15 ways to ruin your financial future: Ignore credit disputes

You hear advice all the time about your credit score -- that you should check it often, what you can to boost it and how to resolve disputes. The advice is very practical and logical and easy to follow in theory. In practice, however, most people just ignore all of it.

I was one of these people until I had to face the consequences of my inaction, and that apathy remains one of my biggest financial mistakes.

I've actually done a lot of the other bad things people say not to do (I cashed out some IRA funds to buy a first home, I married a man who had credit card debt, I have not saved enough for retirement, I went to an expensive school, and so on), but so far, not resolving a credit dispute is the only one that has come back to bite me in the you-know-what.

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I think my story is pretty typical of what happens along the way for most people. I moved a long while back and charged the move to my credit card, then forgot all about it. Two years after the move, I got a letter from a collection agency saying that the moving company had never actually received the payment and wanted its money -- about $1,200.I checked into my old moving file, found the receipt and thought nothing more of it. I had paid, right? So what's the big deal?

I got a call a few weeks later, explained that I had already paid and actually faxed the receipt to the collection agency. Heard nothing. Months went by and I received another letter, which I ignored.

I played this game until I went to apply for a mortgage to buy a condo. My credit report showed the unresolved dispute and it was a game-stopper. I could go no further in the process until I took care of the problem. My whole house deal was about to come crashing down.

This is the point where most people start doing Google searches on credit repair and finding out how to fix these sorts of problems, and like me, everyone needs information in a hurry. There are plenty of places on the Web to go for help, with the government as the best place to start.

I was able to resolve my dispute in a few weeks and get the item removed from my credit report fairly quickly -- it took a lot of phone calls, follow up faxes and documentation. If I had not had that receipt, I would have probably had to shell out the $1,200 to pay the original bill.

I have not since, and will never again, just let disputes go unresolved, thinking they'll just go away or the collector will just give up. It's just not worth the headache, and the potential financial burden.
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