NEW YORK (MainStreet) — In over your head with your credit? Thinking about going to a credit repair agency? Think again. Because a credit repair organization might not be able to do anything for you that you can’t do for yourself. Still, credit repair is absolutely right for some customers, especially those with complicated credit histories or more money than time. Read on to find out which of these categories that you fall into.

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What They Can Do

Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, notes that credit repair agencies often just do things for you that you can do for yourself. However, he’s also quick to note that this might include things that you don’t want to do for yourself. “There’s often letter-writing involved in credit repair," he said. "They can write these letters for you.”

While it doesn’t sound like much, it’s worth noting that credit laws can be very complex, varying from one state to another. This means that some degree of research is going to be involved. For those who are completely unfamiliar with state and federal credit laws or simply don’t have the time to research them, using a credit repair agency can be money well spent.

What’s more, Randy Padawer of LexingtonLaw points out that credit repair organizations have an advantage over even the most dedicated and knowledgable consumer: they deal with creditors every day.

“What does the average consumer know about third party debt collectors and how they differ from other collections?" he said. "Do they know what laws apply to unethical debt collectors? Death reporting? The Serviceperson’s Civil Relief Act?”

Beyond just knowledge of some of the more arcane areas of credit law, most consumers don’t know that they can relitigate past disputes -- or how to do so. “The truth is that most creditors are fully open to such discussions,” says Padawer.

However, the process can be very frustrating. While you might be able to do it yourself, you might ultimately decide that it’s money well spent having someone else handle it for you.

Further, credit repair agencies can think a bit outside the box due to their experience dealing with credit-related issues on a regular basis.

“Say your utilization is too high,” says Sullivan. “Applying for another line of credit will improve your over all credit score by lowering that.”

Things become even more complicated when a consumer has multiple issues like divorce, identity theft or military service.

What They Can’t Do... Legally

One thing that Sullivan points out is that, before more recent regulations, some credit repair organizations were effectively selling snake oil at best.

“One thing they used to do is dispute legitimate charges and debts,” he said. While this got the debts removed from a credit report, resulting in a score boost, the effect was temporary. “That’s not a legitimate use of credit repair,” he says.

Other things were just blatantly illegal. “Some places might apply for an employee ID number as an alternative to a Social Security Number,” Sullivan says, bluntly addingm “That’s illegal.”

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In the Final Analysis

Some credit repair agencies are run on a subscription service and require a 10- to 24-month commitment. For people with very complicated credit issues, this can be worth it. However, if you only have a couple things you need to take care of, you might be far better off handling it yourself. This is especially true if we’re talking about just one or two mistakes on your credit report. In this case, it’s just a matter of doing due diligence to prove that the debts are not yours -- though this could take some time.

However, Padawer believes that credit repair agencies -- good, ethical ones -- have an advantage that no individual consumer, no matter how savvy, will ever have. “We have fairly arcane knowledge of the vast array of consumer protection statutes that exist and can be well-positioned to bring them to bear on behalf of consumers,” he said.

--Written by Nicholas Pell for MainStreet