How Healthy Is Your Credit

There’s only one way to discover the "health"of your credit.You need to examine your credit report.Your credit report is your "consumer identity" that potential lenders will use to judge yourcredit worthiness.

Use these tips to give your credit profile the"tune-up" it needs for 2004.

Tip #1- Check for ErrorsYour credit report or profile is more than just a collection of who your creditors are and how much you owe them or have paid them.

The first thing you need to do is carefully check thatyour credit report is accurate.Nearly 70% of credit reports contain errors.

These errors may be as simple as an incorrect middle initial or address.Or it could be as serious as a creditor reporting that you were late with a payment when in fact you were not late at all.

This error might not seem like a big deal to you.However,to a future lender like a mortgage company it makes a big difference !

Carefully examine your credit report and if you find an error contact your creditor and the credit bureaus.Catchand correct these errors now before it hurts your chancesof securing credit in the future.

Tip #2 – Correcting ErrorsThe two most common errors contained in credit reports are:

1) wrong account information

2) incorrect recording of late payments.

If you find an account reported that does not belong you, you need to contact the credit grantor or issuer immediately.Remember, finding accounts that you have not personally opened is a sign of possible identity theft.

Hopefully you’ll discover that this error is nothing more than an oversight and not an identity theft problem.Most often this occurs when they report an account belonging to a family member or someone with a similar name on your credit report.

If your problem is an error in reporting a late payment you will need proof to back up your case before this error can be corrected or removed.The most common error occurs when a payment is reported as "late" when it was actually a current or "on time" payment.

In either case, the problem can and should be corrected.You will need to correct the error in writing.Keep a journal or log of all calls and correspondence.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the credit bureaus and the agency reporting the information to the credit bureau to correct inaccurate information in your credit report.Therefore, it is important that you contact both the credit bureau and the creditor whose information is in dispute.

A sample letter is included here to help you in correcting your credit profile.Make sure that you clearly identify the information that you dispute, include copies of receipts or documents that support your position.Then request that the information be corrected or deleted from your file.

Send your letter by certified mail and request a return receipt from the recipient.Keep all correspondence that you mail out.Give the agencies involved 30 days to begin their investigation.You can call them but be aware that phoning them does not protect your consumer rights!You must notify them in writing to protect your rights.

They must notify you of the results of their investigation.Although the process will take time, it’s important to do it.This is your credit profile, your "consumer identity" that is at stake.Don’t expect an error to correct itself.

At your request, the credit bureaus must send notices of corrections to your credit profile to anyone who has requested your report in the last six months.If you applied for a job and were turned down because of inaccurate information in your credit report, you can have the corrected report mailed to anyone who received a copy in the past two years.

Sample Dispute LetterDate

Your Name Your Address Your City, State, Zip Code

Complaint Department Name of Credit Reporting Agency Address City, State, Zip Code

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing to dispute the following information in my file. The items I dispute are also encircled on the attached copy of the report I received. (Identify item(s) disputed by name of source, such as creditors or tax court, and identify type of item, such as credit account, judgment, etc.)

This item is (inaccurate or incomplete) because (describewhat is inaccurate or incomplete and why). I am requesting that the item be deleted (or request another specific change) to correct the information.

Enclosed are copies of (use this sentence if applicable and describe any enclosed documentation, such as payment records, court documents) supporting my position. Please reinvestigate this (these) matter(s) and (delete or correct) the disputed item(s) as soon as possible.

Sincerely, Your name

Enclosures: (List what you are enclosing)

Tip #3 – Budget PlanningYou can also use your credit report to help you plan and implement a personal budget.Your credit report will show you where you are spending your hard earned dollars.While the credit card balances may not be completely current, you’ll still see which of your cards has the highest balance outstanding.

If you have more than one major credit card you should compare the annual percentage rate (APR) you are paying on each account.If you are working on a budget to "pay down" your credit cards, start by paying down the one with the highest APR or interest.

Once that credit account is paid off, move toward paying off the account with the second highest APR.Using this method you will be able to concentrate your efforts toward paying down your outstanding credit obligations.

You should also check with your credit card company to see what’s the best annual percentage rate (APR) they can offer you.If you are a good customer, you can often qualify for a lower rate than what you are currently being offered.

Caution:Ask if the new rate you are getting is a "promotional" rate or a "contract" rate.A promotional rate will expire at the end of the promotional term, for example 6 months.A contract rate does not have an "expiration" as long as you continue to meet the terms outlined by your creditor for that rate.

Tip #4 – Making a major purchaseIf you are considering a major purchase such as a car or a home, checking your credit report gives you the chance to see what a potential lender sees and uses to judge your credit worthiness.

You want to make sure that your credit report is accurate before you apply for that sports car or new home.Errors or problems can be corrected before your lender can use those against you and deny your credit request.You’ll also have a better idea of what type or rate of credit you should expect from a potential lender.

Tip #5 – Check your credit report regularlyCheck your credit report regularly.Guard your "consumer identity" as you would anything else you treasure.Use your credit wisely, along with these tips, and you will enjoy the benefits that your good credit and your good name deserve now – and for years to come.

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