Consumer Empowerment Part 3 Of A Series

Your credit report won't have a ghost of a chance unless you avoid these 10 foul-ups

you (again?) by protecting your financial future against these 10 credit busters:

1. Failing to get your credit report. “Get your credit report each year from each [of the major] credit bureaus,” offers Greg McBride, a financial analyst with Bankrate Inc. (www.bankrate.com) in North Palm Beach, Florida. Confirm that all of the accounts in your file are up-to-date and correct. “It’s important to actively monitor your credit report. Credit reports are often used for more than credit purposes,” says McBride, “Often employers and landlords have access to them.” Contact Transunion (www.transunion.com, 800-916-8800); Experian (www.experian.com, 888-397-3742); and Equifax (www.equifax.com, 800-685-1111) for your credit file.

2. Failing to establish your own line of credit (i.e., married people who didn’t have credit previously). Getting credit in your own name is essential and could be critical if you’re planning to divorce. If you are an authorized user on your spouse’s account, you may lose your privileges once the divorce is final, unless your spouse continues the agreement.

3. Commingling your credit with someone who is a bad credit risk (i.e., a spouse, a co-signer, or an authorized user who you know has bad credit). When you cosign, you should know that you are responsible for the account if the other person defaults on the loan. Davis got an American Express Gold card for her former fiancé; she was sideswiped with nearly $6,000 in debt thanks to his spending sprees.

4. Neglecting to provide the same identifying information each time you apply for credit (i.e., using your full name one time and leaving out your middle name the next). “It helps to make sure the process is completely accurate,” says Jeffrey Junkas, public relations specialist for Transunion in Chicago. “If you make sure you have your name, phone number, Social Security number, etc., the same way all the time, you’re going to reduce the chances that another file could be created.”

5. Paying late or failing to pay at all. Tiffany Warren got trapped in a credit snare when she was in college. She didn’t think she’d have to repay a retail store credit card with a $250 credit limit. “I was so fresh and so new,” she says of getting her first credit card in 1992. “I would get these bills stating $15 payments, but I didn’t understand what the minimum meant against the balance,” says Warren, 28, manager of diversity programs for a major advertising association in New York. “I would pay the minimum, but my balance wasn’t going down, so I became frustrated and made a choice to put it aside. By my junior year, I couldn’t get [credit].” She eventually paid off the card in 1997. Between interest and late fees, it cost her $600. “No matter how small the balance, if you don’t pay it, it completely affects your world,” she adds. Remember to mail your payment five to seven days before the due date, or pay online or over the phone.

6. Paying the minimum. The only person who benefits from minimum payments is

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