Are you checking your credit regularly? (If so, be sure to check the same score each time to check your progress.) Here’s how to monitor your credit score for free.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Ken —
    Are you keeping tabs on your credit score? (Here’s how to monitor your credit score for free.) If you are paying a high interest rate, it might be better to apply for a small “credit builder” loan at a credit union. That is a loan secured by your own deposit; you would pay interest, but probably far less than you are paying on your car loan. And if you have no credit cards, you can similarly get a secured card. (But you will want to be careful to keep your balance under 30% of your credit limit.) You can run the numbers to see what makes sense. And congratulations on working to build your score.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    What state are you in?

    • ivory


      • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

        Automotive finance expert Matt Briggs of Credit Jeeves, said to check the fine print in your contract. It’s possible that there is a 30-day period in which the contract can be rewritten or rescinded. If you end up needing to find a new lender, he suggested trying a credit union. If you are not a member, you can find a list of credit unions open to anyone here: https://www.depositaccounts.com/blog/the-big-list-of-credit-unions-open-to-anyone.html

  • Maria

    Every time I check my credit score my sisters information comes out. I don’t understand why since i put in MY social security. Every time I try to take out a car her info pops up and they need her to take it out for me. Also, I just got a credit card to build credit but it says that my info doesn’t match with those credit bureaus because it says I’m putting my wrong social. Can anyone help me with his??

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Maria – Have you ordered your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com? Start there. Get copies from all three bureaus. Then you will need to dispute accounts that aren’t yours. Keep a good paper trail. If that doesn’t fix it you may need to get a consumer law attorney or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s help. A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Monica —
    If you knew nothing about this and signed nothing, your ex may well have committed fraud. You would not be responsible for payments, but it is important for you to to address any damage done to your credit. Check your credit reports. (Here’s how to get your free annual credit reports.) Look for any lines of credit you do not recognize. If you need to dispute information in your credit reports, do that. In addition, check your credit scores. You’ll want to monitor them, taking care to use the same score model as you do. Some credit card statements now include a score, and you can also get two free credit scores from Credit.com, updated monthly. An unexplained drop in your score could suggest a new account has opened. We suggest reading the same resources we suggested to Tammy. If you need to dispute items on your credit report, here’s how to do it:
    A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes

    • http://www.monicarenata.com Monica Renata

      So I could have had a hit to my credit because I was used as a reference?

      • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

        If he simply used you as a credit reference that shouldn’t affect your credit. Apologies if I misunderstood. From your original question I thought you were saying he listed you as a cosigner. As we recommended, please get your credit reports to see what is listed there. It should tell you if there is a joint debt arising from this loan. If so you’ll need to follow the steps we outlined above.

        • http://www.monicarenata.com Monica Renata

          Thank you so much for your help and advice. I really didn’t know who to turn to. I will check all of my credit scores to find out more information. All I know is that an auto loan company is contacting me asking about a loan and the person whose name is on it (which is my ex). I just didn’t know anything about this because he owned that specific vehicle when I initially met him… I guess he refinanced. But I knew nothing of this…so…I really don’t know.

          • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

            Once you get your credit reports you should have a better idea. 🙂 Hopefully he just put you down as a reference and it doesn’t impact your credit. (And if that’s the case you can tell them to stop calling you by the way.)

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Tammy —
    It sounds as if you are the victim of identity theft — and you would address it the same way as other people affected by this crime. These resources may be useful to you:
    What Should I Do If I’m a Victim Of Identity Theft
    When Your Identity Thief Is… Mom

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Jeremy —
    Your collections accounts come off your credit report 7 years and 180 days after the account first went late. Paying a collections account does not ordinarily remove it from your credit report, though it does remove the threat that you will be sued — and a judgment is worse than a collections as far as credit reports are concerned. We suggest you check your free annual credit reports from each credit bureau as well as free credit score from Credit.com so that you know where you stand and what sort of loan you may qualify for. In addition, you may find this resource helpful:
    Does Your Old Debt Have an Expiration Date?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    The fact that is was sold doesn’t shorten the time period that the original information can be reported. But if it is inaccurate or incomplete you can dispute it. How Do I Dispute an Error in My Credit Report?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Contact them to see if you can work out a payment arrangement to pay off what you owe.Ask if they will reinstate it if you do so. If you are having trouble making payments, or if you have additional credit card debt, you may want to talk with a credit counseling agency for help.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    1. A late payment is going to hurt, but it’s better to pay it late at the point, because a collection or judgment will hurt much more.

    2. If you dispute a claim and the credit bureau investigation agrees with you, the change will be within 30 days.

    3. Medical bills have an impact on your score with most models (there are a couple that do not count medical bills, but they are not in widespread use).

    4. It shouldn’t make a difference. But even a paid collection is viewed as negative by most scoring models. Your best bet is to begin to pay bills on time.

    We suggest checking your credit score and seeing how handling credit as agreed boosts your score. Here’s how to monitor your credit score for free. But for the negatives already on your report, time (plus on-time payments) is the best healer.

  • Sherry

    I have a joint car loan. I have paid it faithfully on time as I am trying to rebuild my credit. Since the loan the person I have a joint loan with has had a significant drop in their credit, etc. even though I have still paid the loan that has my name in it, is her credit affecting mine anyway just because we have this joint loan? I can’t understand why my score is still not increasing. Thanks

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Sherry —
      The joint debt should not affect your score except that it could suggest that you are carrying too much debt (depending on how it affects your credit utilization). If that loan is being paid on time as agreed, it is more likely helping your scores. (Negative history from a joint loan affects both people’s scores, but one individual’s negative history does not affect the other person’s for non-joint accounts.) Scores fluctuate, though, and even if the trend is upward, you would be likely to have some months when your score went down a bit. Also, be sure you are checking the same scores each month, so it’s an apples-to-apples comparison. Here’s how to monitor your credit score for free.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    California is a community property state and it is possible that you are responsible for the debts incurred before your marriage ended. I’d suggest you talk with a consumer law attorney – Bob Brennan at SoCalCreditDamage.com has been frequently quoted in our stories about debts and credit reporting. It’s a large enough amount that you may be at risk of a lawsuit if you don’t pay, so I would suggest you try to get answers one way or the other.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler


    Can you be more specific? Just because you pay a debt doesn’t mean it gets removed from your credit report. What is being reported?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Sounds like a mess. Unfortunately, any joint debt he discharges in bankruptcy then falls to you. He won’t have to pay the debts he discharges, but your responsibility for it is not discharged. You might be able to negotiate a settlement on this amount – if you do, make sure you get it in writing before you pay.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Not exactly. The credit score isn’t so much interested in your credit limit as it is in the comparison between your credit limit and the balance that is reported. You want to try to keep that ratio at less than 20 to 25%. 10% may be even better depending on your overall credit.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I don’t believe so. If the collection agency is reporting it the only way the original creditor can influence it is to pull it back from collections. But I am guessing your best bet is going to be to try disputing it with the collection agency, explaining that you paid it long ago.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    It is highly unusual no doubt but it can be reported for up to 7 years plus 180 days after you first fell behind with the original creditor. Have you tried disputing it? If it’s paid the collection agency may not bother to respond to the dispute and, if so, it would be removed.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    By bad credit card debt do you mean a charge off? If so that can remain for 7 years from the date of charge off. Collection accounts may be reported for 7 years plus 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor. After that time period, those items will no longer be reported. (Often the agencies stop reporting about a month before.)

    Whether or not your scores will jump depends on how much these factors are affecting your scores. They are older, so they have less impact than something more recent but it’s difficult to predict the exact impact.

    Are you monitoring your free credit scores?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    It is tricky in the case of medical bills because in some states spouses can be legally responsible for their spouse’s medical bills under state Doctrine’s of Necessaries. I’d suggest you work with your loan officer to see what he suggests. If you weren’t already in the loan process I’d suggest disputing them as “accounts not mine” but that can create problems when you are trying to get a home loan: How a Credit Report Dispute Could Stop You From Buying a Home

    If he threatens legal action, the collection agencies may remove them just to avoid problems. But that will be on a case by case basis. . Again, an experienced loan officer should be able to guide you through this.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Mima —

    APR is an abbreviation for annual percentage rate. You’ll see the term when costs of credit are given (as in credit cards or mortgages, for example). You can read more about it here: What Is My APR, Really?. Hope that helps.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Lane – Talk with a bankruptcy attorney right away. You may be able to file to stop the garnishment and keep your home and car. Let me know what they say OK? Hang in there.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Tammy -if the alarm company turns the account over to collections and a collection is reported in your credit report, it will have a significant negative impact on your credit scores. If there’s any way you can negotiate and pay the debt before it goes to collection, it’ll help you keep your credit scores in tact.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    If the debt is scheduled to fall off in 2014, the credit reporting agencies have systems in place that will automatically remove these items. Keep in mind, though, the debt can be sold from one collector to another, resulting in multiple collections on your credit report –but this wouldn’t re-start the clock. Even if the debt is sold, the statute of limitations for reporting would be determined by the date the debt first went into severe delinquent status, usually at the 180 day late mark. Legally, they cannot restart the process or extend the debt for another 7 years so you’re safe there. However, having said this, you’re not in the clear yet and you should be aware that there is a difference between the statute of limitations on the time to report a debt in your credit reports and the statute of limitations for how long a lender/creditor/collector can sue you to collect the debt. If the lender decides to sue you, it could result in a judgment against you— which will stain your credit reports for another 7 years. If at all possible, we advise resolving the debt if you can. And if the debt has been sold to a collection agency, consider negotiating a settlement to settle the debt for less — this will insure that the debt doesn’t come back and cause more damage later on.

    To make sure you understand your rights, how long negative information remains on your credit reports, and how unpaid debts can spiral into bigger problems, the following resources should help:

    How Long Does Negative Information Stay On My Credit Report
    Debt Collectors Killing Your Credit? Here’s What To Do
    Seven Ways to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Vivian and lujones –

    Charge offs are reported by the creditors who charged off the bad debts. They can remain on your credit report for seven years from the date they were charged off.

    After the account is charged off, the debt may be sold to a collection agency. By law the collection agency is only allowed to report the collection account for 7 years + 180 days from the date you first fell behind with that creditor, so for all practical purposes that is the same amount of time that the charge off can be reported.

    If a new collection agency buys the debt and reports it, it will not start that time period over again, though a recent collection account can have more of an impact on your credit than an older one. This article about collection accounts on credit reports should help you understand this better: http://blog.credit.com/2013/02/7-facts-about-collections-and-credit-scores/

    Finally, whether you should consider bankruptcy is something that should be made after a review of your entire financial situation. I wouldn’t recommend it just because you are concerned about how these accounts affect your credit reports. But if you have a lot of debt and you simply cannot dig out, you may need to talk with a bankruptcy attorney.

  • Vivian Allen

    I have 2 yrs to go 2015 before charge offs fall from my credit so should I file bankruptcy?????

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Vivian – filing for bankruptcy is a difficult decision and not one that should be taken lightly. As far as whether or not bankruptcy is right for you, much would depend on your individual financial situation and how much debt you’re dealing with. Even then, we’d still advise speaking with a bankruptcy attorney but to give you some general guidelines, the following resource should help answer some of your questions: When Should You Consider Bankruptcy?

  • Dani

    If my credit card bill is due the 24th and I remember on the 25th and get it paid, does it hurt my credit score less than not remembering to pay it until a week later?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Dani – The only way it would affect your score is if the credit card issuer reported the late payment to the credit reporting agencies and it ended up in your credit reports. Generally speaking, most creditors wait to report a late payment until after the account goes 30 days past due — typically on the 31st day. While we never advise paying late, being just one day late wouldn’t hurt your score.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Jennifer – In most cases, it’s best to leave credit card accounts open. At the very least, it will help your revolving utilization percentage — which is a significant factor in your credit scores. Closing the card could backfire and tank your scores. To explain, here’s how it works:

    If there was a large available balance on the card, closing it would close off the available balance and possibly have a negative impact on your revolving utilization percentage. Revolving utilization is the percentage of your balances to your credit limits, and accounts for roughly 30% of your credit score. The FICO score, specifically, looks at both individual utilization and aggregate — or total utilization across all of your credit cards. The higher your utilization, the lower your credit score. The lower your utilization, the higher your score.

    Typically, we’d advise keeping a credit card open and simply avoid using simply because the open credit limit would help your revolving utilization ratio. Ideally, you want to keep your utilization percentage at 10% or less for the maximum credit score points.

    In cases where it makes sense to close a credit card — when a card has an annual fee that’s not worth the cost, for example — you’ll want to make sure you do the math before closing the card. As long as closing the account doesn’t have a significant impact on your revolving utilization percentage (causing it to spike), the impact to your credit score would be minimal.

    For more on credit card utilization and how it impacts your credit scores, these resources may help:

    What is Revolving Utilization?
    Credit Card Q&A: What exactly is credit utilization ratio?

    In the end, it’s best to leave the account open and simply stop using it. The credit card issuers may decide to close the accounts due to inactivity at some point, but unless you know how closing the card will impact your scores, it’s safer to keep them open. And if the temptation to use the cards is a concern, one option is to cut the cards up so that they’re not readily available to you.

    Hope this helps!

  • Chris Schmitz

    OK, here is a good one for you that I can not find and answer to. Six or Seven years ago I was working as a self employed carpenter,, because of anothers stupidity, I got my hand in the table saw, ( still have all my fingers though) but ran up over $30,000 in medical bills had no insurance,, so was talked into filing for bankruptcy by my accountant. I met with an attorney, but before we got to filing apt, he quit and went to another firm, leaving me with a stupid greenhorn. We had first filing apt with courts and asked for a filing fee waiver, they denied it, and gave me thirty days to get the money together. In the mean time, I reconsidered the whole thing and asked greenhorn attorney If I could stop proceedings and not go through with it.. She said the case would dismiss in thirty days and all would be as before if I did not pay the filing fee. I trusted her, did not pay the fee, case dismissed, BUT,, here is the kicker,,

    Right after the filing initial court appearance, all my credit cards cancelled and went into debt collection..I payed them off after the fact

    My credit report shows I Filed for Bankruptcy

    I got NO debt liquidation

    I can’t get Bankruptcy off my report and it has majorly damaged my credit score

    I have a Bankruptcy on me report that NEVER happened

    I have ONE credit card 500 limit, and if I use it at all, say charge 250 for something, I have 50 % debt ratio, on a $250 balance which is almost nothing by average standards

    What do I do,, I am totally at a loss as to how to fix this

    Chris Schmitz,, Milwaukee WI

    • http://www.ssdanswers.com Jonathan Ginsberg

      Chris, the first thing you need to do is to find out if your case was actually filed. Was a case number issued? You can research this issue on the Pacer system (www.pacer.gov), or any bankruptcy attorney with a Pacer account can look it up.

      If a case number was issued, that means that your case was official filed and your credit report is accurate that you did file bankruptcy. If that case was administratively dismissed, your credit report will show a dismissed case as opposed to a discharged case.

      Note that credit reports reflect a history of your financial activities and the filing of this case – even if it was administratively dismissed by the clerk for not paying the filing fee – can remain on your report for up to 10 years.

      You can add a statement to your report indicating that you decided not to go through with your case and that you have otherwise paid your debts but the bankruptcy court record will show a case number associated with your name.



    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Anchor – By law, creditors cannot arbitrarily report inaccurate information in your credit reports, and you have the right to dispute the information under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. You don’t need a credit repair company to file a dispute, and we actually advise against using them unless you fully understand what they do and how they work — you can read more about this topic in this article: Do I Need a Credit Repair Agency?

      If you have inaccurate negative information in your reports, it’s best to include as much documentation as possible to help the credit reporting agencies with the investigation process. Credit.com has several resources that can help you on that front, which can be found here:

      A Step-by-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes
      8 Rules of an Effective Credit Report Dispute Letter

      If you’re still not getting anywhere with the credit reporting agencies (and the items are inaccurate and do NOT belong to you), you may want to file a complaint directly with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)— we’ve heard very positive results from consumers that have gone this route. To file a complaint with the CFBP, click here and then follow the prompts.

      And finally, if you truly want to work on improving your credit scores, you’re in the right place. Credit.com offers numerous educational resources and here are a two that we highly recommend to get you started:

      How to Rebuild Your Credit
      The Ultimate Guide to Credit Scores

  • Roz Ellington

    In reference to #8 in you most common questions asked…If your credit is ran without your permission and it lowers your credit score how can it be removed…are there steps that can be taken if not…how long does it remain on your credit report? Any advice would be greatly appreciated

  • Deanna Templeton

    Actually, credit checks for employment screenings are soft inquiries so they don’t affect your credit score at all. Only hard inquiries, those that are a result of an application for credit or other type of service (phone, utility, cable, etc.), impact your credit score. Too many inquiries in a short period of time can definitely hurt your scores, but the good news is that inquiries — while reported in your credit reports for two years — only count towards your credit score for the first 12 months. You can read more about inquiries here: Should You Be Worried About Credit Report Inquiries?

  • Lou

    Why is it that paying cash for a home actually keeps your credit score lower than if you went through a mortgage company and financed. While I understand the principle of long term mortgages showing a persons ability to maintain good credit rating by timely payments (with interest to the loaner), it would also make sense that a person who can save and pay cash for a home is as if not more thrifty and credit conscious. My credit score runs around 780 but since I pay cash for Home and auto’s if needed, I doubt my score would ever hit the 800 mark. Just strange to me.

  • Bollamsky

    Why is your credit score affected negatively when you apply for a job and the background check is done

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It shouldn’t be. The employment inquiry (as long as it is classified that way) should be a soft inquiry. You see it, but no one else does and it doesn’t affect your scores.

  • sherrie


  • cecile j fryling

    my late husband was a terrible money manager. he was always late on payments and also opened credit cards that i was not even aware until his untimely death in 2011. my credit score is terrible because of this. since i have been widowed, i have made every payment in a very timely manner. he had a heart transplant on 2001 and shortly after that we had to file bankruptcy (jointly). what can i possibly do to help my credit score improve? i am a very good money manager and since his death, i have a very good record–but no one seems to care about that. i really need help. thank you very much.

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  • ellen vickers

    My ex-husband took credit cards out on me and I did not know it till he died in 2004.I have tried everything to clear my credit score but can not do it.I had perfect credit till he messd it up I thought you had to have someones permission but he did not have mine so what do I do since he died to say what he did to me?

  • cec

    How badly will a short sale on my house will affect my scores?. Never been late on any payments. I would like to purchase again next year, my income is high, and don’t have any debt. What are my chances of getting a good interest rate?

    • Mr FYI

      cec asks: “What are my chances of getting a good interest rate?”
      Ummm …. Non-existent. A “short sale” is a term created by the r.e. industry to sound better than “voluntary foreclosure.” Why would any bank lend you money at a great rate within a year after saying, “This investment is not working out for me, and I’m bailing.”


  • B.O.A

    When an annual credit report is obtained, what information on my credit report do I request to be deleted. For example, is it a good idea to request the credit bureau to delete all previous phone numbers, addresses, old employers; old personal information generally?

    • Credit.com

      BOA – You should really only dispute information that’s inaccurate. I wouldn’t advise deleting previous addresses, employers, or old personal information. If the information is accurate, it’s a good idea to keep it — it helps with verifying your identity (when they ask you questions that only you would know in order to obtain your credit report, etc.).

  • Dave

    best question never asked about credit scores; what legal right do credit bureaus have collect personal, private information on millions of people, score it, the sell that information, which is often incorrect, for their profit?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Some consumer advocates have raised that question over the years, but have never gotten far with it.

  • Robert Trinka

    Can someone please tell me why my credit score should be affected by applying for mortgage refinancing? I just don’t understand how anyone can interpret an application for credit as a negative event that lowers your credit score. I ended up not taking a new mortgage and am selling the house instead. Why is my personal decision on the management of my assets anyone’s concern? The credit agencies don’t ask for how much money you have in the bank or in the stock market or other assets you may have. This system really is flawed since it does not take into account your overall wealth and why you choose to use credit, particularly tax deductible mortgage and business loans.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Does sound kind of crazy doesn’t it? But I think it helps to keep in mind that factors are only included in scores if they are found to be predictive. I think Barry Paperno explained it well in this piece: How Credit Scores Are Developed. As for the other information, keep in mind that scores can only measure what’s in the credit file. Do we want credit reporting agencies maintaining information about income, assets etc? I’m not sure…

      I am not necessarily trying to defend the status quo. Just trying to share some observations. Feel free to continue the discussion!

  • Tess

    Thanks for the information. I really enjoyed the article.

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  • Alex

    This was an excellent article!! Thank you. There is so much useful information for me to use as I continue to position myself to have the best credit score possible. I especially liked the part of this article where there was discussion on the Credit Card Act. It was a great tip for me because recently I did have an interest rate increase on one of my specialty credit cards that I am current on. This is great stuff. I also found some very good information relating to this sort of thing when I Googled the credit locker university. A big help as well. Thanks again!

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