How to Clean Your Credit Report for Free – 11 Proven Steps

A decade ago, my credit score was terrible, we had a lot of debt and lived beyond our means. I knew I could pay for credit report repair, but was concerned about scammers, so I began to Google how can I clear my credit for free?

Clear your credit report for free by:

  1. Get a current copy of the report
  2. Initiate online disputes for all incorrect information
  3. Negotiating lower payments with debt collectors
  4. Withhold payment to debt collectors until you have a written guarantee they will remove damaging items from your credit report
  5. Pay down credit cards that are maxed out

But those are just a few tips!

In this post, we’re diving deep into the world of credit. I’ll walk you through 11 proven steps to clear your credit report or incorrect and/or damaging items, all for free.

But we’ll also talk about the dispute process in great detail with all 3 credit bureaus as well as how to read your report.

I’ll also show you the best way to get a copy of your credit report completely free.

Specifically, we’re looking at some proven credit report repair steps you can take. Steps that you can do for free that can definitely make a positive impact on your credit score.

So here are my 11 best . . .

Tips on how to clear your credit report for free

1. Get a copy of your credit report for free

You can’t get where you want to go without knowing the way, and your credit report is your roadmap.

Now, don’t just Google “free credit report” as a million sites will come up and 99% of them AREN’T REALLY FREE! I know it’s shocking to think that someone would lie on the internet, but it’s true.

Here are the only truly free ways I know of to get a copy of your credit report for free or without a catch:

  • Apply for a loan and get denied (in their denial letter they will explain which credit bureau gave them your info which led to them denying you and you have a right to get a copy of that report at no cost and the letter will tell you where to write to request it)
  • Get a copy when you buy a house
  • Get a free copy of your credit report, no more than once per year, from this website: (not a link that pays me for your referral)

The one I recommend you do is the latter; it’s quick, easy, and it’s a free report.  I keep mentioning credit bureaus, so if you don’t already know what I mean, there are 3 primary companies in the United States that creditors (the folks you owe money to) report the bad (and sometimes) good stuff to.

These are the people in charge of your credit score. If you need credit report repair then you need to know who they are.

The 3 big credit reporting companies are as follows:

I don’t suggest contacting these companies directly at this point, but they do have online dispute processes to correct incorrect information and we’ll get into that shortly.

2. Read and understand your credit report

Now you should have your credit reports. These can sometimes be a bit confusing to navigate if you’ve never looked at one before. Each of the 3 will look a bit different and may contain different things.

I’m not going to get into HOW to decipher your credit reports from each of the 3, but if you don’t understand what you’re seeing, just take a look at these video tutorials:


Consumer Credit - Experian Credit Report Walk-Thru


Consumer Credit- My Fico Transunion Credit Report Tutorial


Consumer Credit- MyFico Equifax Credit Report Walk-Thru

So in reviewing your credit reports, you’ll see every address you ever lived at, probably a few addresses you never lived at (possibly the address of an ex with whom you once shared credit or someone with the same first and last name as you).

You don’t need to worry about addresses as they aren’t likely to affect your score.

Focus on the following when reviewing your reports:

  • Who you currently owe money to (make sure it is correct and that the amounts match your records)
  • Who it shows you have made late payments to (again, make sure that is correct as most of the time companies that report lateness here aren’t necessarily informing you)
  • Who and how much it says is in default (unpaid) or in collections

These are the things that are driving your low credit score. And the primary things you can affect change on when performing credit report repair.

3. Dispute credit report errors with the credit bureaus

As we said above, there are 3 main credit bureaus. Credit report repair pretty well begins and ends with them. All 3 have online processes for disputing wrong or negative information you believe to be incorrect in your credit file.

So click the links of each to get started.

I would dispute anything you see that is inaccurate information or anything you are unsure of the accuracy of or anything you don’t recognize. Sometimes it’s just errors in personal information such as a previous address. But unless that old address is also tied to a debt listed that isn’t yours, there’s not much benefit to correcting it.

In most cases, they will open an investigation and contact the creditors in question.  The creditor typically has 30 days to respond.

Most large creditors (think big banks and lenders) will most definitely respond. They have whole teams of people who just do this type of “work”.

Smaller companies that are less efficient, less ethical, or perhaps understaffed may not get to it in time. This can work to your advantage as the big 3 bureaus will almost always side with you if the creditor doesn’t respond.

If you are contesting a debt you believe you have paid, definitely include any supporting information. Things such as statements from the creditor showing a zero balance, payment history from your bank or online payment system receipts, etc.

The more evidence you have to support your claim, the more likely your request will be granted.  Every win, however small, will give a little boost to your score.

But also bear in mind it can take 30 days or longer for changes to actually affect your score, so this is not an endeavor to undertake right before a big purchase.

4. Request a credit report adjustment from a creditor

As we mentioned above, the 2 things that are the biggest factors in your score are how many times you paid a bill late or didn’t pay at all AND how much you owe vs. how much you make.

The latter is easy to control; stop borrowing money, take on a 2nd job or move to a better-paying job and the rest will take care of itself.  The PAST lateness is not something you can affect much control over.

If there were things that caused the lateness that was out of your control (like the company didn’t mail/email you a bill that month and you forgot to request it), you may be able to negotiate. But start paying on time now!

In those cases, you can email the company and explain the situation, and request an adjustment. Now bear in mind that email initially probably goes to some kid fresh out of high school making minimum wage.

Do you think he cares about your situation?

Probably not! (no offense to high school kids making minimum wage; I was one). So in these cases, you probably will have to email/call multiple times, to multiple people.

If you think I’m suggesting you pester people, you’re right!

If your argument has any merit, they likely will change the history just to make you go away.

5. Deal with past-due bills & bills in collections

This is a much bigger factor with credit report repair! It implies you are a high risk since clearly, you have a history of not paying the money you owe.

There are a few things to remember when dealing with these situations:

    1. If you borrowed this money you should pay it back! (it’s simply a matter of integrity)
    2. If it’s a loan you co-signed and the person who was supposed to pay it didn’t, you should pay it and learn your lesson! (don’t co-sign loans)
    3. Don’t pay a creditor ANY money until you get the following in writing:
      • How much they agree to accept to close the account and consider it paid in full
      • That they agree to remove ALL entries from your credit reports with ALL credit bureaus pertaining to this debt within 30 days of receiving your payment (a great way to bump your score up and bear in mind their only goal is to get your money; they don’t care what’s on your report.  As long as you owe them money, that gives you LEVERAGE!)
      • They understand you will be paying by cashier’s check or money order and mailing the payment
    4. Oftentimes these creditors will sell your bad debt to a collection agency. So make sure you know who you currently owe the money to as it may have changed (you don’t need to waste time negotiating with the wrong company and you sure don’t want to send money to the wrong company)
    1. Company harassing you? You have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Federal Trade Commission and their Fair Credit Reporting Act. And you can report them right HERE!
  1. Don’t give ANYONE your bank account/credit or debit card info under ANY circumstances! (it’s not uncommon for companies to charge more than you agreed to)
  2. Time to pay? Get a money order or cashier’s check and snail mail it!

Now if that seems hardcore, that’s because it is.

I’m not knocking everyone out there who lends money, but some of them are simply looking to make a buck at the expense of someone else who hasn’t done a great job of managing their finances (been there, done that).

These folks can be the lowest of the low and will say anything to get you to pay and while I do want you to pay a debt you genuinely owe, once it’s gotten to this stage, it’s vitally important that you do it the RIGHT WAY!

So first, let’s start with #3.

Make sure to verify who the current collection agency is on old debts

That can be tricky, especially if they have stopped contacting you or it’s been over a year since your last payment. There are companies out there who buy so-called “bad debt” for pennies on the dollar from the company you originally had the loan with.

Why would they do that? 

Say they buy bad debt for $75 when the total amount you borrowed was $500.

They know if they harass you long enough they can probably get you to pay. Since they are hiring people at minimum wage who do the hard part, that’s easy money. These people are often your biggest obstacles in credit report repair.

Even if they only get you to pay half of what you owe ($250), they still more than tripled their money!

If you are no longer getting bills or receiving calls or emails, and it’s been a few months or longer, chances are your debt has been sold. So we need to figure out where that money is currently owed to.

At this point I would suggest getting a copy of your credit report; the ultimate resource for credit report repair.

6. Pay down credit card balances below 70% of the credit limit

Paying down credit card debt below 70% of the credit limit can have a positive effect on your credit score.

Credit utilization is one of the most important factors in determining your credit score, and it accounts for 30% of your FICO score. Credit utilization is the amount of available credit you are using, and it is calculated by dividing your total outstanding balance by your total available credit.

When you keep your balances below 70% of the total available credit, it shows lenders that you are responsible with managing debt and that you are not overextending yourself.

This can help to improve your credit score over time. Additionally, paying down your balances below 70% can also help to reduce the amount of interest you pay on those cards, as lenders may be more likely to offer lower interest rates if they see that you are managing debt responsibly.

It’s important to note that paying down a card does not immediately improve your credit score.

It takes time for changes in your credit utilization ratio to be reflected in your score, so it’s important to be patient and consistent with making payments on time and keeping balances low.

Additionally, if you have multiple cards with high balances, it’s best to focus on paying down one card at a time rather than spreading out payments across all cards. This will help ensure that each card has a lower balance and will help improve your overall credit utilization ratio more quickly.

7. Pay off non-revolving debts as quickly as possible

Paying off non-revolving debt can have a positive impact on a credit score.

Non-revolving debt includes installment loans, such as a personal loan, car loans and student loans. When these debts are paid off, the credit score can increase because the amount of available credit increases. This is because the amount of debt owed is reduced, which lowers the credit utilization ratio.

The credit utilization ratio is an important factor in determining a person’s credit score.

It is calculated by dividing the total amount of revolving debt by the total amount of available revolving credit. A lower ratio indicates that a person is using less of their available credit and is therefore seen as more responsible with their finances. Paying off non-revolving debt can help to lower this ratio and improve a person’s credit score.

In addition to improving the credit utilization ratio, paying off non-revolving debt can also help to improve a person’s payment history.

Payment history accounts for 35% of a person’s FICO score and is one of the most important factors in determining their overall score. Making timely payments on non-revolving debts shows lenders that an individual is responsible with their finances and can be trusted to make payments on time in the future.

Paying off these debts in full will also show lenders that an individual has been able to manage their finances responsibly and pay back what they owe in full.

Overall, paying off non-revolving debt can have a positive impact on a person’s credit score by improving their payment history, lowering their credit utilization ratio, and increasing their available revolving credit limit.

This can help individuals qualify for better interest rates on future loans and save money over time.

8. Do continue to utilize credit responsibly

I love Dave Ramsay. And if you know him, you know he’s opposed to borrowing money whatsoever.

But the reality is that if you never borrow money, your credit score would eventually drop to 0 or close to it. Then if you do need to use a credit score for some reason (new house, rental, new car, etc), you could be seriously hampered by that; even if you have no outstanding debts or collections!

Remember, a credit score isn’t a reflection of how well you manage money. It’s a reflection of how responsibly you borrow money.

Responsible use of credit can help improve an individual’s credit score, while irresponsible use can have a negative impact.

The most important factor in using credit responsibly is making payments on time. Payment history accounts for 35% of an individual’s FICO score, so it is essential to make all payments on time and in full. Late payments can have a significant negative impact on an individual’s credit score, so it is important to stay on top of due dates and payment amounts.

Another important factor in using credit responsibly is keeping balances low as I mentioned above.

Credit utilization accounts for 30% of an individual’s FICO score, so it is important to keep balances low relative to the available limit. Keeping balances low will help ensure that the amount owed does not exceed the available limit, which can have a negative impact on an individual’s credit score.

Finally, it is important to avoid applying for too much new credit at once.

Too many inquiries into an individual’s credit report can have a negative impact on their score, as lenders may view this as a sign of financial distress or instability. It is best to only apply for new lines of credit when absolutely necessary and spread out applications over time if possible.

9. Don’t apply for a bunch of credit cards or loans simultaneously

When lenders make inquiries into your credit report, it can have an impact on your credit score. Multiple inquiries in quick succession can have a more significant effect.

A single inquiry from a lender is unlikely to have a major impact on your credit score.

However, when multiple inquiries are made in a short period of time, it can be seen as a sign of financial distress and can cause your score to drop. This is because lenders may view multiple inquiries as an indication that you are desperate for credit and may be taking on too much debt.

In addition, multiple inquiries in quick succession can also indicate that you are shopping around for the best deal on a loan or credit card. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it can still affect your score if too many inquiries are made in a short period of time.

The best way to avoid having multiple inquiries impact your credit score is to limit the number of lenders you apply to at any one time. If you need to shop around for the best deal, try to spread out the applications over several weeks or months so that they don’t all appear at once on your report.

It’s also important to remember that not all inquiries will count against you when it comes to calculating your credit score.

Soft inquiries, such as those made by employers or landlords when checking your background, will not affect your score at all. A hard inquiry from lenders will count against you but only if they result in an application for new credit being approved and opened.

Overall, multiple hard inquiries from lenders in quick succession can have an impact on your credit score but this effect can be minimized by limiting the number of applications you make and spreading them out over time.

10. Review Companies who have wronged you

Don’t be afraid to review businesses on social media, Yelp, Google, and lodge a complaint with the BBB if you feel you have been treated unfairly.

While this may not be the best way to go about it, it can have a positive impact, especially for those companies with an A rating with the BBB.

The BBB is a great resource for consumers who are looking to dispute negative items on their credit report.

The BBB has a process in place that allows consumers to file complaints and disputes against companies that have reported negative items on their credit report. If the company does not respond to the complaint or dispute in a timely manner, then the BBB will take action and may even remove the negative item from your credit report.

Leaving bad reviews online can also be effective in getting companies to remove negative items from your credit report. That’s the same mentality that often leads Amazon sellers to pay people who leave negative reviews to edit their reviews to be more positive.

Companies are often very sensitive to customer feedback and will take action if they receive enough negative reviews from customers. This can be an effective way of getting companies to remove negative items from your credit report, as long as you provide accurate information and make sure that your review is not overly critical or inflammatory.

Ultimately, filing a dispute with the BBB or leaving bad reviews online can be effective in getting companies to remove negative items from your credit report, but it should not be seen as a substitute for more traditional methods such as working directly with creditors or disputing errors with the three major credit bureaus.

It is important to remember that these methods should only be used as a last resort and should not be relied upon as a primary means of resolving disputes with creditors or correcting errors on your credit report.

11. Boost your income

Boosting your income doesn’t have a direct impact on your credit report.

But what it does do is give you the ability to pay off debts faster, not have to borrow money as much, and gives you some room to breath.

And when we aren’t super-stressed and feeling like we’re behind the 8-ball, we’re much better equipped to see the big picture, strategize about long-term financial goals, and live a happier and healthier life.

And ultimately, you will improve your credit score along the way.

So, take on a 2nd job or find a better paying job to boost your income/debt ratio or to get extra cash to pay down debt.

But a side hustle is also great!

My side hustle was blogging for over 3 years, and now it’s my full-time job. Don’t want to blog? No problem! Check out my 53 ways to Earn Extra Money on the Side (click to read my article) quickly & easy!

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a credit score?

Quite simply, as Dave Ramsey is fond of saying, your credit score is an “I love debt” score.

A credit score in no way measures your net worth or is a sign you are winning financially!

In other words, let’s say you had a million dollars in the bank. And let’s say your house and cars were paid for and you only used cash or a debit card to buy stuff. At that point, your credit score would be ZERO.  Yes, a score of zero!  But that’s not as disastrous as you might think!

Your credit score is an algorithm arrived at by a private company commonly referred to as FICO.  They look at the following criteria and then come up with a score:

  • Payment History (how many times have you paid a bill late or not paid)
  • Debt Ratio (how much you owe versus how much your income is)
  • How Long Have You Been Using debt (you are perceived to be a bigger risk when you get your first loan or credit card)
  • Type of Debt (they rate you higher if you have revolving credit (ie: credit cards) versus just a mortgage or car loan)
  • Credit Inquiries (how often are other companies requesting to look at your credit – the more of these, often the lower your score)

The first 2 lines here represent the biggest components of your score, but all of them play a role.

What is a “good” credit score?

According to FICO its . . .

  • Excellent : 760-850
  • Very Good : 700-759
  • Good : 660-699
  • Fair : 620-659
  • Poor : 580-619
  • Bad : Below 580

Don’t need credit report repair tips and just want to focus on how to Boost Your Credit Score to 800 (click to read my article)? Check out one of my most shared posts on Twitter and get going today!

Do credit repair companies really work?

So before we get into what YOU CAN DO for credit report repair, let’s first take a look at a credit repair service company. There are a lot of them out there and make no mistake . . .


  • Erase bad credit 
  • “Fix” your credit score
  • Clean up collections

The short answer credit report repair is not magic. Genuinely paid someone late? (and I’m talking a credit card, bank loan, etc as most of the time landlords and utilities aren’t reporting lateness.) Didn’t pay at all (or at least not in full).

Then there is NOTHING you or anyone else can do to make that magically vanish from your credit report. So while there are some legit companies who will take the same exact steps I’ve outlined in this article, there are also many credit repair scams. So be wary.

Generally speaking, things like lateness or unpaid debts take 7 years to fall off your credit report and bankruptcies take 10 years.

How do I fix my credit for free?

If you were to pay a credit report repair company to improve your credit score, they would focus their efforts on these same things (but you can do the same things yourself for free!)

So if you see debt or a collection you don’t recognize, start by contacting the company listed and requesting proof that the debt is yours.  Sometimes debt gets sold and you may not recognize the company that currently owns it. Thus it may not be clear on your report as to who the original creditor was.

But it IS possible it’s NOT your debt and was listed as yours by mistake!

Any type of communication like this, while it’s OK to make follow-up phone calls, I prefer to do most in writing (ideally email so you have a paper trail of exactly what was said).

If you have to snail mail then I suggest sending via certified mail so you have proof you sent it on a certain day and you have proof of delivery (or attempted delivery).

Keep copies of ALL communication!

While we make that inquiry, we are also going to dispute it with any or all of the 3 bureaus where it appears (it may not be on all 3).

Also be aware that while bad debt only stays on your report 7 years, every time it gets sold (which can sometimes be more than once or even several times) it can sometimes start that 7-year cycle over each time, so it’s always best to get these debts cleared up so it doesn’t haunt you years or even decades later.

How long does it take to rebuild your credit history?

In any case, I recommend reviewing and disputing (if necessary) your credit report about once a year.

After all, credit fraud is always on the rise. Only if you are contacted or see it on your credit report would you even know if someone borrowed money fraudulently in your name.

And if you believe yourself to be a victim of credit fraud, check out the government’s page HERE on what you can do.

Bear in mind that many or sometimes all of your disputes may get denied.  After all, the credit bureaus are more aligned with the creditors than they are with you.

One additional way you can apply leverage is to post negative reviews for these creditors or collection agencies. If they have posted incorrect information about you on your credit report, and you have tried to work with them to correct it, you have every right to review them online.

I WOULD NOT recommend doing so unless you truly believe you are in the right. 

If you messed up (been there, done that), take your lumps, apply the strategies I’ve outlined above where applicable, learn from your mistakes, but most importantly, own your mistakes.

How to communicate with creditors and collection agencies

As with any credit report repair communication, I always recommend you be the following:

  • Honest (if you only tell the truth in life, it makes everything that much simpler)
  • Accurate (again, don’t omit information to make yourself look better, and don’t exaggerate the bad stuff to make them look worse; just the facts, ma’am)
  • Detailed (if you want to convince someone your case is valid they need to know specifics)
  • Professional (imagine your Mom or kindergarten teacher is reading it.  Would they be proud of you?)

I recommend writing reviews based on the above on their Facebook page (if they have one). But also on Yelp (if they have one and you’ll need to know their home city).

Lastly, possibly most importantly, lodge a complaint with the Better Business Bureau!

While the BBB is a member site and they can sometimes favor their members (ie: the businesses you have a complaint against), most companies value their BBB reputation and will try to resolve complaints to keep their score up.

It can also be helpful here to know their home city although sometimes just searching by their web address works too.

One thing to check on the BBB is their current score and their history of complaints.

If you see their score is low (as in “F”) that can tell you they don’t value their reputation with the BBB in which case it may not be worth filing the complaint (but I would probably still do it).

I was able to get incorrect info removed, the ultimate fix for credit report repair, after 3 years and multiple attempts with the 3 credit bureaus. I had plenty of documentation to support me too.

In the end, I simply lodged a BBB complaint and that was what worked.  I won’t name them here, but think one of the top 3 big banks.

How long does credit repair take?

Once you’ve tried all the steps above you just need to be patient at this point.

It may be worth trying again in a year if you don’t get the results you want.  Remember with these folks it pays to be tenacious & consistent.

You should always be professional (even if they aren’t) But a good pestering can go a long way in making them want to do what you want so you go away.

These folks pester people for a living, so there’s nothing wrong with giving them a taste of their own medicine. While you can perform credit report repair yourself at no cost, it’s not always quick and easy!

What if you can’t afford to pay outstanding debts?

When we’re living paycheck to paycheck, we’re often too overwhelmed to even think about credit report repair. But we need to think big picture. Think about the long-term and where you want to be in 5 years.

If you’re behind on bills (also been there, done that), while I do think that as a matter of integrity you should pay back what you owe, sometimes we find ourselves in a jam.

Need some cash quickly and easily check out a recent post about how to Earn Extra Money on the Side (click to read my article)!

But let’s say you have an old debt that was once $500.

But you didn’t pay it for 5 years. Maybe you have moved a few times and the debt has been sold a few times. And now the current company is threatening wage garnishment, court judgments, etc and they claim with fees and penalties that the bill is now $2000.

If you think stories like that don’t happen, think again.

In this situation, it’s important to:

  • Stay Calm (after all, they are trying to scare you into paying)
  • Know that they just want money (and many will say whatever works to get you to do that. Even things they likely have no intention of doing such as suing you)
  • Remember, as I point out above, you have rights (and you should report anyone who threatens you)
  • Know that EVERYTHING is negotiable, no matter what they say.  That debt you owed of $500 that they now claim is $2000?  They probably bought that debt for $100 (maybe less).  They WILL accept a LOT LESS than $2000 to settle it (but they aren’t going to tell you that).
  • Know that if you truly have no money, they will find that out and not waste time going to court (because they know they won’t get anything)

In these cases, your goal would be to ideally pay what you originally borrowed (and they will still likely quadruple their money). It may take multiple calls or emails and talking to multiple people,

Remember, you can negotiate everything!

If you have multiple outstanding debts and limited funds it may be time for a 2nd job or lifestyle trim. But I would list your debts smallest to largest.

Just focus on one at a time starting with the smallest, ignoring (temporarily) calls or letters from the other debt collectors.

You clean up one and move on to the next.  Dave Ramsey calls this his “debt snowball” and while he typically refers to current outstanding debts, it works for debts in collections too.

Tired of ending up at the end of the month with more bills than income?

Need help managing your family’s finances? Wondering where all your hard-earned dollars go every month? Get a copy of my monthly budget spreadsheet, the very same one my family has used for about 7 years, right here!

credit report repair free budget spreadsheet banner Middle Class Dad

Final thoughts

In this post, I took an extensive look at the sometimes shady world of credit repair.

We talked about what makes a credit score go up and down, but we also looked at how our own actions affect our score.

Specifically, though, we looked at some critical credit report repair steps you can take yourself, for free, to legally and naturally improve your credit score.

There’s no need to pay someone to do what you can do yourself, and bankruptcy, which can affect your ability to rent, should only be used to avoid foreclosure.

What has been your biggest credit challenge?

While I have years of successful financial & budgeting experience and run several million-dollar businesses and handled the accounting, P&L and been responsible for the financial assets of them, I am not an accountant or CPA. Like all my posts, my posts are opinions based on experience, observations, research, and mistakes. While I believe all my personal finance posts to be thorough, accurate, and well-researched, if you need financial advice, you should seek out a qualified professional in your area.

As an Amazon Associate I may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases if you click to Amazon from my site and choose to make a purchase. You can read my complete affiliate disclosure for more details.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay and Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Top Related Posts