Protect Yourself From Credit Repair Scams


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With an improved economy and real estate prices on the rise, your good name and reputation are more important than ever when applying for new credit cards, an automobile, rental property or home mortgage. Many creditors have tightened their lending guidelines, effectively barring millions of Americans from borrowing money.

Long gone are the days of obtaining credit, goods, benefits, services and/or employment with a 620 FICO score. In most instances, a borrower will be denied if they maintain a credit score lower than 740. Even those with high credit scores have experienced reduced credit lines or closed credit card accounts and equity lines. When an account has not been closed, credit limits have been reduced to the existing balance due.

Mortgage lenders, auto finance companies, credit card issuers, credit unions and traditional banks have all raised the bar. Borrowers with low FICO scores can expect to be denied credit or to pay significantly higher interest rates than those with excellent repayment histories.

With about 52 percent of credit profiles at the Equifax, Experian or TransUnion consumer reporting agencies containing some sort of error or omission materially impacting credit worthiness, some turn to credit repair to remedy low credit scores and issues that prevent them from borrowing money. Absent self-help and the “do-it-yourself” approach, they hire a credit service organization in the restoration of their good name and reputation.

The terms credit repair, credit restoration or credit rehabilitation are somewhat synonymous. Those with bad repayment histories cannot afford to ignore the potential benefits of credit repair. In today’s economy, a strong FICO score is more important than ever.

Beware, though, when hiring a credit repair company.

Most — but not all — credit service organizations specialize in the restoration of consumer credit worthiness as well as issues related to identity. Assuming that the credit repair company is performing within established guidelines, they utilize laws enacted by Congress to dispute negative, erroneous, obsolete and/or fraudulent information contained within your consumer credit profile.

Utilizing the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Billing Act and the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, a reputable credit service organization will assist in the submission of disputes electronically, verbally and in writing to the Equifax, Experian and TransUnion consumer reporting agencies. Disputes are also submitted to creditors, collection agencies, and third-party record providers, in addition to state, federal, and local regulatory authorities.

Unlike most credit repair clinics that submit the same written complaint letters monthly, a reputable credit repair company will have devised a strategy whereby disputes are submitted electronically, verbally and in writing over a long period of time to the credit reporting agencies, creditors, collection agencies and third-party record providers reporting negative, inaccurate, obsolete and erroneous information.

Keep in mind that anything a credit repair company can do, you can do yourself for little to no cost. With that said, a reputable credit service organization should have an edge over consumer driven disputes as they will possess the education, knowledge and a source proven method that is generally unknown to the average consumer.

A reputable credit service organization should have a provable track record of results in the modification or removal of erroneous and inaccurate judgments, liens, mortgage foreclosures, bankruptcies, short-sales, student loans, credit inquiries, derogatory accounts and collection agency entries, personal identifiers and other transient data from a consumer’s credit report. Although the credit restoration process can take many months, most individuals should see some results within the first 45 to 60 days.

Credit repair, credit restoration and credit rehabilitation is as legal as pleading “not guilty” in a court of law. One must understand, though, that most credit service organizations are not law firms and that their employees may not be licensed to practice law. As such, even a reputable credit repair company cannot provide legal advice, nor may they represent a consumer before any court or in any legal proceeding. In the event that legal representation is required, the credit repair company should provide an appropriate attorney referral for consultation.

When self-help or the “do-it-yourself” approach is not feasible and you decide to hire a credit repair company to restore your credit, be sure to check them out. While the majority of credit repair clinics are scams, a few good ones do exist. Consumers can check out a credit service organization through their state Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov or through the Better Business Bureau at http://www.BBB.org.

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Home buyers qualify for FHA loan despite short sale or foreclosure


Eli Younes of Viking Mortgage in Pembroke Pines
Eli Younes of Viking Mortgage in Pembroke Pines

Mortgage borrowers may now qualify for an FHA mortgage under new guidelines established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), according to Eli Younes of Viking Realty Group in Pembroke Pines on Tuesday.

As a result of the housing collapse, many homeowners experienced a serious reduction in income or lost their jobs due to the crumbling economy.   Some mortgage borrowers were forced to file bankruptcy or short sale their home to avoid foreclosure.  

Others were not so lucky and lost their home on the courthouse steps.

The new HUD rules allow borrowers whose credit was damaged due to a temporary loss of employment or income to qualify for an FHA mortgage if they have substantially recovered from that situation and maintained a positive credit history for at least 12 months.

Borrowers who recently experienced a bankruptcy, foreclosure, short-sale, loan delinquencies, deed-in-lieu, debt collections or other situation negatively impacting their FICO credit score may now be able to qualify for an FHA loan.

Recognizing that any number of events may have impacted a borrowers’ credit rating, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) believes that such catastrophic event does not mean they are not financially stable or unable to make a mortgage payment.  

As such, the previous 3-year waiting period required by the FHA on financing a new home has been revised.

“Referred to as the ‘Back to Work’ initiative, this program is designed for borrowers who lost their home through foreclosure, short sale, bankruptcy or deed in lieu and also suffered a 20% or more loss in household income,” Eli Younes of Viking Mortgage told Examiner.  “As with most FHA loans, this program only requires a 3.5% down payment and is applicable for all purchase loans other than the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage.”

In order to qualify for a mortgage under the “Back to Work” initiative, there are several steps that must be taken to prove an “Economic Event” that was beyond the borrower’s control.

Employment Requirements:

The lender must verify that the borrower lost at least 20% or more in household income – or became unemployed – for a period of six months prior to the foreclosure, short-sale, or deed-in-lieu.  To verify loss of income, the lender must request a written Verification of Employment to show the termination date or loss of income, receipt of unemployment compensation, or signed W-2’s and tax returns detailing the reduction in earnings.

To demonstrate a loss of income for part-time or seasonal employment, the borrower must prove a 2-year history in the same field prior to loss of employment.  Borrowers will also be required to prove that they have fully recovered from their hardship, increased earnings and have maintained other credit obligations for a period of 12 months following foreclosure, short sale, bankruptcy or deed in lieu.

Credit Requirements:

When evaluating a borrower for the “Back to Work” initiative following a foreclosure, the lender may deem the borrower eligible if:

1.)  The borrower’s credit report is free of any late housing payments within the last 12 months;

2.)  All other mortgage accounts must be current for the last 12 months, even if the loan was previously modified to avoid a foreclosure action;

3.)  The borrower’s credit report contains no more than a single 30-day delinquency on payments due other creditors; and

4.)  The borrower’s credit report contains no current collection accounts or public records.  This condition may be waived in instances of identity theft or borrower’s with medical collections.

Bankruptcy Filings:

1.)  Chapter 7 Bankruptcy:  One year must have elapsed since the bankruptcy discharge.  Proof must also be shown that the bankruptcy filing was the result of an “Economic Event” covered within the FHA program guidelines.

2.)  Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Most lenders will require that the bankruptcy filing be discharged with all payments required under the agreement having been made on time.  For borrowers currently in bankruptcy, written approval from the court allowing them to enter a new mortgage contract is required.

Housing Counseling Requirement:

For purposes of establishing satisfactory credit following an “Economic Event,” mortgage borrowers’ under the “Back to Work” initiative must:

1.)  Receive homeownership counseling or a combination of homeownership education and counseling, at a minimum, one hour of one-on-one counseling from HUD-approved housing counseling agencies, as defined at 24 C.F.R. §214.100; and

2.)  Be completed a minimum of thirty (30) days but no more than six (6) months prior to submitting a loan application to a lender, as application is defined in Regulation X, implementing the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, 24 C.F.R. §3500.2(b).

The housing education may be provided by HUD-approved housing counseling agencies, state housing finance agencies, approved intermediaries or their sub-grantees, or through an online course.  It may be conducted in person, via telephone, via internet, or other methods approved by HUD, and mutually agreed upon by the borrower and housing counseling agency.

Rules for Renters:

Under certain circumstances, renters may qualify under the “Back to Work” initiative.  For purposes of establishing satisfactory credit, mortgage borrowers must:

1.)  The borrower’s credit report is free of any late rental payments within the last 12 months;

2.)  The borrower’s credit report contains no more than a single 30-day delinquency on payments due other creditors; and

3.)  The borrower’s credit report contains no current collection accounts or public records.  This condition may be waived in instances of identity theft or borrower’s with medical collections.

A foreclosure, short-sale, Chapter 13 bankruptcy or deed-in-lieu will continue to plague a borrower’s credit report at the Equifax, Experian and TransUnion consumer reporting agencies for a period of seven years.  A discharged Chapter 7 bankruptcy will remain on the credit report for a period of ten years.

“With the housing crash, many homeowners experienced unemployment or depreciated home values and for one reason or another were not able to make their mortgage payments,” Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale, told Examiner.  “The recent changes in the FHA guidelines have finally recognized the financial hardship faced by many borrowers and is allowing them to once again reach for the American Dream through homeownership.”

The new guidelines are in effect immediately and will be in force through at least September, 2016.

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As a nationally recognized credit repair and ID theft expert, Bill Lewis is principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates, a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.