Simply stated, your credit report is a report card of your financial transactions over the last 2 to 10 years, compiled by 3 major organizations: Experian, Trans Union & Equifax.
The biggest mistake that people make regarding their credit report is to assume that all the information included in the report is accurate and current. It is highly recommended by credit professionals that consumers check their credit report annually and you can do so easily and free of charge. Federal law requires that the credit bureaus provide 1 free report per 12 month period (as well as when you are denied credit due to information contained in their records). The link below is to the official site run by the 3 major credit bureaus. The site guides you through each bureau individually where you can view, print and download your report. You also have the ability to dispute any data that you think is inaccurate and can start and follow investigations as need be. Each bureau's site provides step by step instructions on how to obtain and interpret your report along with other general credit information.
The Government agency that regulates the credit industry is The Federal Trade Commission. The link below takes you to their consumer credit FAQ page. It has extensive information on how the system works & includes tips on how to avoid internet credit scams.
Your credit score is one of the most important indicators of your financial health, yet very few people know their score and those that do (including industry insiders) aren't quite sure how the number is formulated? To further add to the confusion, your score could be substantially different from 1 bureau to the next (a plan is in the works to standardize scoring between all the bureaus). The graph below seems straightforward and you can find them all over the internet. However, our agency receives calls on a regular basis where a consumer claims that they had a "good" score and our listing of 1 collection debt (sometimes with a nominal dollar amount) caused their score to drop significantly?
Your credit score is available for purchase when you obtain your free annual report, is usually included in credit monitoring packages offered by the bureaus and credit card companies or you can simply ask your lender the next time you apply for credit.
The link attached to the graph below takes you to the FAQ page of the industry leader in credit scoring FICO. There you'll find a wealth of information about credit scoring from a most reliable source.
Identity theft is a serious problem in this country and you can greatly reduce the risk of becoming a victim of it by taking some simple steps.
SAFEGUARD YOUR PERSONAL DATA WHENEVER POSSIBLE
That may sound obvious and to some degree it is but in today's information age you must give thought every time you fill out an application that includes your sensitive personal data. There is a difference between filling out an application with a major cell phone carrier online at their secure site and handing the data over to "The Phone Guys" at their table at the local flea market!
Banks frequently set up tables at concerts and sporting events offering T-shirts, blankets, coffee mugs, etc. for people that apply for their credit cards. The tables are usually staffed by college kids handing out clip boards with applications that end up in an open box filled in with your personal data! This is an ID theft accident waiting to happen. The same is true when you fill out applications at local department stores for what is usually a nominal additional discount or incentive. It seems like at least once a week you see a story on the news of a major retailer that has data breach or loses a laptop. It's simple math, the more places you supply your personal information to, the more vulnerable you become.
Some credit card companies offer the service of 1 time use credit card numbers that tie back to your main card number. You can make purchases without having to leave your main card data with a questionable vendor. The card data for the one time use card is only good for that one transaction and should there be a problem you don't have to cancel your main card and have a new one reissued.
CROSS SHRED ANY DOCUMENTS WITH SENSITIVE DATA ON IT
It's called dumpster diving and it's big business. It only takes a couple bits of information to make you vulnerable.
SECURE YOUR INCOMING MAIL
If your mail box is the type that does not lock, replace it with one that does. This is especially true if the mail box is located away from the house and/or the area is such that strangers could have access without raising suspicion. If a locking mail box is not an option consider renting a post office box. An affluent neighborhood near our office features large houses set back from the road with country style mail boxes on posts at the roadside. The community paper's "police beat" tells of stories on a weekly basis where a local resident filed a complaint that someone obtained credit in their name!
STOP POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS MAIL AT THE SOURCE
Many financial institutions offer and even encourage e-billing as an option. Some also offer a trial period where you can receive paper and electronic bill at the same time so you can get used to receiving bills electronically before you stop paper delivery.
If you must receive mail that includes your personal data you can check with the financial institution to see if there's a way to block out part or all the information that could create a problem.
Opt out of prescreened credit offers. If you're familiar with reading your credit report or when you order your annual credit report you'll notice there are 2 categories of inquiries to your credit record. One category is for inquiries that are a direct result of your requests for credit or insurance along with inquiries related to collection matters. These inquiries are shown to anyone that views your credit record. The second category is for inquiries by prospective employers and other permissable users. The other permissable users are typically credit lenders viewing your report for marketing purposes and this is where all those "you are preapproved offers" you receive in the mail come from. You can stop most if not all of the the promotional offers by opting out via the link below. The site is run by the major bureaus and has detailed information about the Opt Out process.
A Google search on the words "Credit Repair" will bring back pages and pages of companies that, for a fee, claim that they can "Repair" or "Clean Up" your credit. That same search will bring up almost as many links referencing the questionable practices of credit repair companies. The truth is, there is no such thing as credit repair in a nice neat little package! Credit repair techniques range from form letters that try to remove legitimate debts from your report to outright illegal activity like obtaining a Federal Tax ID # and using that as your Social Security # to establish a new credit record. The end result is that after paying your money and exposing your personal information to what might be a less than reputable organization you'll probably be no better off than when you started.
If you've established bad credit over a long period of time, for whatever reason, you can't expect to fix it in an instant. The only way to truly repair your credit is to start doing the right thing as soon as you are financially able to. Pay off the open debts and judgments in order of priority while keeping up with your current obligations.
One thing you can do is to issue a Statement of dispute, as allowed by Federal Credit Law. The statement is limited to a maximum of 100 words and may not be frivolous in nature. This will not improve your credit score but will allow you to give a brief description of your side of the story and that may help you if the credit decision is reviewed at the human level.
We frequently hear the statement "my credit is so bad, 1 more collection account is not going to make a difference" and nothing could be further from the truth. Every new derogatory mark pushes back the good credit finish line by up to 7 1/2 years!
The content of this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice