Student loan refinancing generally takes two things into consideration, income and credit score. This blog is about repairing your credit so you can refinance your loans.
The first time I applied to refinance my high student debt, I owed $386,000, was making $76,000 per year, and had a credit score in the high 600’s.
Everyone rejected me. I applied for refinancing more than twenty times, with numerous companies. I kept getting rejected. It was awful; I felt like a loser and a failure.
But this time I shook it off.
1 – Find out how Bad your Credit Actually is
You probably think I’m going to recommend you go to FreeCreditReport.com or Credit Karma here. I’m not. In order to really understand what’s on your credit, you must get scores from all three bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. These are the three agencies that are used by the student loan refinancing (and mortgage, and credit card) places. I have seen many occasions where old accounts or negative items show up in one report but not another. Go to www.truecredit.com (or a similar site) and pay $9.99 for a monthly membership which you will cancel after you get the three reports the first time.
Print out your three reports and look at them with a highlighter. You will see three types of categories on each report: Revolving, Installment, and Open. In addition, you will see any credit cards that you have closed, paid off, or canceled in the past seven years. “Revolving” is typically credit cards, “Installment” is mortgagees and student loans, and “Open” usually means phone bills and utilities. Highlight any things that show up as late or outstanding. They should be red.
This process can be illuminating, enlightening, or downright depressing. I once saw I had a $50 bill on part of an ambulance ride not covered by my insurance, which had been sent to collections after I moved apartments six years earlier and grown to $900. It was seriously hurting my credit, and I was totally unaware of it. Stop living in the dark. Get out your ten bucks and let’s start digging.
2 – Write to all the Reporting Agencies Showing Bad Items (Equifax, Experian, Transunion)
We are going to launch a two-pronged attack, against first the reporting agencies themselves and then the actual places you owe (or supposedly owe) money to. Repeat after me: All of the bad items on your credit will be disputed. We are going to think like lawyers or rich people here: It’s not what you actually paid or didn’t pay, it’s what the reporting agencies and credit card companies can prove you didn’t pay. They could care less whether you have something bad on your credit report. You, on the other hand do care.
Now, you are going to look for any false information. This does not only refer to whether or not you paid the charge in question. It could be any of these things as well:
- Wrong account number
- Name Mis-spellings
- Date opened
- Account status (e.g., closed)
- Payment status (e.g., in collections)
- High Balance
- Credit limit
- It’s not your account / identity fraud
- Card was stolen and you can prove you contacted the card company
Of course if you did make a payment and you can show a bank statement with money leaving your account, this is the fastest way to get bad items taken off.
Now, you’re going to write a letter and have it notarized. Make a list of the errors you find and note what the correct (or what you think the correct) information is. You are going to have to specify a legitimate reason why you think the item is inaccurate. Now draft the below letter in hardcopy/ typed form.
Your Phone Number
Social Security Number
Date of Birth
Credit Agency (i.e. Capital One, Discover)
Credit Reporting Agency Address
[Date you are writing letter]
To Whom It My Concern at [credit agency you’re writing to]:
I recently obtained a copy of my credit report and am writing to dispute some items on it. I have highlighted and numbered these disputed items on an attached copy of the report, and will cross-reference the inaccuracies below:
Item # Company Reason for Dispute
(1) Capital One Name is mis-spelled
(2) Discover Payment was made on [date], see
enclosed bank statement
According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Section 609 (a) (1) (A), your company is required by Federal law to verify any and all accounts you request to be posted and/or reported on a credit report.
According to the provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act 611(a) [15 USC 1681i(a)], these disputed items must be reinvestigated or deleted from my credit record within 30 days. During the investigation period, these items must be removed from my credit report as the mere reporting of items prior to debt validation constitutes collection activity. I am also requesting the names, addresses and telephone numbers of individuals you contacted during your investigation.
With your bad credit items clearly mapped our and your letters typed, we now need to send them out.
I recommend going to the post office and sending them via CERTIFIED MAIL, but in some cases you can use the company’s online portals:
At first glance it appears that the reporting bureaus make it easy for you to dispute their versions of the truth. Don’t be fooled!! These websites are generally infuriating and unreliable, and often ask for information that it appears you should have but is located nowhere. Be prepared for a LOT of B.S. and frustration – this is only to weed out the less-motivated credit disputers, which, let me assure you, you aren’t.
Make sure you take your three letters to the post office so that you can select a Tracking or Registered Mail option. You need proof that these places received your letter.
Please keep in mind, this whole process completely sucks. It is worse than going to the gym. There’s the obvious benefit of having a credit score good enough to re-finance your student loans and thereby stop the financial hemorrhaging of INSANE amounts of interest being charged to your account every month, ensuring you will probably NEVER be out of debt. There’s an added psychological benefit that in my opinion is possibly even more important.
Good credit pays dividends to your financial self-esteem. It means being able to look bankers in the face. It means going shopping for houses and knowing that a mortgage company will give you the $100,000, $200,000 even $500,000 it costs to buy your property. It means feeling like a responsible adult.
3 – Write to the Companies You Owe Money To
This next step is similar in theory to the previous step, but different in execution. You should only start it only after you complete the earlier step (including the period of 30 days while you wait for the credit reporting agencies to respond to your dispute) and fail to get your bad items removed. You are less of a lawyer in this step and of kind more like a panhandler at first, which will morph into The Godfather later.
First, we are going to assume that people who work at credit card companies are generally good human beings. We will try to appeal to their sense of goodwill and humanity. Below are some examples of correspondences you can use. If you are a married couple, just change the “I’s” to “We’s”. Please note that the below three letters DO NOT APPLY for debt that has already been sent to a collection agency. If your debt has already gone into collections, you need to write a different kind of letter FIRST (which I’ll give you later) and you may need to follow up by additionally writing to the companies the debt originated from later. Debts in collection or at collection agencies are more damaging to your credit score than late payments, so start there first.
YOUR ADDRESS 1
YOUR ADDRESS 2
Month Day , 20XX
CITY, STATE ZIP
Regarding: Account No. XXXXX
Dear [Credit Card or Bank Name]
I am writing to see whether [same Credit Card or Bank] would consider making a goodwill adjustment to the credit reporting bureaus on my [Closed or Open] account. Specifically, I am asking whether [Credit Card or Bank] would remove the adverse late payment and settlement reporting from this account in reporting to the credit bureaus. I understand this is a rather unusual request–particularly as my account fell behind upwards of 120 days and was settled for less than the full amount.
[Credit Card or Bank] was extremely helpful in working with me at a time of a job layoff and missed payments. The ease with which I was able to resolve these accounts gave me something to pay off and helped me to move forward.
If what I’m asking is too much, then any goodwill adjustment to the reporting bureaus would be most appreciated.
Regardless of your decision, please know that I thank you for helping me at a time when it was needed, and we hope to do business with [Credit Card or Bank Name] again one day.
Adapt this letter for something that appears on one credit report and not the others, and is not in collections.
Send off your letters via Certified Mail so you can make sure they were received.
If you have made it through this blog, give yourself a pat on the back. Go make yourself a cup of coffee – your mind is probably a bit fried at the thought of all the work that lies ahead.
Try to remember a good time in life where you didn’t have these problems, and remind yourself that you are on the road back to that place now. Think about shopping for a new car or a house.
Back with your coffee? Now you have some work to do.