Out with the old and in with the new! It’s the time of year everyone gets the declutter bug.
Decluttering your credit report of incorrect and outdated information can give your credit score a boost and begin to pave the way to better credit habits throughout the year. Follow these simple instructions to help you review and tidy up your credit report as the New Year begins.
1. Get a free copy of your credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com
There are lots of companies out there offering free copies of your credit report, but www.annualcreditreport.com is the only website recognized by the federal government and all 3 credit reporting agencies. Choose one of the 3 credit reporting agencies to start with (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) and use your other free reports later when you are following up to make sure corrections have been made.
2. Check your entire report for accuracy
Before you roll up your sleeves and start digging into the financial part of your credit report, verify the basics first. Check the spelling of your name, social security number, birthdate, current and prior address, and all other personal information. These bits of information are the foundation of your credit file… an error here may signal serious errors throughout your report.
Now carefully check each section of your credit report. If anything looks unfamiliar to you, highlight it for further investigation. Remember, the name on a department store or hospital may be different from the name of the financial institution managing their accounts.
The online legal encyclopedia website www.nolo.com has a very thorough checklist for how to check through the financial sections of your credit report.
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3. Be on the lookout for old information
Your credit report has a built in renewal system. Negative records are supposed to drop off after 7 years, but it’s not perfect. If you see any negative items more than 7 years old, or 10 years for Chapter 7 Bankruptcies, highlight them as needing attention.
4. Duplicated accounts are a problem
Duplications often happen when a delinquent account is sent to collection and the original balance doesn’t get deleted from your credit report. If the collection account is sold again, both can still remain, seemingly to triple your debt load!
5. If you find mistakes… (and you probably will!)
On average, about 1 in 4 Americans has at least one error on his or her credit report. Finding them is the first step… now let’s do something about it!
Go back over all those highlighted marks you made and divide them up like this:
If the error is related to personal or contact information, someone else’s info on your report, or unfamiliar accounts, contact the credit agency from which you ordered the report.
If the errors are related to account balances, payment status, or old information that should have been removed, contact the lender first.
Start with a simple phone call. You may be asked to submit something in writing or through a contact form online to complete the process. If you have any questions throughout this process, or think you may need help communicating with the credit agencies, please contact us any time.
6. Keep notes and follow up!
As you work through each of the items in question on your credit report, make sure you take good notes, including:
• who you talk to (name, id #, direct extension)
• when you spoke to them (date and time)
• date by which corrections should be completed
Be sure to follow up after the date you expect the corrections to be made. Remember to order another copy of your credit report to get verification. Once a correction is made to one agency, it will reflect on all three. Special Note: when you order a new copy of your credit report from a different agency, be sure to check it over again carefully. You may find errors that appear only on that company’s files!
7. Keep It Clean
Whew! After all this work, you’d be smart to keep your credit report in good shape. It’s really not all that hard…
• Pay your bills on time, every time
• Pay off any small balances, but keep the accounts open and use them at least once a year for a few purchases that you pay off that same month
• Be mindful of your credit mix – try to have both revolving credit (like credit cards) and installment loans (like a car loan)
• Manage your debt ratio appropriately. If all your credit lines are nearly maxed out, you look like a risk to lenders. Try to pay your balances down to 30% or less of your credit limit and keep them there to give your score the biggest bump.
Image credit flickr.com
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