I was speaking to a consumer group recently and the topic of credit repair came up as a discussion point. I fielded questions about whether or not credit repair is legal, how to identify good credit repair companies, and whether the process of traditional credit repair is better or worse than adding tradelines to your credit reports. It occurred to me that there was a considerable disconnect between what is traditional or garden-variety credit repair versus adding tradelines to your credit reports, thus the purpose of this writing.

Traditional Credit Repair

While I have no dog in the fight between credit repair companies and the tradeline industry, it appears some credit repair companies misrepresent their services. Credit repair is often positioned as a way to get inaccurate or unverifiable information removed from your credit reports. It appears, however, that traditional credit repair is built more around getting negative information removed from your credit reports, whether it is accurate, verifiable, or not.

Some credit repair companies "jam" the credit bureaus with repetitive dispute letters.

Some credit repair companies “jam” the credit bureaus with repetitive dispute letters.

While some credit repair companies are more surgical in their approach when communicating with credit bureaus and lenders, some credit repair companies choose to simply bury them with repetitive dispute letters. This process is commonly referred to as “jamming.” Sometimes jamming is successful in getting negative information removed while other times it isn’t. And, of course, if you’re successful in getting negative information removed from your credit reports, your credit scores may improve.

Traditional credit repair comes with a price tag. The price tag, frankly, is what makes credit repair credit repair. If a company charges you a fee for a service represented as one that will help you to improve your credit, that meets the definition of a credit repair organization in the Federal statute known as the Credit Repair Organizations Act. If there is no fee or valuable consideration, then it’s not credit repair.

Adding Tradelines

There are only three ways to add tradelines to your credit reports, and two involve associating your name with a credit card account. You can certainly apply for and open a new credit card account. If you are approved the lender will likely report the account/tradeline to your credit reports.

You can also have your name added to an existing account as an authorized user. An authorized user is someone who is authorized to use the credit line of a credit card account, but doesn’t have any liability for the debt. Credit card issuers often report credit card account information to the credit reports of the authorized user. And, if the account is in good standing and has a low balance relative to the credit limit, the result can be an improvement in your credit score.

You can add tradelines to your credit report by becoming an authorized user on someone's credit card.

You can add tradelines to your credit report by becoming an authorized user on someone’s credit card.

Being added to someone’s credit card as an authorized user is free, meaning the card issuer isn’t going to send you a bill for adding someone to your credit card account. There are, however, companies that will broker the authorized user process and they do normally charge a fee for their services.

The third option is fairly new, Experian Boost. Boost is an Experian service whereby they will add your utility accounts to your Experian credit report if you pay them from your bank account. The service, as of the date of this article, is free.

Boost requires a leap of faith as you will be asked to provide the name of your bank and your login credentials, including your username and password. Using that information Experian will gain access to your utility payment transactions and add them to your credit report. If you do not pay your utilities with your bank account, you cannot add them to your credit report using Boost.

It appears the difference between traditional credit repair and tradelines is really the difference between addition and subtraction. Garden variety credit repair is built around getting negative information removed or “subtracted” from your credit reports. The tradeline or authorized user strategy is built around adding positive credit card accounts to your credit reports.

Because there is no single path to a lower credit score, there is also no single path to a higher credit score. As such, both credit repair and tradelines can result in higher credit scores.  However, there is no guarantee that either will lead to higher scores as the impact of removing information or adding information is highly individualized and difficult to predict with a great deal of precision.

John Ulzheimer is a nationally recognized expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. He is the President of The Ulzheimer Group and the author of four books about consumer credit. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. He has 27+ years of experience in the consumer credit industry, has served as a credit expert witness in more than 370 lawsuits, and has been qualified to testify in both Federal and State courts on the topic of consumer credit. John serves as a guest lecturer at The University of Georgia and Emory University’s School of Law.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author John Ulzheimer and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Tradeline Supply Company, LLC.

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