The recent recession forced Americans of all ilk to watch their credit as closely as they watched their salaries. Although opportunities for refinancing, securing for mortgage, home equity lines of credit have improved, credit cards and access to cash to start a new business, as well as other financial activities, are still heavily dependent on how well your credit weathered the financial onslaught. In some instances credit score can impact a job offer, a factor many can ill-afford in today’s market.
In 2007, as credit card companies were less able to bundle consumer debt and sell it to investors as easily as previous years, they cut lines of credit and increased interest rates, first among the less credit-worthy segment of the population and then among more financially stable and well-off consumers. Credit history and worthiness is determined by the major credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. These days, credit reports are more easy to obtain and understand than in previous years, but they can still be bewildering. The first portion of the report lists credit accounts.
First, says Liz Weston, nationally-syndicated personal finance columnist and best-selling author of Your Credit Score: Your Money and What’s at Stake; How to Improve the 3-Digit Number that Shapes Your Financial Future, “Check that there are no additional social security numbers. Then look at the accounts carefully and make sure they’re are all yours.” Note serious errors such as accounts listed as late that weren’t. If you’re certain the account is not yours, the first step is to dispute it. Be warned, however, that some unethical collectors may be stubborn and unreasonable. Weston says, “Ask for a validation to prove that the debt is yours, If they can’t prove it, they have to remove it. But if you’re ignored, the next step is a lawyer with knowledge of credit card laws.”
Next, is the Public Records sections which, includes bankruptcies, foreclosures, liens, which ideally, Weston says, should be blank. Weston stresses the importance of paying on time and paying down balances. “That’s even more important that paying down your mortgage or car loan because the scoring formula is very sensitive to revolving credit and what you’ve charged in comparison to available credit.” She advises using 30% or less of spending limit. “When you have a balance, you’re at the mercy of the credit card companies so 10% is even better.”
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