MEXICO, Mo. – There’s only one way to fix your credit report. Pay your bills.

That’s the advice from Virgil Woolridge, family financial education specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

Stay away from companies that promise to repair your credit for a fee, he says. Despite what the late-night television ads say, there is no magic bullet. You can fix your credit rating, but it takes time, effort and sticking to a debt repayment plan.

The first step to fix your credit rating is to know what it is, Woolridge says. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to one free credit report annually from each of three national credit-reporting companies—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

A credit report includes information on where you live and work, if you pay bills on time, how many bills you have, and if you filed for bankruptcy. The information is sold to creditors, insurers, employers and others to evaluate applications for credit, insurance, employment or renting a home.

Check your credit report for accuracy. Make sure that it lists your correct name and Social Security number. If these don’t match, verify that your identity has not been stolen.

You are also entitled to a free report if you are turned down for credit, Woolridge said. Each agency’s report is different, and lending institutions may use information from a single credit-reporting agency. You want to see what your lender sees, so carefully review all three of the credit-reporting agency reports.

Report and challenge discrepancies immediately. Your report may list debts that are not yours or that have been paid. There is no charge to dispute errors.

Your credit rating affects more than just your ability to borrow money. It can also determine whether you get a job, how much you pay for insurance and whether you can rent a home in some cases, Woolridge says.

Negative information stays on your record for seven to 10 years. Only time and paying your debts will remove it. There is no quick fix, Woolridge says.

To order your credit report, visit or call 1-877-322-8228. To request your report by mail, you can download a printable credit request form at Be prepared to provide proof of identity, whether your request is online or by mail.

Do not contact the three nationwide credit-reporting companies individually.

Be on the lookout for imposter websites that claim to offer free credit reports or credit monitoring. There are charges for some of these services. Be wary of any site that requires a free trial period of some service to get your credit report. Identity thieves also use scam websites.

MU Extension family financial education specialists offer educational programs to help individuals improve their financial standing. If you need help getting a copy of your report or want to attend financial education classes, contact your local MU Extension center. Go to for more information.

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