Fix your creditIf you find yourself with less-than-good credit, you are not alone. Business Insider, an online business news website, reports that one in 50 households owes more than $20,000 in credit card debt. Coinciding with this alarming figure, the site further states that more than 2 million Americans look to credit counselors each year to avoid bankruptcy.

Before your finances fall into the bankruptcy category, you can take steps to help turn your bad credit around. Just ask James Cheslek, dean of academic affairs at Brown Mackie College – Albuquerque. Cheslek is a retired corporate and trial law attorney who helps college students with bad credit get back on track.

“If you want to be successful, it is important to not let credit card debt get out of control,” Cheslek says. “Many people get frustrated because their credit is not up to par. They don’t realize how easy it is to fix. It may take some time, but it is doable.”

Step one: Request a free copy of your credit report.
Every American is entitled to a free copy of their credit report under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Each of the three reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – is required to provide it once every 12 months, if you ask for it. To order your free copy, visit annualcreditreport.com, or call (877) 322-8228.

Step two: Read your credit report carefully for inaccuracies.
“Spend some time figuring out what all the symbols mean. Learn what’s good and what’s bad,” Cheslek says. “Reporting companies get information from creditors. They simply take the information and add it to your report.”

Step three: Dispute inaccuracies.
The FCRA further states that a reporting agency must correct any inaccuracies on your report. To dispute an item, notify the reporting agency of the inaccurate information. “They must investigate by forwarding your information to the company that provided the disputed item,” says Cheslek. “When any information proves incorrect, the FCRA calls for all three reporting agencies to remove it from your credit report.”

Step four: Request verification of debt.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) gives consumers rights against debt collectors. “Here’s the deal,” Cheslek continues. “Debt collectors buy old debt for pennies on the dollar. They call and tell you they are collecting on behalf of another company. However, the company that originated the debt has written it off and retired the file.”

This may be the best kept secret in America. The FDCPA entitles you to write to the original company and ask for verification of the debt. They have 30 days to complete the process. Usually, they can’t find the file or verify the amount,” says Cheslek . “You may need to send follow-up letter to the credit reporting agencies to say, ‘Take this off.'”

Step five: Once your credit is fixed, keep it fixed.
Cheslek offers the following rules of thumb to follow in the interest of keeping a good credit score:

* Pay bills on time. Late payments add fees to the balance owed.
* Change the payment due date if the current one is inconvenient.
* Pay more than the minimum due, even if just a little.
* Do not skip any payments. Skipped payments lead to bad credit.
* Do not close old accounts. Creditors look at how long you’ve had credit.
* Keep one account with no balance.
* Do not apply for loans you don’t need. Every loan reques