Left country for 6 months & forgot about card payments

This post originally appeared January 12, 2017 on CreditCards.com as “Your 6-months-with-no-payment credit score comeback plan

By Barry Paperno

Dear Speaking of Credit,
I went to travel to India for six months. Forgot a credit card payment for that long and the communications sent to my home were not accessible. In spite of 30 years of an excellent score, it went down from 830 to 640. How can I revert to my good score? The credit card company responsible for lowering my score refused to correct it. What should I do now? – Rajagoapalan

Dear Rajagoapalan,
If it hasn’t happened yet, you’re about to learn from the school of hard knocks just how hard it can be for a credit score to recover following six months of late payments on a single account. As the strongest predictors of future credit risk, missed payments are the hardest mistakes for your score to overcome, particularly when compared to the damage from high card balances, new accounts, inquiries and other red flags to future trouble.

Now that your unsympathetic card company has refused to issue you a pass on your slip-up, you’re seeing that a good credit score does not come with a reset button, even with a stellar 30-year record. Yet there is always hope with credit scores. Thanks largely to time marching on, the more recent positive credit picture slowly takes over from those fading errors of the past.

Your comeback plan
So while there is certainly cause for hope, expect any score improvement to occur pretty slowly. How slowly? In your favor is your otherwise excellent credit history and that you’ve only experienced a single bad debt, not multiple negative items on your credit report. Building on those benefits, coupled with the passage of time, the following tips could help give your score recovery a little more juice:

  • If you haven’t already done so, pay the entire balance on that credit card as soon as possible. Whether the debt continues to be held by the card company or has been assigned to a collection agency, paying it will prevent any further action, legal or otherwise, that could further damage your score and hinder your rebuilding efforts.
  • In addition to paying all other credit cards and loans on time each month, reduce any card balances making up more than 10 percent of the credit limit to within the 1 to 9 percent utilization range. By simply charging less or paying what you’ve charged sooner, or both, lowering your utilization can add points to your score.
  • Should this damaged card be your only revolving account, you can help offset its poor payment history if you open a new credit card and with it create some new positive history to counterbalance the bad. Your 640 score is probably a little too low to qualify for a good unsecured card, but a secured card not requiring a high score can contribute just as effectively to rebuilding as an unsecured card.

Avoid bogus credit repair companies
Also important for your score recovery will be what not to do. Along with never again being so much as a day late on any payment, the big “don’t do” here is don’t fall for credit repair company claims that, for a fee, they can remove this account from your credit report and score. Without any real question of reporting accuracy in this situation – having admitted your own oversight as the cause – there is only one way a credit repair agency can live up to such a promise. That’s by sending a barrage of fake disputes to the credit bureaus based on the false-premise that the card doesn’t belong to you.

When credit repair agencies succeed at getting accurate-but-negative information removed from a credit report, they typically do so by submitting multiples of the same dispute to the credit bureaus, hoping that the sheer volume of written verification forms sent from the credit bureaus to the creditor will cause the creditor to drop the ball and fail to respond to one or more of the dispute verifications. This then triggers the deletion of the account from the credit report – a legal requirement when an account disputed for this reason goes unverified.

Another detail a credit repair agency isn’t likely to share with you upfront is that even if they are successful at removing the account from your credit report in this manner, the item can easily reappear during the following month or two when the creditor re-reports it to the bureau in its still-negative state.

It may also come as a surprise that there is no legal requirement that, upon receiving such disputes from a credit repair company, the credit bureau must investigate it at all. Should the credit bureau have reason to believe an account is being disputed “frivolously,” the Fair Credit Reporting Act provides the option of simply refusing to investigate its accuracy at all.

By skipping such ineffective, expensive and ethically challenged credit repair methods, your credit score will begin to forgive you as soon as the bad debt is resolved and all other accounts are being paid as agreed. Then, whether you follow one or more of the above suggestions or simply go back to doing what worked for you for the 30 years leading up to your trip, consider the clock as your best (scoring) friend, knowing your score will heal itself over time.

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