8 Little Known Credit Score and Credit Report Facts

Cash is quickly becoming a thing of the past, being replaced by plastic and virtual payment methods. Credit cards are now everyone’s new best friend. Along with a credit card comes a credit score and credit report, which leads to the first thing you may not have known.

 

1. Credit scores and credit reports are not the same thing.

Yes, they are two different things. Credit reports include information such as how frequently you apply for credit, data about your credit accounts, your payment history, a few public records, debt collection and a few other related points. Credit scores, on the other hand, are calculated based on the data found on your credit report.

 

2. Specific employers check credit scores.

Did you know that applying for a job in certain industries will most likely cause your credit score to be checked by your potential employer? These industries/jobs include the armed forces, Transportation Security Administrators (TSA), law enforcement, financial planners/accountants, mortgage loan originators, and, believe it or not, parking booth operators.

 

3. You could catch a criminal!

By keeping a close eye on your credit report, you can see if someone runs up a massive credit card bill or draws out credit in your name. If there is an unanticipated change, contact your bank or lender immediately. You may be able to stop a scammer from stealing someone else’s credit information.

 

4. Identity theft can affect your credit score.

Over 8 million people are victims of identify theft each year in the United States. Believe it or not, hundreds of millions of hours are spent each year trying to find the problem, halt the fraud, and wipe credit reports clean. This is yet another reason why it’s crucial to keep a close watch on any changes in your credit report.

 

5. Seven is the magic number.

After about 7 years, negative information will be eliminated from your credit report, with the exception of bankruptcy (find out how long your bankruptcy will show up on your credit report here.)

 

6. Maxing out is not as fun as it sounds.

Did you know that maxing out your credit card can lower your credit score anywhere between 10 to 45 points? Aim to keep your debt to income ratio between 28 – 33% (this means that your monthly debt and spending is no more than 33% of your total monthly income).

 

7. Closing out an account is actually a bad idea.

Are you aware that closing credit card accounts can damage your credit score? Even if you only use the card once or twice per year, keep the credit card active. Your credit score will be more positively influenced the longer you keep the account open. A longer credit history, which determines 15% of your credit score, makes you look more responsible, and will boost your score.

 

8. Five Factors

There are five factors that go into formulating your credit score, also known as your FICO score. Your payment history makes up about 35% of your score. This is why it’s so important to make all of your monthly payments on time. Responsible for 30% of your score is how much you owe, so don’t leave debt hanging on your card. Your credit history length is responsible for 15% of your credit number. Accounting for 10% of your total credit score is your last application for credit (how long ago it was, what type of credit and the amount). The final 10% is calculated based on the types of credit you use.

If you have more questions about your credit score and/or report, please check out our many other blog posts on the topic. Happy reading!

 

Advertisements

Equifax Data Breach 2017: Were You Affected?

equifax breach

Unless you have zero credit history and no report exists on file for you with any of the credit reporting bureaus, you may have been affected by a recent security breach at Equifax.

Up to 150 million people (in the US alone) had their private, personal, identifying information exposed and potentially misused. This breach in security occurred only with Equifax. Neither of the other two credit reporting agencies, Trans Union or Experian, were affected.

What happened during the Equifax breach?

Between the months of May-July 2017, hackers were able to bypass some of the cyber-security that was in place at that time at Equifax. They gained access to millions of pieces of personal information, including:

  • Full names and aliases
  • Dates of birth
  • Social Security numbers
  • Current and past addresses
  • Driver’s license numbers
  • Credit card information

Even if you haven’t noticed any strange charges popping up on any of your credit cards, it’s important that you take action if you haven’t already done so. If any of your identifying information was accessed, the first step to righting the wrong is knowledge.

How can I find out if my information was accessed?

Although the general public opinion of Equifax dropped as soon as news of the security breach hit the airwaves, they deserve kudos for initiating a plan of action for those who may have been affected. They created a program called TrustedID Premier that gives consumers one year of free credit monitoring.

Visit http://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. There, you’ll be able to read details about the security breach; you’ll also be able to enroll in the credit protection and monitoring program.

With two clicks, you’ll learn if your personal information was accessed, or “potentially impacted.” From there, you should move forward and initiate your enrollment in the credit monitoring program. Again, you’ll be given an easy prompt to “Enroll Now,” after you’ve determined if your information may have been affected.

How can I feel safe with a company that experienced such a substantial breach?

While you do have to give your name, address and part of your social security number in order to verify your identity, you can feel secure as long as you are using a secure computer as well as an encrypted network.

Is there anything else I can do to protect my personal information?

Aside from enrolling in the TrustedID Premier program, you should carefully read through your credit reports in their entirety. Go beyond checking your Equifax report; order a free copy of your credit report from each of the three reporting agencies. You can request all three reports at one convenient site: http://www.annualcreditreport.com.

Other potential steps to protecting your private and sensitive data include:

  • Freezing your credit
  • Placing a fraud alert on your credit 
  • Preventing tax identity theft – A lesser known form of identity theft, tax identity theft, can occur if your social security number was stolen. File your 2017 taxes as soon as possible so that no one else can fraudulently claim your tax refund.
  • Continue to carefully monitor all of your bank accounts and credit cards and be on the lookout for any suspicious charges.

If your personal information was accessed and you discover false information on your credit report or unrecognized charges on a credit card, contact a NJ credit repair attorney immediately to protect your financial reputation from incurring any further damage.

 

Image: “Broken Lock” by Chad Cooper – licensed under CC 2.0

Should I Pay my Debts or Hire a Bankruptcy Attorney?

bankruptcy attorney nj

When you are face to face with a huge pile of unpaid debt, you might wonder if it would be more cost effective to put a pay-off plan into effect or to make an appointment with a bankruptcy attorney. Naturally, both options are going to cost money – but there are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you determine which option will end up costing you less in the end.

Firstly, it must be said that there isn’t a cut-and-dry, cookie cutter answer to this question, so please take the advice herein with that knowledge. There are a number of variables that will affect the direction you ultimately choose to take, like:

  • How much debt do you have?
  • What type(s) of debt do you have?
  • What is your current income?
  • Do you foresee your income increasing in the near future?
  • Is there a potential financial windfall in your near future (like a work bonus)?
  • How long do you want to spend paying off your debt?
  • Are you ok with losing credit score points (temporarily)?

If you are currently not even (or barely) able to make the minimum payment each month on sky high credit card debt, you’re looking at a very long road ahead and you will have paid a huge amount of interest at the end of your debt pay-off journey. In this case, filing for bankruptcy looks like it would be a better decision, because your bankruptcy attorney’s fees are likely to cost you less than how much you’ll be paying in interest over the years. Also, by filing for bankruptcy, you can rid yourself of your burdensome debts as soon as you case is approved for a discharge. This will allow you to start a savings account, put your child through college, or otherwise focus more of your income in a way that you weren’t able to before.

The bankruptcy route will knock your credit score down for awhile, but if you’re working with a bankruptcy attorney in NJ who knows what he’s doing, you’ll be counseled on how to potentially bring your score even higher than it is now. This can usually happen in 12-18 months after a bankruptcy discharge if you follow the recommendations given.

On the flip side of the coin – maybe you have more debt than you’d like to have but you’re not drowning in debt. This is not an uncommon situation to be in. If your income is substantial enough to handle your monthly cost of living plus (give or take) double your minimum payments on at least one of your debts, you may be a good candidate for avoiding bankruptcy.

It’s impossible to give you a completely straight answer to this question, as mentioned earlier, because everyone’s financial situation is so unique. The above general tips are just that – general – and you should base your final decision off of the in-person advice you get from an experienced NJ bankruptcy attorney. He will be able to comb through your debts and assets in order to properly guide you toward making the choice that will best fit your finances.

Get in touch with a reputable New Jersey bankruptcy attorney today – most offer free consultations, so you have nothing to lose but debt!

Divorce Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Credit Score!

While the act of separating and/or getting divorced from your spouse won’t affect your credit score on its own, it is likely to cause indirect damage to your finances. So, while there won’t be a giant mark on your credit report that says “GOT DIVORCED, automatic 100 point deduction,” your score can and will begin to drop after a divorce if you aren’t hyper-aware of the potential damage.

In order to take proactive steps to maintain a good or excellent credit score during and after a divorce, you first have to know what you’re up against. Some of the biggest factors that cause divorcees financial strife include:

  • Suddenly dropping from two incomes to one income
  • Joint debt that goes unpaid by your soon-to-be ex-spouse
  • Shared bank accounts that can be drained by either party
  • Spiteful actions of one spouse, like running up a joint credit card balance
  • Lack of an independent financial identity and/or credit history
  • Divorce expenses
  • Child support and/or alimony

Even if the split is something that will ultimately make you happier, the process of getting to that end goal is undoubtedly going to be stressful. It is much easier to miss a bill payment or make other financial errors when you are stressed to the max.

Why is My Credit Score so Important After Divorce?

Losing a few credit score points shouldn’t make or break anyone, right? In many situations, this may be true. However, for those people who are going through a divorce, maintaining a solid credit score is IMPERATIVE.

You may need to buy or rent, initiate utility services for, and completely furnish a new home. In order to do so, your credit must be fair to good at minimum (ideally in the upper 600s or above).

Additionally, many divorcees seek higher-paying jobs in order to make up for the second income that was lost in the split. These days, it is common practice for employers to check the credit history of all potential hires before extending a job offer. If your score tanks during or after your divorce, it may prove difficult to make even a lateral employment move.

What Can I Do to Maintain a Good Credit Score After my Divorce?

As soon as you know that divorce is in the cards, your first move should be getting a current credit report from each reporting agency. This will allow you to know precisely what debts and recurring payments are officially your responsibility as opposed to your spouse’s.

“Knowledge is power, but only wisdom is liberty.” ~ Will Durant

After you have current credit reports in hand, it’s important that you take smart action based on the information contained in your report(s). For example, you may not have realized that your spouse listed you as an ‘authorized user’ on a credit card. If the card’s balance gets maxed out due to extra expenses during your divorce and your ex-spouse stops making payments, you could be held responsible for the balance. In addition to removing yourself from any joint accounts, you should:

  • Create an amended budget using your adjusted spending limit.
  • Make it a priority to make all of your payments on time.
  • Closely monitor any accounts that you’re unable to separate immediately.
  • Get educated on the topic of good financial habits.
  • Seek the help of a financial advisor or NJ credit repair attorney, if needed.

 

 

 

 

How to Dispute a Debt and Win!

We’ve talked a lot on our blog about how to handle your unpaid debts so that your credit score doesn’t tank, because a low credit score makes it much harder for you to borrow money, buy a house, and purchase a vehicle. Even potential employers today have the ability to find out how you handle money before deciding whether or not to hire you. For the aforementioned reasons, keeping a decent credit score is something that rightfully demands your attention.

Keeping tabs on your ever-shifting credit score and the details contained within your credit report(s) is the easiest way to ensure that you don’t have any long-lost debts doing serious damage without your knowledge. If and when you discover an unpaid debt that belongs to you, it’s important to pay the debt ASAP to avoid losing valuable credit score points. Working with your credit repair attorney in NJ, you can negotiate a debt pay-off schedule that works for you. Remember to check back in with the credit reporting bureaus as soon as you’ve paid off said debt to make sure it has been removed from your credit report.

What happens if you receive a notice from a collection agency for a debt that you have no recollection of owing? While your first instinct may be to toss it in the trash with the rest of the “junk mail,” slow down for a minute. There are two very good reasons why you should NOT ignore any letter from a debt collector.

  1. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s possible that you do owe an original creditor money. Bills are be misplaced, mis-sent, and lost every day. The original creditor may have also made a billing error when they originally charged you. The bottom line is that it is possible that you owe money that you forgot about or didn’t know about.
  2. Debt collectors can continue to attempt to collect on a debt, even if it was never your debt to begin with, unless you respond to them, in writing, within 30 days. Therefore, even if a collection agency is completely falsifying information in the hopes that you will simply send them some money, do not ignore it.

If you are being held responsible for a debt that you don’t recognize or remember, you can dispute the debt by sending the collection agent a letter via Certified Mail, with return receipt requested. In your letter, state that you are writing to dispute the alleged debt, and that all collection attempts should cease unless they can provide you with all of the following:

  • The full amount of the alleged debt
  • The name and address of the original creditor
  • Proof that you are responsible for the alleged debt
  • Documentation showing that the collection agency is licensed to collect debts in New Jersey

If the person attempting to collect money is doing so fraudulently, you should never hear from them again once they receive this letter from you. On the other hand, if there is a legitimate debt that you’re responsible for, you will receive the information you requested. Either way it is advisable to contact a credit repair attorney and/or a consumer fraud attorney in order to get your desired results and to keep your good credit score safe.

Image: “Credit Dispute” by Cafe Credit – licensed under CC 2.0

My Ex Is Using My Credit Cards after Our Divorce!

Unfortunately, divorce almost always brings with it some degree of contention. Regardless of what the former couple disagrees about, it usually comes down to a “he said, she said” type of dispute.

Sometimes, however, there is legal recourse for post-divorce behavior that simply crosses the line. Take, for example, a woman who, upon setting out to clean up her credit report and boost her score, discovered that her former husband had been using her credit cards quite liberally well after they split up.

While, yes, there can be a bit of ambiguity when it comes to using shared cards in the time period after a married couple decides to part but before the Final Judgement of Divorce has been entered, the law speaks loud and clear after the divorce is final.

Any use of your ex-husband or ex-wife’s credit cards (that are in his or her name only) after you divorce is specifically disallowed. In fact, it’s against the law and reeks of identity theft.

Do some married couples use each other’s credit cards while they’re married? They do – even if the credit card in question is not a shared card and only officially “belongs” to one party. This is legal if the non-card-holder is named as an authorized user on the account.

Example: Husband goes out of town for the weekend and leaves his credit card for his wife to use for shopping. As long as she is an authorized user on his account, this is perfectly legal. However, she must sign her own name on any receipts as opposed to forging her husband’s signature.

Even if you’re currently happily married, it is generally considered unwise for you to utilize your spouse’s credit card (that is in his or her name only) if you aren’t listed as a user of the credit card. Some couples do it anyway because most merchants assume that the cardholder gave permission to the spouse to use their card. Simply calling your credit card company and adding your spouse as an authorized user is easy to do and can eliminate any potential problems.

After you are officially divorced from your spouse and are holding the Final Judgement of Divorce in your hands, there should be exactly zero further use of the other party’s credit card. This is true even if you were listed as an authorized user while you were married. Should your spouse forget to remove your name from their authorized users list, this does not in any way mean that you may continue using your ex’s credit after divorce.

An ex-spouse utilizing your credit card falls under the category of a criminal offense: identity theft. It is no different than a complete stranger stealing and using your credit card(s). If this has happened to you, the next step you should take is filing a police report and sending a copy of the police report to the credit reporting agencies. Working with a credit repair specialist will help you get the debt removed from your card and you may even be successful in making your ex pay for the charges.

Fixing Your Credit to be Pre-Approved for a Mortgage Loan

If your credit score is very low (under 500), you may feel like you’ll never be approved for a mortgage. Owning your own home is a life-long dream for so many people, and luckily, it’s not one that you have to give up. You will, however, have some work to do before you will be granted a mortgage loan.

Anyone who is looking to buy a house in the relatively near future should take a good look at their credit report(s). The higher your credit score is when you’re approved, the better your mortgage rate will be. This can save you hundreds of dollars on your monthly mortgage payment. First, request a copy of your most recent reports from each of the three main credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

As an aside, it’s wise to take a look at your credit report once a year on a regular schedule even if you’re not in the home-buying market.

Once you have a copy of your credit reports, the first thing on your agenda should be scanning it with a fine-tooth comb to check for any errors. This is the easiest way to give your credit score a quick boost.

If you find any errors (debts that are being reported incorrectly, satisfied debts that continue to show up as unpaid, payments marked as late when you paid on time), filing a dispute with the agency whose report contains the error(s) is the next step. Working with a New Jersey credit repair attorney is a good idea if you have errors and a lot of negative marks on your credit report. Your attorney will negotiate with your creditors, requesting forgiveness for lesser offenses like late payments. This “goodwill letter” is frequently an effective approach to jump-starting your credit repair process.

Once you’re sure that any errors have been appropriately dealt with, the following behaviors will give your credit score further boosts to get it up to your “goal range.” Your NJ credit repair attorney will know how much your score needs to increase in order for you to get pre-approved for a mortgage loan.

Make your monthly bill payments early

Even better, if you can make an extra payment each month on your credit cards with the highest balances, you’ll be able to zap your debts faster.

Create a debt resolution plan

In addition to making more than one payment per month, create a plan to pay down all of your existing debt until it’s gone. The lower your credit utilization ratio, the better.

Raise your credit limits

Related to lowering your credit utilization ratio, you can also request a higher credit limit on one or two of your credit cards. Be careful with this tip, though, and only do this if you have the self-control to keep yourself from charging even more purchases.

Consolidate

If you have more than one card with the same lender, keeping your oldest card active and transferring balances from newer cards (and then closing the newer cards), the overall age of your debt will be older, which looks good to credit bureaus.

If you are diligent about reigning in your spending, paying all of your bills early or on time, and taking the steps listed above, it is possible to boost your credit score 50-100 points in six months to one year. Your results will be dependent on your starting credit score and the type and number of dings currently on your credit report.

Before you know it, you’ll be walking out of your lender’s office with a mortgage pre-approval letter!

Will too Many Credit Cards Hurt my Credit Score?

While you may be worried that you have too many credit card accounts open, the truth is that there isn’t a magic number of credit cards that is “right” or “wrong”. With that being said, there are some important things to know about holding multiple credit card accounts at the same time.

The average credit cardholder has approximately 5 to 7 credit cards. This includes open and closed accounts. There is no cutoff number where we would tell you “You have too many credit cards,” because what we are more concerned about is your debt to credit ratio.

What Is a Debt to Credit Ratio?

Essentially, the debt to credit ratio means: how much of your total available credit (on all of your credit cards) have you used? In other words, if you have a total of $10,000 of credit available to you spread out over any number of cards and your current balances add up to $9000, you have a very high debt to credit ratio of 90%.

Why is this number important?

The reason why your debt to credit ratio number is significant is because it plays a big role in determining your credit score. Ideally, you want to keep your total credit card balances at 30% or less of the credit you have available to you.

You can have a really great debt to credit ratio with 10 credit cards (many people open cards in order to take advantage of different “points” systems), and you can also have a poor ratio with only one or two credit cards.

How Can I Improve My Debt to Credit Ratio?

While opening new credit cards would seem like the most logical strategy to increase your total amount of credit available, it is important that you don’t open multiple new accounts in quick succession.This will send up a red flag to credit reporting agencies because it may mean that you are borrowing money that you won’t be able to repay.

Try opening one or two new credit cards per year in order to gradually boost your total available credit. More importantly, make sure that you are paying your monthly minimums (or ideally, more) in a timely manner on a consistent basis. In fact, this is actually more important than your debt to credit ratio number. Your credit score is calculated by looking at a number of your financial habits, your income and your total debt. Approximately 65% of your credit score is based on how well you stay on top of paying your bills.

Additionally, your credit score will improve if you have a variety of types of credit. Credit diversity makes up about 10% of your credit score.

If you feel you have too many credit cards because the balances are way too high and you’re having trouble making payments, your problem lies in your debt to credit ratio rather than how many credit cards you have.

To reduce your total amount of credit card debt, you can choose one of many effective and proven methods. If you have already attempted to reduce your credit card debt and feel like you are drowning in debt you’ll never be able to repay – filing for New Jersey bankruptcy may be an option that you should consider.

Image: “Credit Cards” by Sean MacEntee – licensed under CC 2.0

Do You Understand Your Mortgage’s Fine Print?

Now that the housing/mortgage crisis has begun to level out in most parts of the country, it has once again become a buyer’s market, and this time in a much more reasonable manner. Interest rates are good, but not unbelievably good like they were leading up to the 2007 crisis. As we all know by now: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Just because we’re looking at the US Financial Crisis (2007-2008) in the rear view mirror doesn’t mean that getting a mortgage loan today comes without risks, though. In fact, there is a lot to be learned from the mistakes made a decade ago.

In order to ensure that you aren’t getting yourself into something you can’t handle or something that will change over time (and not in your favor) – you simply MUST have a complete and solid understanding of everything contained in your mortgage agreement.

To most people, this probably sounds like common sense. But have you ever looked at a real, live mortgage agreement? They are very lengthy with a lot of industry jargon that can quickly spin you into a confused puddle on the floor.

Your best bet is to find a New Jersey lawyer with real estate knowledge. Make sure you trust him and his team implicitly – in all likelihood a paralegal may also work with you on real estate matters, so be sure to meet everyone in the office who will be helping you understand your documents.

Questions to have ready for your attorney and/or paralegal include:

  • Is my rate variable or fixed? If the answer is variable, find out the lowest fixed rate that you’ll be able to lock in your loan.
  • Will there be penalties if I have to break my mortgage contract?
  • Am I required to pay mortgage insurance? If so, find out why. You may be able to work with a different lender who will not require mortgage insurance. If mortgage insurance is non-negotiable, be sure to ask how long you’ll be paying it, because it can often be a significant sum.
  • How long does my mortgage loan last? Will different terms lower my monthly payment?
  • What fees am I required to pay up front and are there any fees that were tossed into the total loan amount?
  • Do I have a balloon payment clause?
  • What are mortgage “points?”
  • Is a down payment required?
  • What is my monthly payment?
  • What is my credit score? We left this question until the end for a reason. We wanted to leave you with it on your mind. Finding out your credit score should be one of the first things you do even before you begin applying for mortgage pre-approval.

Your credit score will have a significant impact on the interest rate you will be offered by lenders. If your score is less than desirable, or even “fair”, talk to your NJ real estate attorney and paralegal about waiting to buy a home until you can boost your score into the “good” or “excellent” range. Work with your trusted legal team to raise your credit score. They will also be able to guide you in determining the best time to jump into the real estate market so that you qualify for the best loan options. This will save you a lot of money throughout the length of your mortgage.

 

 

Images: “Chocolates 1” and “Chocolates 2” by Windell Oskay – licensed under CC 2.0

Can I be Evicted Due to my Roommate’s Poor Credit?

Moving in with a roommate can be a great way to split expenses – both rent and utilities. It can also be an extremely fun time in your life as you venture out on your own and begin to explore the world as an adult.

Naturally, deciding to live with someone, whether in your early 20s or later in life, is a big decision and one that must be taken seriously. It’s in your best interest to make sure that the person you choose to live with is trustworthy and easy to get along with. Failure to take the time to find a roommate who meets these criteria can lead to a very miserable living situation.

However, the single most important trait to look for in a potential roommate is financially responsibility. The following “red flags” indicate a deficiency in the money department and should give you significant pause in selecting your cohabitant:

  • Poor credit score (under 620)
  • History of being evicted for non-payment of rent or utilities
  • Frequent moves from one rental to another – This indicates that they may be more likely to break the lease they sign with you.
  • Tells “horror” stories about all past roommates – The whole “it’s not me, it’s them” scenario – if it keeps repeating itself in someone’s life, this is probably not a person you want to live with.
  • Poor references – Ask potential roommates if you can get in touch with someone they used to live with. Today, this can be as simple as a Facebook introduction and a five minute online chat. Look for answers about paying rent, utilities and security deposits as well as paying for any damages that occurred during the length of their lease.
  • Doesn’t hold a steady job or is only employed part-time – Make sure that they pull in more than enough income to pay their portion of the monthly bills.
  • Inability to put down a deposit

If you plan to apply for a joint lease once you find the right roommate, the property owner (landlord) will almost certainly check both of your credit scores. Even if you have a sparkling credit history and a high score, a landlord can decide not to rent to you if your roommate has dings on their credit report.

Typically, landlords won’t turn away potential renters who only have a few dings in their credit history, but if your roommate is saddled with a significant amount of debt, their credit score has likely suffered because of it.

Perhaps you already have an apartment rental and you want to take on a roommate without adding their name to the lease. Depending on the language of your specific lease agreement, you may be required to add any official occupants’ names to the lease. If this is the case, your new roommate’s credit score can prevent them from joining you in your rental.

Knowing that your possible bunkmate has a dubious financial history, you may be tempted to lie by omission and have them “move in” without officially telling your landlord. While this may temporarily avoid a credit check, it may end in disaster if your landlord discovers your covert roommate. If this happens, you and your undisclosed roommate will likely be evicted for failure to follow the rules set out in the lease agreement.

If you feel that you have been evicted unjustly, you should make yourself aware of your rights as a New Jersey tenant.

 

Image: “Moving Day Boxes” by Nicolas Huk – licensed under CC by 2.0