Financial Advice

How I Accidentally Hurt My Credit Score & Undid the Damage

What happens when you find an inquiry on your credit reports and you don’t think it’s accurate? The typical response to a consumer’s question about getting an inquiry removed from his or her credit report is, “It can’t be done.” While that’s generally true, there are some exceptions, as our reader Kris learned.

Here’s what happened. He received a pre-approved credit card offer in the mail. He thought it came from his current card issuer, Capital One, but didn’t realize it was from another lender whose name and logo appear quite similar. He applied and was offered a card with a $300 credit limit, which surprised him. “It baffled me why I would qualify for something so low when I know I have good credit,” he says. That’s when he looked a little closer. “After I read the terms more closely and saw the interest rate was high and everything about them was terrible, I finally made the full connection,” he says.

So he called that issuer and asked them to cancel the application. He also went one step further and asked them to remove the inquiry as well, since he felt like he was essentially tricked into applying. The first person he talked to was noncommittal about removing it, so he asked to speak with a supervisor. “To their credit, the call lasted maybe 20 minutes or so, for what I expected to last probably at least an hour because removing a credit inquiry is extremely difficult to get removed,” he notes.

Kris says he’s pretty savvy about credit. In fact, he has often given others advice about how to improve their credit scores. So he knew the inquiry wouldn’t significantly affect his scores, but he was planning on applying for a home loan, and didn’t want to see his scores lowered — especially given the circumstances.

By way of background, the Fair Crediting Report Act requires credit reporting agencies, when they provide credit reports to consumers, to disclose the the identification of each person that “procured a consumer report for employment purposes, during the 2-year period preceding the date on which the request is made; or for any other purpose, during the 1-year period preceding the date on which the request is made.”

“We are required to list an inquiry for every instance the consumer’s report is requested. Doing so ensures the person has a complete record of who has reviewed the report,” says Rod Griffin, director of public education for Experian. “That can be important if, for example, the person is a victim of fraud and their identity has been used to apply for credit. The fraudulent inquiry may tip them off to the fact that they are a victim.

Equifax has a similar policy, says Meredith Griffanti, Equifax’s senior director of public relations. “Inquiries are generally a matter of fact. Under the FCRA, a credit reporting agency must retain a record of companies who have accessed your credit report. Equifax’s guideline is to retain most inquiries for up to two years, although some are maintained for just one year. If you have a question or dispute with a specific inquiry, it is best if you contact the specific company that requested your credit report,” she says.

Fraud, however, may be one situation where a consumer may be able to get an inquiry removed. “Inquiries are always removed in the case of fraud,” says David M. Blumberg, public relations director at TransUnion. “Additionally, a consumer may request that a credit grantor remove an inquiry that was done in error.”

Griffin says that Experian “can remove inquiries identified as fraudulent,” adding that “other inquiries that accurately represent a request for the person’s report cannot be removed except by the source of the inquiry when it was made incorrectly or inadvertently.”

Is It Worth It?

Whether or not it’s worth going to the trouble of trying to get an inquiry removed depends largely on the situation. If there are multiple inquiries listed on your credit reports as a result of identity theft, it may be worthwhile to challenge them. But removing one or two inquiries may not be worth the time and effort involved. And the few points that you gain as a result could quickly be offset by other changes in credit scores, which fluctuate. Keep in mind that even if you don’t successfully get them removed, they will be gone in a year or two, and most credit scoring models ignore those that are older than 12 months.

Also keep in mind that only hard inquiries affect your scores, and even then, some may be grouped so they count as one (certain mortgage, student loan and auto loan-related inquiries, for example). And checking your own credit score does not affect it. This guide explains what qualifies as a hard inquiry.

In the end there are often other factors that have more of an impact on your credit scores. If your goal is to get a good credit score, you may want to shift your attention to those that have a greater impact. (You can find out how inquiries and other factors may be impacting your credit scores with a free credit report summary from Credit.com.)

“Attempting to remove a credit inquiry from a credit report is like trying to get student loan debt discharged in a bankruptcy petition,” says Kris. It can be very difficult, but not impossible. “The moral of the story is that it never hurts to ask,” he says. “You have nothing further to lose and the potential of everything to gain. If you know what your talking about and what to say, what to ask for and who to talk to, then you’re off to a great start and probably a short journey with less bumps and a good outcome.”

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Gerri Detweiler was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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