When your credit is in shambles, of course you want to clean it up.

Be careful though, whom you ask for help.

Recently, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed two complaints and proposed final judgments in federal court against four California-based credit-repair companies and three individuals for misleading customers and charging illegal fees.

Not only did the companies charge illegal advance fees for credit repair services, but also misrepresented their ability to repair peoples’ credit scores.

When it comes to “credit repair,” keep the following in mind.

  • Proceed carefully

“Be cautious. Do your research, or you can fall victim to a scam and plunge yourself into deeper financial trouble,” says Leslie Tayne, a Melville attorney specializing in financial issues. Ask basic questions — how long have you been in business? Do you charge money upfront? Are you licensed by the New York State Department of Finance?

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  • Heed warning signs

Be wary if the company promises to repair your credit in an unrealistic length of time, such as six months. “It’s not an overnight process,” says Tayne.

  • Do-it-yourself

“There is nothing credit repair companies do that consumers can’t do themselves. Each of the three main credit reporting agencies provide clear directions on how to dispute an item on their websites,” says Freddie Huynh, vice president of credit risk analytics with Freedom Financial Network in San Mateo, California.

Furthermore, says Tayne, “The best way to improve your score is easy. Make timely payments each month, pay at least double the minimum if your budget allows. Be sure not to open any new cards or take out any new loans and avoid using existing cards you’re trying to pay off.”