Credit Peril

When my mother-in-law died, we went through all of her accounts and paid off anything she owed.

The Discover card she’d carried since the 80s–a card that had my wife listed as an authorized user–had a balance of about $700.  We paid that off with the money in her savings account.  They cashed out the accumulated points as gift cards and closed the account.

A few months ago, we decided it was time to buy an SUV, to fit our family’s needs.   We financed it, to give us a chance to take advantage of a killer deal while waiting for the state to process the title transfer on an inherited car we have since sold.

Getting good terms was never a worry.  Both of us had scores bordering on 800.   Since our plan was to pay off the entire loan within a few months, we asked for whatever term came with the lowest interest rate.

Then the credit department came back and said that my wife’s credit was poor.  I chalked it up to a temporary blip caused by closing the oldest account on her credit report and financed without her.  No big deal.

Since we decided to rent our my mother-in-law’s house, we’ve discussed picking up more rental properties.   That’s a post for another time, but last week, we went to get pre-approved for a mortgage.    During the process, the mortgage officer asked me if my wife had any outstanding debt that could be ignored if we financed without her.

Weird.

A few days ago, we got the credit check letter from the bank.   Her credit score?  668.

What the heck?

I immediately pulled her free annual credit report from annualcreditreport.com, which is something I usually do 2-3 times per year, but had neglected for 2012.

There are currently two negatives on her report.

One is a 30 day late payment on a store card in 2007.   That’s not a 120 point hit.

The other is an $8 charge-off to Discover.  As an authorized user.  On an account that was paid.

Crap.

We called Discover to get them to correct the reporting and got told they don’t have it listed as a charge-off.   They did agree to send a letter to us saying that, but said they couldn’t fix anything with the credit bureaus.

Once we get that letter, it’s dispute time.

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Fixing Your Credit Report

Sometimes, negative things appear on your credit report.  Usually, they do a good job of maintaining

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Credit card

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accuracy, but mistakes do happen. The creditor or the reporting agency may screw up, or you may have your identity stolen.  If either of these situations are true, you’ll want to correct your credit report, making yourself eligible for lower rates on future credit and, occasionally, lowering the cost of things like auto insurance.

If you throw “credit repair” into Google, you get 18 million hits.   Most of those are either outright scams or hopelessly optimistic about what they can accomplish. As I said once before:

Credit Repair is almost always a scam. There are ways to get correct bad information removed from your credit report.  If the information is correct, those methods are illegal.   There are two legal methods to repair your credit.  First, stop generating bad credit.  Make your payments on time and eventually, the bad items will fall off.   Second, write letters disputing the actual incorrect items on your credit report.  There are no quick fixes, and anybody telling you different is flirting with a jail sentence, possibly yours.

There are ways to avoid the scammers.

  • Avoid advance-fee credit repair. If they are any good, you will pay for results, not intentions.  If they charge beforehand, they are already breaking the law.
  • If they insist they can erase the accurate, but negative information, run away.
  • If they tell you to dispute everything negative, even the accurate information, run away.
  • If they tell you to create a new credit identity, don’t just run, report them.  It’s a felony.

Legally, you cannot get valid information removed from your credit report.  Anyone who tells you differently is advocating a crime. However, according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you are entitled dispute incorrect records.

To verify the accuracy of your credit report, you need to see it.  You can get a free report if your credit is used to deny you for something.  This is known as an “adverse action” .  You have 60 days from the denial to request the report.  You can also get one free report from each of the major credit bureaus each year. I space out these requests so I see my credit report every 4 months.

If there is inaccurate information on your report, dispute it in writing.  Send a letter to the credit bureau that is reporting the error.  Explain the problem and politely demand an investigation.   They will contact the creditor, who usually has 30 days to respond.   In the meantime, send a dispute letter to the creditor, along with proof of the inaccuracy.  If the investigation does not go your way, the creditor will have to report the dispute status to the credit bureaus in the future.

If the negative items are accurate, there is only one way to get it off of your report legally:  Wait.    Most negative information can only be reported for 7 years, while a bankruptcy will be reported for 10.

Another way to build your credit in the face of negative credit is to start building good credit to overshadow the bad. Get a credit card.  Your first credit card from the bottom of the debt-barrel will probably be a gas card or a store-branded credit card.    That’s fine.  The main consideration is are low or nonexistent fees.   Don’t accept application fees, activation fees, fees for carrying a balance or fees for not carrying a balance.    Annual fees are becoming a fact of life, so look for low fees.   The interest rate does not matter.   You will be paying this card off immediately, meaning no less often that every two weeks.  Make sure every penny is paid during the grace period, and make sure your card comes with a grace period.   Some don’t.  Those are bad cards to get.

There are no quick fixes for bad credit, just good new habits and time.

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Can Bad Credit Cost You Your Job?

Did you know that having a bad credit history could cost you your job? An increasing number of American employers have turned to running credit checks to screen job

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applicants. Some companies even evaluate existing employees on a regular basis by checking their credit reports. If you have outstanding debts, you might consider getting one of those  credit cards for bad credit to clean up your report before you apply for your dream job.

Not all companies run your credit history when you apply for a position. However, if you’re applying for a job that entails working with money or valuables, it’s a safe bet that they’ll be checking your credit history. Financial institutions, brokerage companies and jewelry manufacturers all run credit checks, as do hotels, accounting firms, human resource departments and government agencies.

Companies run credit checks because they want to hire employees who won’t be tempted to embezzle company funds to pay off large debts. Some companies fear that employees who carry large debt loads are susceptible to blackmail or bribery. The federal government carries this concern even further, indicating that citizens who owe large debts are considered national security risks.

Many companies feel that your credit report gives them a sneak peak at your true character. Having a good credit history indicates that you are a responsible person with excellent character. Having a bad credit history means that you are an unreliable person of poor character. True or not and fairly or not, this is the current belief running throughout company hiring departments.

Unfortunately, you can’t relax about your credit report even after you’ve been hired for a position. Once you’ve given a company written permission to check your credit report, they can recheck it at a later date. Government and financial organizations often run periodic credit checks on all of their employees. Some companies only recheck your credit history if you are up for a promotion. It’s a good idea, therefore, to keep your credit history squeaky clean.

Keep in mind that having a couple of late payments probably won’t kill your chances of employment or promotion. Most employers look for the really big issues, such as high credit card balances, defaulted student loans, repossessions and foreclosures. Some companies also look for charge-offs and consistent late payments as well.

Steps You Can Take

Financial experts suggest checking your credit report before you start your job search. Read your credit report carefully and make sure that all of the information is accurate. If your report contains incorrect details or any unauthorized charges, dispute these errors immediately and have them corrected to raise your credit score.

If you have a host of unpaid bills, find a way to settle those debts to improve your credit history before applying for jobs. Many people turn to credit cards for bad credit consumers. These cards allow you to consolidate all of your debts into a single debt. Just don’t forget to make the payments on this card.

Be upfront with potential employers about any negative marks on your credit history. Just tell them that you have had past issues with your credit and are now working to clear up all of your debt. There’s no need to go into explicit detail.

Once you have a job, be sure that you check your credit report at least every six months to ensure it contains only correct information. Pay all of your creditors on time. Never take out any new lines of credit unless you are absolutely positive that you can pay it back in a timely manner.

 Post by Moneysupermarket

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What Can Cause Damage to Your Credit?

Factors contributing to someone's credit score...

Factors contributing to someone’s credit score, for Credit score (United States). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Credit scores move up and down as new financial data is collected by the credit bureaus. Many factors can cause a credit score to rise or fall, but most people don’t have a clue what they are. Understanding what affects credit can help keep your number in a good score range, where it should be. But, even a bad score can recover more quickly than most people realize, even after a bankruptcy or default. Here are some factors that can help you understand why credit moves up or down:

Late Payments

About 30% of your score is made up from your payment history. This is comprised from things like credit card bills, auto loan payments, personal loans, and mortgages. At this time, bills like utilities or rent are not factored into your score, unless they are sent to a collection agency. If you are late to pay your credit card bill, it will show up on your credit file. One late payment will probably not have much of an effect, but a history of this over time can drop your score. It is very important to keep bill payment current as a courtesy to creditors and the benefit of your own financial history.

Credit Inquiries

One of the most misunderstood factors that can cause a credit score to drop are “credit inquiries”. An inquiry takes place anytime your credit is checked. This makes up 10% of your total score. What most people don’t know is that there are two different types of credit inquiries, “hard inquiries” and “soft inquires”. Only hard inquiries affect credit and happen when you apply for a new credit card, loan, or mortgage. Soft inquiries on the other hand happen when someone like an employer, landlord, or yourself check your credit report. These are not factored into your credit score at all. Hard inquiries are a necessary part of applying for a loan or credit, so an occasional inquiry will not cause damage. It can only cause problems if there are many hard inquiries in a short period of time. This can be a signal to creditors that you are in financial trouble and are desperately seeking cash.

Credit to Debt Ratio

Your total amount of available credit compared to the amount of credit you use each month, makes up your credit-to-debt ratio. FICO suggests that you use no more than 30% of your available credit before paying off your balance each month. For example if you have $10,000 of available credit spread across 3 different credit cards, the optimal amount to charge would be $3000 or less each month. Maxing out your credit cards can cause your score to drop even if you pay them off completely each month.

Age of Your Credit History

The length of time you have had an open credit account is a major factor of your credit score. It can help to open a credit card when you are younger by getting a co-signer. If you are the parent of a teenager, it may be helpful to open a credit card in their name, but only allow them to use it for emergencies. Having an open credit card in good standing for a long period of time can help build this history. The length of time that you have had credit makes up about 15% of your score.

Different Types of Credit

The last major factor that makes up about 10% of your score comes from the different types of credit that you use. These credit types include revolving, installment, and mortgage. The ability of an individual to successfully handle all of these credit types can show that they are financially well-rounded. This makes up about 10% of the total credit score.

About:
Ross is an investor and website owner.

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