How Much Will One Late Payment Hurt Your Credit Scores?

How Much Will One Late Payment Hurt Your Credit Scores?

You open your statement and discover you’re late on your credit card payment. Or you get a call from a collection agency about a medical bill you forgot to pay. Or you check your credit reports and discover a late payment is marring your otherwise perfect payment history.

What happens if you miss a credit card payment? How do late payments affect your credit scores? Of course, as with so many things related to credit scores, the answer is, “It depends.”

Hope for the Best

Late payments and good credit scores go together like toothpaste and orange juice—they don’t mix. But just how bad is it to miss a single payment?

First, it depends on how many days late your payment is. If you missed your credit card payment by one day, you probably don’t need to sweat it.

If you’re lucky, the lender won’t report the lapse. “Most lenders do not report missed payments until the account is 30-plus days past due,” says Anthony Sprauve, PR director for MyFico.com.

“Suppose a given credit card payment is due on May 15 [and you pay on] May 25. Technically, the payment is late, and fees and interest charges may apply. But in most cases, this late payment would not be reported by the creditor to the credit reporting agencies [CRAs].”

Or perhaps your lender may overlook the transgression. Steve Ely, president of eCredable.com, adds, “The larger creditors [like credit card companies] usually have sophisticated analytic models working behind the scenes that take into account your history of payments. If you’ve been paying on time for a long time, they’re likely to forgive your one late payment and let it slide.”

But Brace for the Worst

What if you don’t luck out and the creditor reports the late payment? Here are three questions that will help you understand the possible impact, according to Barry Paperno, community director for Credit.com:

  1. How long ago did the most recent late payment occur?
  2. How severe were the late payments (30 days, 60 days, charged off, etc.)?
  3. How many accounts on the credit report have had late payments?

“Of these three questions, the one typically having the most impact on your credit score is the first: recency,” says Paperno. “To illustrate, if a single late credit payment occurred a few years ago and all payments on all accounts have been made on time since, that single late payment will have little negative impact on your score.”

How Bad Can It Get?

To put the potential consequences in perspective, Paperno points to a study about credit scoring effects conducted by FICO that points to a scary possibility. “[A] recent late payment can cause as much as a 90- to 110-point drop on a FICO score of 780 or higher.”

Although score drops from late payments tend to rise again over time, these credit dings can remain on your credit report for seven years, according to Paperno. You can expect the effects to last for much of that time.

Sprauve also explains that the impact of a missed credit card payment or late bill on your FICO credit score varies significantly depending upon the individual consumer’s circumstances. He details some of the factors that can help determine how much a late payment will hurt your scores:

  • Any history of account delinquencies or collection references (on any account)
  • Any adverse legal items on your credit report
  • The outstanding balance on the delinquent account
  • The number of other accounts on the file that you’ve currently paid as agreed
  • The length of your credit history

The Bigger They Are, the Harder They Fall

The irony is, the better your credit, the more you may feel the sting. One slipup and your credit score may take a dive—even if you have otherwise stellar credit.

“The old [adage] of ‘the bigger they are, the harder they fall’ applies to credit scores too,” warns Ely. “If you have a really high FICO Score, you’ll take a bigger hit for a late payment than someone with a lower FICO Score.”

The best defense is to be meticulous about paying your bills by the due date. But if you do mess up, see if you can’t convince the lender or collector to remove the ding from your reports. While they may balk at first, you may be able to persuade them to change their mind if you have a good explanation—and they believe you when say it won’t happen again.

What You Can Do

If you’re concerned about how late payments could be damaging your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get two free credit scores updated each month.

[Offer: Bad Credit? The credit professionals at Lexington Law use their legal expertise to help you aim for a better credit profile. Start by getting your credit reports, then connect with Lexington Law’s attorneys and paralegals who will review your credit reports and help you dispute any errors with the credit bureaus. Get started today or call (844) 346-3296 for a free credit consultation.]

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7 Steps to Help You Get Out of Your Rental Lease

security deposit

Whether you’re renting an apartment, house, or duplex, your home ought to feel like a safe place—one that’s comfortable and secure. But what happens if something alters that safe space? Can you break your lease? And what happens if you do—is your credit doomed?

To help you navigate these troubling waters, we’ll cover common reasons tenants want to break their lease and what you should do if you’re ready to break yours.

Common Reasons Tenants Break a Lease

There are a variety of reasons people want to terminate their lease early—but here are just a few that could apply to you.

  1. The rental unit is uninhabitable. A landlord is obligated to perform general property maintenance and ensure the property adheres to health and safety codes. Circumstances that could make a property uninhabitable include the presence of black mold, a lack of running water, or a lack of proper waste disposal.
  2. The landlord illegally entered your rental space. Landlords must provide legitimate reasoning as to why they are entering your home.
  3. You are on active military duty.
  4. You are a victim of domestic violence.
  5. The rental space falls into foreclosure or is illegally rented to you.

What to Do If You Need to Break Your Lease

If you need to get out of your lease, here are seven essential steps.

1. Read Your Lease and Document Everything

Before you take action, be sure to look over your lease. “Read it three times!” says Joel S. Winston, a litigation lawyer at Winston Law Firm, LLC. Your lease should spell out the procedures and penalties for canceling early.

“The lease that you signed and that no one reads—that’s going to control how difficult and expensive it will be to break a lease,” Winston says.

Just don’t make up problems with the property that don’t exist to get out of your current lease. “Try to be open and honest and approach your landlord in a nice and friendly manner,” Winston recommends.

However, if there are problems and you feel the landlord isn’t adequately fixing them, put the complaints and problems in writing. Just make sure you keep a copy of the document for your records. And if push comes to shove, carefully look over your lease for details that cover what happens if you terminate the lease early, including whether you will be held responsible for the entire remaining term of the lease or a lesser amount.

In many states, landlords can’t use the fact that you left early as a windfall. However, if they can only rent the unit at a lower rate than you were paying for the remainder of your lease, you may be required to make up the cost difference. You may also have to pay for the advertising costs to find a replacement tenant.

2. Communicate Thoroughly

Let your landlord know what you want to do and why you want to terminate the lease. Some may be more flexible than others. A large property management company might be unsympathetic to your financial woes, but an individual owner might be more compassionate.

Also, as difficult as it may be, try to think of the circumstances from a landlord’s perspective.

Terminating a lease early may put an owner-landlord into a financial bind, especially if they have to spend time and money securing a new tenant. It’s not out of the question to assist your landlord in finding an adequate replacement, but it’s ultimately their decision.

3. Get Confirmations in Writing

Make sure you get written confirmation of any changes to the lease. If your landlord says you can move out early with a small penalty or no penalty, get that in writing. Never rely on a verbal agreement—otherwise it will be your word against theirs. You may be tempted to keep things cordial and light, but a handshake isn’t going to help you pay off a creditor or debt collector.

Store these written confirmations in a safe place you’ll remember. It won’t do you any good if you can’t find that information when a collection agency contacts you.  And should you end up in collections or in court, the written terms in the lease will likely prevail.

If the landlord won’t budge, won’t put anything in writing, or won’t compromise, you can still create your own paper trail by communicating in writing and keeping a record of the letters you sent.

4. Don’t Forget the Walk-Through

No matter how anxious or excited you are to move out, protect yourself from unexpected charges by doing a walk-through with your landlord and getting a written record of the results. We wouldn’t recommend leaving your rental until you’re able to do this. Should your landlord refuse to do a walk-through, take detailed pictures—or better yet, video—of the property’s status the day you leave.

5. Don’t Make Assumptions

When it comes to breaking your lease, avoid assumptions. Specifically, don’t assume your security deposit will take care of any remaining balance or fees you owe.

“When you are breaching the contract, it doesn’t always entitle the landlord to scoop up your security deposit. For example, in New York, the landlord has to go to the housing court to file a complaint in order to take that.” Winston says.

Similarly, if you live with a roommate and you pay your portion of the rent but your roommate does not, this missing payment has financial repercussions. If you both signed the lease, you are both fully responsible for the entire rent check, regardless of what the two of you have worked out between yourselves. But if your name is the only one on the lease, you may be the one stuck holding the bag.

6. Know That There Are Exceptions to the Rules

You may have legitimate reasons for breaking a lease that aren’t spelled out in the actual lease, like a safety or health reason directly connected to the property.

“Essentially, the ‘warranty of habitability’ is a landlord-tenant legal doctrine requiring landlords to maintain rental real estate in reasonable conditions that are fit for tenants to live safely,” explains Winston.

Winston goes on to say, “The warranty of habitability is accepted law in most every jurisdiction in America. In some states, the warranty has been established by decades of case law (i.e., Implied Warranty). But in other states, the warranty has been expressly established by legislation.”

There may be state-specific laws that allow you to break a lease early. For example, in Washington, one legitimate reason for terminating a lease is the landlord failing to make certain types of repairs within a specific period of time—as long as mold isn’t part of the problem.

7. Get Help

Landlord-tenant laws are state-specific. So it’s a good idea to research your rights as a tenant before signing your name on the dotted line. If you believe a landlord’s actions are illegal, you may be able to get help from legal aid programs, a local housing agency, or a consumer protection attorney in your state.

Understand that even if you do everything right, problems can come up. For example, an unknown balance can wind up in collections and you may not hear about it until the damage to your credit score is done. Or if you terminated your lease early, the leftover balance may be reported to specialty credit reporting agencies used by landlords—and these reports could catch you by surprise the next time you try to rent.

Whatever the reason, keep detailed and legible records of what transpired long after you think you’ll need them—seven years is usually safe. Also, frequently review your credit report and credit scores to make sure you’re aware of any significant changes. You can get two free credit scores updated monthly at Credit.com.
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Thinking of Freezing Your Credit? Learn How and When to Talk to a Credit Bureau

credit bureau

Calling a credit bureau can be daunting. First, you have to hunt down the credit bureau’s contact information, then you have to make it through the dreaded automated customer service purgatory to reach an actual person—if it’s even possible to get a live person at all.

“A lot of people are afraid to call credit bureaus because they don’t want to get bogged down in bureaucracy or be on hold for hours,” says Zara Mohidin, co-founder of Fig Loans.

In addition, there’s often confusion about what answers credit bureaus can provide and when it’s important to call a bureau.

To help you wade through all of the uncertainty, we asked finance industry and credit experts to provide some insight on these topics.

Contact Information: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian

To begin with, it’s important to understand that there are three major credit bureaus, and each is required by law to provide consumers with a toll-free number that’s staffed during regular business hours. The phone numbers for each of the credit bureaus are below:

When to Call a Credit Bureau

It’s a good idea to contact a credit bureau whenever you notice any administrative inaccuracies on your credit report, such as misspelled names, incorrect address information, or erroneous employment information.

Further, if there are credit cards, collections, missed payments, or anything else on your report that you don’t recognize, contacting the credit bureaus is critical.

“Always call the bureaus if you notice a sign of fraud on your credit report,” urges Mohidin, who says one in four consumers have an error on their report that could be pulling their credit score down. “And getting your identifying information correct is important so that you are rewarded for on-time credit payments.”

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit bureaus must investigate any items you dispute and correct the information if it cannot be verified.

“If you disagree with the results of a credit bureau’s investigation, you can ask the bureau to include a consumer statement (to that effect) in your file and your future reports,” explains Freddie Huynh, vice president of credit risk analytics at Freedom Financial Network. These statements allow you to offer extra explanation, such as why you missed a payment.

Additional Reasons to Call

Keep in mind that correcting inaccuracies with one of the bureaus does not mean it will automatically be corrected by the others. It’s important to review the individual reports of all three credit agencies.

Huynh, who was previously the lead data scientist at FICO, stresses that though information is largely similar across all the credit reporting agencies, there can be variations between the reports.

In addition, when disputing something on your report, the burden of proof is on you, says Greg Oray, president of Oray King Wealth Advisors.

“Gather any documents that may help your case and have them available,” says Oray. “If you’re having trouble working with a representative or the reporting bureau to resolve your case, consider hiring a legal service that specializes in these matters.”

If you’d like to freeze your credit, you’ll have no choice but to speak to a credit bureau.

How to Freeze Your Credit

Understanding what it means to freeze your credit is critical, particularly in light of the recent Equifax security breach that exposed the personal information of millions of consumers. 

A credit freeze, also called a credit lock, is a tool that restricts access to your credit report. Taking this step makes it far more challenging for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.

“Placing a credit freeze is similar to putting your credit cards in a bowl of water in the freezer—no one can use the credit until you ‘thaw’ it,” explains Andrew Housser, CEO of Freedom Financial Network. “With a credit freeze, creditors cannot see your credit history. If a scammer tries to open credit in your name, the creditor is unlikely to issue credit without knowing the history attached to your name and Social Security number.”

However, it’s important to note that freezing credit requires contacting each of the three credit bureaus separately.

Freezing Credit with Equifax

Equifax provides detailed instructions about how to place, temporarily lift, or entirely remove a freeze on its site.

Consumers may also request a freeze in writing or over the phone. You can request a security freeze by calling 1-800-685-1111 (NY residents call 1-800-349-9960) or submit your request in writing to the following address:

Equifax Security Freeze
PO Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348

Putting a freeze on your account, or lifting one, requires some personal information, including your Social Security number, address, and more.

It’s also important to note that as part of initiating an Equifax freeze, you will be provided with a PIN during the process. This PIN will not be emailed to you, so make sure you write it down.

Freezing Credit with TransUnion

You can freeze your credit with TransUnion via its website. TransUnion offers two different services on this front—locking your credit and freezing your credit.

Locking your credit via TransUnion is a process controlled by you, and there is no fee. You have instant, independent control over who accesses your credit information. This approach also means you have online, real-time ability to lock and unlock your account as often as you want.

Freezing your credit file with TransUnion means the credit agency controls who has access to your information. There are fees associated with both freezing and unfreezing your credit with TransUnion. In addition, there is a waiting period for a freeze to be either placed or lifted via this approach.

Freezing Credit with Experian

Experian provides an online form to initiate a credit freeze on its website. You can also freeze your credit by calling Experian at 1-888-397-3742 or sending certified or overnight mail to this address:

Experian Security Freeze
PO Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013

While this bureau doesn’t charge victims of identity theft who’d like to initiate a freeze, there are fees for others seeking to take this step with their credit. The fees vary by state of residence and range from about $3 to $10.

What You Need to Know about Credit Freezes

When initiating a freeze, keep in mind that lenders need credit reports to determine if you’re eligible for credit. After your credit is frozen, no one can pull your credit report. That means it won’t be possible to get approved for a loan or credit card in your name.

Credit freezes, however, do not affect your overall credit score in any way and they will not prevent you from accessing an annual credit report.

While a credit freeze can keep identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name, it does not prevent thieves from using your existing accounts. So it’s important to keep monitoring your credit and accounts.

 The Downsides to Calling Credit Bureaus

Not all experts think calling a credit bureau is the best approach. Don Petersen, an attorney, recommends calling a bureau for only basic administrative questions—such as updating an address or asking if you’re affected by a recent data breach.

For most other issues, Petersen advises his clients to write to credit bureaus or submit disputes online.

“The consumer will not have a record of what was said when they called,” explains Petersen. “Most consumers struggle to understand the system and would be much better served by taking the time to memorialize their dispute in writing and, obviously, save a copy of their letter.”

If you do prefer to call a credit bureau to get to the bottom of a question or concern more quickly, Petersen urges consumers to follow up in writing after the telephone conversation. Include the name of the representative you spoke with in the letter as well as details of what transpired in your conversation.

And finally, send the letter via certified mail with a return receipt requested, Petersen instructs.

“Call with very simple questions,” Petersen says. “But if you’re trying to initiate a dispute, it’s best to do it in writing so that you have a record.”

Keep an Eye on Your Credit

Every now and then, pull your credit report and review it carefully—you can obtain your free credit report at Credit.com. Look for any inaccuracies or other issues in the report, and if you spot something unusual, make a few calls to the credit bureaus. Always investigate suspicious activity on your credit report, and if you’re worried about identity theft, mitigate the issue with a well-placed credit freeze.

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Big Changes Coming to Millions of Credit Reports in a Few Days

Millions of people could see their credit scores rise July 1.

Up to 7% of people with credit scores could see them rise beginning July 1 when credit reporting agencies will start excluding most civil judgments and about half of all tax lien data from credit reports.

As announced in March, the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, will start holding public data to new standards. After July 1, any public record data must include a consumer’s name and address, as well as their Social Security number or date of birth, to appear on their credit file, according to the Consumer Data Industry Association.

Who Is Affected?

Most people should see little impact on their credit scores, according to an analysis conducted in March by FICO, the most common provider of credit scores. About 7% of people with FICO scores, or about 15 million of the 220 million Americans with scores, will see a judgment or tax lien removed from their credit files, the analysis said.

Public records like bankruptcies, tax liens and civil judgments typically stay on credit reports for seven years, so those who see these items removed get a long-lasting weight removed from their credit scores.

However, most of the people who have items removed will experience score increases of less than 20 points, FICO said. The reason the increase isn’t greater is because 92% of people who will have tax liens or judgments removed have other negative information on their credit files. To see if the change affects you, you can check two of your credit scores free on Credit.com.

In addition to culling the public record data, the agencies also plan to update their public record information at least every 90 days.

While the credit score increase is relatively modest, it may still be enough to allow people to qualify for loans or credit reports that may have been out of reach before. Most of the people impacted had a median credit score of 565 before the change.

Twenty points above that median puts people in range of a Federal Housing Administration loan with only a 3.5% down payment. The minimum FICO score required for such a loan is 580.

The National Consumer Action Plan

Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are making the changes as part of a 2015 settlement with 31 state attorneys general who were investigating the agencies over the accuracy of credit reports. In response, the agencies launched the National Consumer Action Plan, which aims to make credit information more transparent for consumers.

In addition to the public record data, the plan also prohibits the agencies from including medical debts on credit reports until after 180 days to allow insurance payments to go through. The plan also calls for the bureaus to hire specially trained employees to deal with credit disputes and allow consumers to obtain an additional free credit report if they find an error on their free annual credit report.

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6 Ways to Get Paid What You’re Worth

secure-the-best-salary

Although your net worth isn’t a factor in credit scoring, it does influence your ability to purchase necessities, pay bills and keep your accounts current.

For some professionals, the topic of salary can be more uncomfortable than the interview itself. A Salary.com survey revealed that 18% of job candidates don’t negotiate annual compensation at all, sacrificing the potential for greater earnings and career satisfaction. While there are limits to every job offer, there are a few strategies that could help you in the negotiation process.

1. Improve Your Resume

Learning what skills employers in your industry are looking for is one of the first steps toward earning higher pay. Review open positions online and create a list of common requirements. Research desirable credentials and think about highlighting the skills you have that meet these requirements. You might even consider earning a higher degree or certification to solidify your skills.

2. Avoid Specific Salary Requirements

Do your best to resist the urge to list a specific figure requirement on an application unless pressed. If you must, you might want to write “competitive” or “negotiable” to keep the conversation open. Disclosing your salary history can also lead to fewer bargaining options. In fact, earlier this year, Massachusetts passed state legislation prohibiting employers from considering past salaries in their hiring practices. It’s a good idea to discuss your workplace merits and skills before discussing money.

3. Consider Your Local Market Value

Location is a vital component of earning potential. According to Glassdoor.com, the average salary for a senior-level mechanical engineer in Chicago is $85,601, while the same position in Seattle yields $134,127. Consider cost of living and your own market value during the negotiation process. Your research will help you set realistic expectations.

4. Prepare a Counter-Offer

It’s a good idea to assess your worth and have an amount in mind that you can use for a counter-offer if you don’t like the first offer a company gives you. Make sure you consider base salary, benefits, signing bonuses, vacation time and other perks. It’s a good idea to make the counter-offer higher than what you’d settle for to give you negotiation room. Mutual flexibility is key here.

5. Share Your Ideas

An effective way to demonstrate value is to come prepared with ideas to help productivity. Research the company’s work and create a list of tasks you would like to complete if hired for the role. Early initiative shows enthusiasm and creativity, two qualities worth consideration during salary discussions.

6. Avoid Limiting Your Job Search

Salary negotiation is easier with a little competition. Pursue multiple job openings with the hope of securing more than one offer. It may be helpful to use competing salaries as leverage to land the position you prefer.

Preparing in Every Way

Many employers look at a version of your credit reports as part of the application process. It may not have a direct impact on your salary, but it’s still a good idea to know where your credit stands so you go into every interview as prepared as possible (which will likely only boost your value to your potential employer). You can see where your credit currently stands by taking a look at a free snapshot of your credit report, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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4 Unexpected Items That Can End Up on Your Credit Reports

unexpected-items-on-credit-report

You may already know the common items that appear on your credit reports, like personal identifying details as well as the debts you hold, payments you’ve made and hard inquiries generated whenever you fill out an application for credit with a lender.

But knowing all that, you could still find surprises on your credit report. Even if you are confident you’re building a great credit history, it’s a good idea to check your reports on an annual basis. (You can do this for free once each year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.) Here are four surprising items that can land on your credit reports and affect your credit scores.

1. Hard Inquiries From Service Providers

Hard inquiries usually occur when you apply for a loan or credit card and the lender performs a check on your credit. These inquiries usually only prompt a minor ding on your credit, but too many at once can damage your credit scores.

Hard inquiries can come from other sources, too. Many car rental companies perform credit checks. Cable providers, landlords, phone and utility providers sometimes perform credit checks that cause hard inquiries on your report as well. When signing up for a service, you may want to check if they will be pulling your credit and avoid putting other hard inquiries to your credit reports in the short term.

2. Accounts You Don’t Own

Accounts you never owned can land on your credit report. These accounts could even be in collections. Sometimes these accounts are errors, such as an account belonging to someone with the same name (that would be considered a mixed file). Other times, they could be an identity thief opening accounts in your name and damaging your credit. This is why you may want to check that the items on your credit report actually belong to you. If you do discover any of these accounts, you can file a dispute. (You can read this guide to learn about how to dispute an error on your credit reports.)

3. Forgotten Debts 

Forgotten debts are unexpected for obvious reasons: they’ve slipped your mind. Sometimes, debts can land on your credit reports after several months have passed. Other times, you may have moved and the company never sent a follow-up to your new address. Even old unpaid parking tickets, utility bills and other very small debts can wind up on your credit reports.

4. Accounts You Already Paid Off

If you’ve paid off an account that was in collections, you may have expected that debt to be removed from your credit report, but this doesn’t always happen. Accounts in collections can stay on your credit report for seven years, and could potentially be damaging your credit even once you’ve settled.

If you discover any of these unexpected items on your report and opt to repair your credit, it’s important to remember you can do this on your own or turn to the help of a professional. You can see how your improvements are affecting you by viewing two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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Help! A Payday Debt Collector Says I Owe them Money, But It’s Not On My Credit Report

payday-debt-collector

Yes, there’s such a thing as phantom debt collectors. And, yes, you can get contacted about a payday loan debt you simply don’t owe. Just ask intrepid consumer reporter Bob Sullivan, who received his very own debt collection note after simply reaching out to a payday loan company (and alleged phantom debt collector) for a story.

But if you have taken out a payday loan before and you’re genuinely confused about whether you completely addressed that debt, we have a bit of bad news: you can’t simply take the debt’s absence from your credit report as a sign you don’t have to pay.

For starters, payday lenders don’t typically report to major credit bureaus, like Experian, according to the bureau’s Director of Public Education, Rod Griffin.

In other words, there’s a chance the original loan never made it onto the traditional credit reports you can get for free each year via AnnualCreditReport.com. But that doesn’t mean you don’t owe the purported balance.

“Any debt you enter into contractually you are obligated to repay, even if it doesn’t appear in a credit report,” Griffin said, and ignoring a legitimate debt could have serious consequences.

“If you do not fulfill the terms of the contract, the payday lending company could send the unpaid amount to a collection agency, that could then report the debt to a credit reporting company,” he said. “Another possibility is that the payday lender could file a civil lawsuit to recover the debt. A judgment resulting from a civil lawsuit could also appear in a credit report.”

Something else to note: not all debt collectors report to the credit bureaus either. In fact, it’s not unheard of for some agencies to try to collect on the debt before taking that type of adverse action in an effort to get a debtor to pay. So, again, it’s totally possible for a legitimate debt collection account to simply not appear on your credit file as soon as you start getting calls.

So What’s a Confused Consumer to Do?

Whether you’re sure you owe or not, it’s important to ask whoever is contacting you for written verification of the debt they allege you owe. In fact, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) requires that collectors provide this notice listing the amount of money and the name of the original creditor within five days of contact. Tip-offs that you are dealing with a debt collection scammer include their refusal to provide this type or verification, threats of arrest and a request for payment via less traceable methods, like a wire transfer or prepaid card.

If you discover the debt is legitimate, it still pays to know your rights. Yes, collectors can try to get you to pay money you do owe, but there are restrictions on how they can go about this. For instance, they can’t call too early, too late, use abusive language or make dire threats. (You can learn more about your debt collection rights here.) You can always contact a consumer attorney if you think a debt collector may be stepping over the line.

Settling Debts

Remember, if you do, in fact, owe what they say, it may be a good idea to try to work out a payment plan before the collector pursues further action, like a lawsuit. 

Collection accounts that do appear on your credit report will affect your credit — and unpaid collections can do more damage than paid ones. (You can see how collection accounts may be affecting your credit by viewing your free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com.) Tips for negotiating with collectors or creditors include explaining clearly what you can afford, taking written notes whenever you talk to a collector and getting written confirmation once you agree to a plan.

If a collection account that you don’t owe makes its way onto your credit report, you can dispute its appearance with the major reporting agencies. (Here’s a guide on how to do so.)

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Is It a Big Deal If My Name Isn’t Correct on My Credit Report?

Casual male photo editor using graphics tablet

It’s sometimes entertaining how much people and companies struggle to spell names correctly, and it can result in some hilarious junk mail. (I’m endlessly amused that my father-in-law gets mail addressed to Bawrence or Lawrench. His name is Larry.) But name misspellings aren’t always something to laugh off.

If you pull your credit reports and see something wrong with your name, it could cause you problems or be a sign that someone stole your identity. Even if a name error on your credit report is just that — a mistake — it’s something you should try to fix.

A strange variation in your name could seem suspicious to someone who is manually reviewing your credit reports, like a mortgage lender.

“Is this somebody who regularly uses alternate names to dishonest ends?” Randy Padawer, consumer education specialist with Lexington Law, which represents consumers who want to repair their credit, said. “In a world when creditors aren’t always repaid the money they lend, this might be a cause for concern, even if that concern isn’t too terribly strong.”

First, you want to get your free annual credit reports (like you are already doing on a regular basis, we hope) and review them for accuracy (your names, accounts and everything else). Some variations are perfectly normal, like if you go by Larry even if your full name is Lawrence, but something like an incorrect middle initial or a totally different first name (one you’ve never used) is something to address.

The name variations could be a result of identity theft, a mixed credit file with someone of a similar name or a mere typo. In the case of identity theft, you’ll want to file a police report and monitor your credit for abuse or even freeze your credit to prevent new account fraud. You can get a free credit report summary to help you watch for signs of fraud every 30 days on Credit.com.

To correct information on an account that actually belongs to you, Padawer recommends starting with your credit reports. The name on your account won’t be listed next to the trade line, so you may not be able to tell if one of your creditors is reporting it incorrectly, but you can dispute the incorrect name information. After that’s corrected, consider digging deeper by reviewing your account statements or contacting your creditor to make sure your records are accurate. If disputing the name doesn’t work, you’ll also have to put in a little extra effort to get that fixed.

“You’re going to need to go straight to the data furnisher,” Padawer said. “Ask for a signed copy of the credit application. Ask for full debt validation.” You’re entitled to have your credit report accurately represent your identity, so press the creditor for information on how to correct the name until they do it.

[Offer: If you’re worried about errors on your credit reports, and you don’t want to go it alone, you can hire companies – like our partner Lexington Law – to manage the credit repair process for you. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

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