' Credit Score and Seven Years Ago :' How a Simple Mistake on Your Credit Report Can Turn Into a Multi-Year Fiasco

It takes up to seven years for a piece of negative information to be removed from your credit report. Even a single, innocent "late payment" to Saks can haunt you well into your adult life. Why this is is beyond me.

A three or four year limit on a late payment seems punishment enough. There's absolutely no reason the credit bureaus should treat a simple missed payment as the same as a bankruptcy or default.

Legitimate issues notwithstanding, if you've ever had the pleasure of trying to expunge a piece of erroneous data -- something that shouldn't have even been there in the first place -- from your credit report, you know, by the time any meaningful action is taken, you could easily wind up like Carrie from Homeland-- bat-shit nuts and involuntarily committed.

It started out innocently enough. I called my bank to request a simple credit limit increase on my MasterCard. The ironic part being, the agent on the phone cheerfully offered up this whole process will take "Less than sixty seconds!"

Sixty-one seconds later, when the now-somber representative stated, "Please hold for a credit specialist," I knew I was in trouble. But I had no idea how far down the rabbit hole I'd fall.

I instantly recognized the voice on the other end as The Mad Hatter, because his job was to obviously drive me insane. What else can you surmise when the conversation goes like this:

Hatter: "I'm sorry sir. We can't approve your request at this time because there's a Fraud Alert placed on your account and it requires we notify you of any request for changes, first."

Me: "So, basically, what you're saying is, even though I'm on the phone with you --now, and I've answered the security questions with flying colors, you still need to tell me that I've requested a change to my account before making changes to my account?"

Hatter: "Yes."

Me: "Okay, fine. Go ahead and tell me."

Hatter: "We can't tell you over the phone, sir. We have to notify you by mail."

It's at this point the Alice in Wonderland references begin dancing in my head.

Me: "I'm sorry, Mr. Hatter. Did you just say you have to notify me by mail?"

Hatter: "Yes, sir. Because there's no phone number listed on your alert, we cannot call you on the phone."



Me: "Okay. How about this? I promise I won't get mad if you tell me I just requested an increase on my credit card. Okay? Go."

Hatter: "Sir. The best I can do now is give you the 800 number for Equifax. You can take it up with them."

After about five minutes of being bounced around by the incredibly redundant voice prompt system installed by the rocket scientists at Equifax -- e.g., "If you'd like to request a copy of your credit report, press 1. If you just pressed 1, press 2, etc. etc. " -- I realized, I'd been here before.

Yes. Yes, it's all coming back to me now. Slowly, I begin to remember why I waited so long to request an increase and have been putting up with this bullshit spending limit for so long. It's because I went through this entire thing, word-for-word, last year! And, the year before!

It hits me like the end of Memento -- when Guy Pierce remembers everything that led him to where he is;

I, too, suddenly remember. But, how did I forget?

How did I forget requesting a limit increase a few years back, finding out there was a "Fraud Alert" placed on my account, which I never placed to begin with, and going through the same exact shit?!!

Okay, retrace the steps. I remember being told I would have to contact Equifax:

First, by phone -- which I tried for days on end but could not get through;

Then, by mail -- I remember sending a certified letter, signed by the president, well over a year ago requesting the alert be removed from my account, which it obviously never was;

And, finally, by carrier pigeon -- I seem to recall the poor thing crashing due to the weight of the documents I attached.

As I went through the same ridiculous merry-go-round of question/answer/same question/same answer with what could have been the same call center representative, I remembered why I forgot.

It was on purpose. This whole ordeal was so unbelievably painful, it was like a financial car wreck; but, instead of it lasting a few seconds, this one lasted six months.

I must've gladly erased this rigoddamndiculous experience from my memory, completely. And it all came flooding back while I was on the phone with the moronic agent who was telling me their center was closed, as it was 5:30 p.m., when, in fact, it was only 5:10. When she kept me on hold for 45 minutes, then disconnected me, I was glad I forgot. Now, I have to get up in the morning and do it all over again.

Wait. Wait a second. What was I just talking about?