12 million people are about to get a credit score boost — Here’s why

Some serious tax liens and civil judgments will soon disappear from millions of credit reports, the Consumer Data Industry Association announced this week. As a result, millions of consumers could see their FICO scores improve dramatically.

The CDIA, the trade organization that represents all three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — says they have agreed to remove from consumer credit reports any tax lien and civil judgment data that doesn’t include all of a consumer’s information. That information can include the consumer’s full name, address, Social Security number, or date of birth. The changes are set to take effect July 1.

Roughly 12 million U.S. consumers should expect to see their FICO scores rise as a result of the change says Ethan Dornhelm, vice president of scores and analytics at FICO. The vast majority will see a boost of 20 points or so, he added, while some 700,000 consumers will see a 40-point boost or higher.

Even a small 20-point increase could improve access to lower rates on financial products for these consumers.

“For consumers, the news is all good,” says credit expert John Ulzheimer. “Your score can’t go down because of the removal of a lien or a judgment.”

The change will apply to all new tax lien and civil-judgment information that’s added to consumers’ credit reports as well as data already on the reports. Ulzheimer says consumers who currently have tax liens or judgments on their credit reports that are weighing down their credit scores will be able to reap the rewards of removal almost immediately

“The minute the stuff is gone, your score will adjust and you’re going to find yourself in a better position to leverage that better score,” says Ulzheimer.

But, importantly, he notes that just because credit reporting bureaus will no longer count tax liens or civil judgments against you, it does not mean they no longer exist at all. Consumers could still be impacted by wage garnishment and other punishments associated with the liens and judgments.

“This is the equivalent of taking white-out and whiting it out on your credit report. You can’t see it any longer, but you still have a lien, you still a have a judgment,” Ulzheimer says.

Solution to a longstanding problem

Many tax liens and most civil judgments have incomplete consumer information.

The changes are part of the CDIA’s National Consumer Assistance program that has already removed non-loan-related items sent to collections firms, such as past-due accounts for gym memberships or libraries. The program also has set a 2018 goal to remove from credit reports medical debt that consumers have already paid off.

“Some creditors may have liked having inaccurate credit reports, as long as they were skewed in their favor. That’s not the way the system is supposed to work. This action is just one more proof that the CFPB [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] works, and works well, and shouldn’t be weakened by special interest influence over Congress,” says Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

The move is likely the result of several state settlements and pressure from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal financial industry watchdog.  Beginning in 2015, the reporting agencies reached settlements with 32 different state Attorneys General over several practices, including how they handle errors. The CFPB also released a report earlier this month that examined credit bureaus and recommended they raise their standards for recording public record data.


Time to start shopping for better loan rates?

High credit scores can lead to long-term savings. Borrowers who expect their scores to improve as a result of these changes may find better deals if they can wait a few months to buy a new house, refinance a mortgage, or purchase a new car. Even a 10-point difference can lead to lower rates on loans.

If you expect the credit reporting changes might benefit you, Ulzheimer suggests holding off on taking out new loans or shopping for refi deals, such as student loan refinancing.
“Let it happen, pull your own credit reports to verify the information is gone, then take advantage of the higher scores,” Ulzheimer says.

Ulzheimer also says the changes may not be permanent. “There is a possibility that if the credit reporting bureau is able to find the missing information, the negative information could reappear on consumer credit reports,” he says.

There isn’t anything in the law that forbids the reporting of liens and judgments anymore, and lenders can still check public records on their own to find missing information.

Ulzheimer says if he were the CEO of a reporting agency, that’s exactly what he would do.

“I would embark on a project to get this information immediately back in the credit reporting system,” he says, then adds all he’d need to do is find an economic way to populate the missing data.

“From a business perspective, I would do it in a New York minute. Because I would immediately have a competitive advantage over my two competitors,” says Ulzheimer.

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5 Basic Credit Lessons to Teach Your Kids

Your parents may have prepared you as best they could for the financial realities of adulthood, or they could have left you to figure it all out for yourself. But if you were taught the basics of finance and credit before you left the nest, you may have encountered less of a learning curve than your clueless counterparts. No matter your level of understanding, you likely have to do some learning yourself.

But now, if you’re the parent, one of your priorities is to prepare your kids for adulthood. Just as you would teach your children to dress themselves, ride a bike or do their laundry, you may want to impart lessons about credit to them to help them become successful and financially independent.

Here are five credit lessons you may wish to impart.

1. It’s Important to Regularly Check Your Credit Reports & Credit Scores

Credit reports and credit scores may seem like abstract concepts to teach your children. But you can use simple metaphors. School-age children can understand the concepts of grades and report cards, and these concepts apply to credit. The work you put into your credit is reflected in your credit report and credit score, which “grade” your performance. These grades can then be used to help you get “rewarded,” like by getting the best rate on a credit card or a loan, like for a car or home. (You can check out your free credit report summary on Credit.com, which includes grades on how you’re doing in the five key areas that make up your scores.) This brings us to our next lesson …

2. Credit Affects Their Life

Once your child understands the concept of a credit report and credit score, you can demonstrate how credit has affected your lifestyle. Many of your possessions — your home, car or credit card, for instance — were obtained using credit, and are examples of the power of credit. Of course, credit is not just a way to get “things.” It’s a tool that can help provide shelter, comfort and freedom.

3. There Are 5 Main Influencers of Credit

As your kids get older and have a firmer grasp on these concepts, they may be able to better understand how they can make credit work for them. You can show them credit is determined by five main factors:

  • Payment history
  • Debt usage
  • Age of accounts
  • Types of accounts
  • Credit inquires

If you own credit cards, have loans and monitor your credit report, you have teachable moments built into your financial routine. When your children are old enough, you can involve them as you pay a bill or check your credit report, explaining the process as you go.

4. Mistakes Can Cost You

Mistakes can be valuable life lessons for young people. But when it comes to credit, mistakes can be costly and their effects can be long-lasting. One late payment can cause your credit score to drop dramatically. And negative items such as accounts in collections and judgments can stay on your report for at least seven years. To a young person, seven years can be a long time to have difficulty obtaining loans or credit cards. You can also show them how errors on your credit report can be fixed by using this guide.

5. Credit Cards Are Merely Tools

Credit cards are not a magic wand for reckless spending, but they are also not inherently risky items to be avoided. They are tools. They can be invaluable to build credit and financial independence, but they can also be damaging if wielded incorrectly.

It’s no secret that young people can have trouble with impulse control. But you may want to impart that credit cards can be used responsibly or irresponsibly. The results will depend on the user.

Image: Liderina

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10 States With the Best Business Credit Scores

It’s no secret that personal credit scores are a barometer of financial strength. The better your score, the easier (and cheaper) it is to get things like a mortgage or car loan. But, did you know small business owners have a separate business credit score for their company?

The two scores share commonalities, both impact a business owner’s ability to get financing, but they also have surprising differences.

While personal and business credit scores are both influenced by region, new data from Nav.com reveals other factors, like local policy climate, can impact business credit scores. Nav used data from 15,500 of its small business customers to calculate the average business credit score for each state to find the top 10.

Business Credit Score 2017 Rankings

So, what is a solid business score? Unlike personal credit scores, the business credit score range is much smaller. Most models range from 0 to 100. The higher the score, the better. Each of the 10 states with the best business credit scores have scores of 45 or above — putting them in the low- to medium-risk range. Business owners with scores in this range will find it easier to qualify for loans and trade credit with more favorable terms.

If you own a business in a northern state, your business credit score is more likely to outshine the rest of the country. Eight of the 10 states with highest average business credit scores are located where snow can regularly fly, with one “roll tide” exception.

10. Michigan: 45.0

Michigan snuck into the top 10 with an average business credit score that makes it easier for business owners to get an affordable loan. The state ranks higher for business credit scores than it does for personal credit, where its 675 is almost equal to the national average. Its business score nearly mirrors its 12th place ranking for policy climate according to the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council).

9. Maine: 45.7

Maine business owners enjoy both stronger than average business and personal credit scores. This is a winning formula for success, as both scores can be used by business lenders to get business financing. Its strong business credit score flies in the face of the SBE Council’s low, number 44 policy climate ranking, which is a surprising, recurring theme in our list .

8. Alaska: 45.7

The “great white north” trend continues, as Alaskan business owners maintain higher business credit scores than most of the country. Unlike others on the list, Alaska’s average personal credit score of 668 falls below the national average and it’s settled in the middle of the pack when it comes to policy climate.

7. Wisconsin: 46.1

It should be easier for Wisconsin entrepreneurs to find the cheese they need to run and grow their business thanks to a solid business credit score. Their residents also rank fifth in personal credit scores, thanks in part to having the lowest credit card delinquency rate according to TransUnion data. The state ranks below average for policy climate, but it doesn’t seem to be holding Wisconsin back.

6. Utah: 46.3

Talk about a state with business tailwinds. Utah’s business credit score is among the nation’s best, its personal credit score of 679 is above average, and its policy climate is comes in at No. 11. It’s no wonder why the beehive state consistently ranks tops in business growth.

5. Oregon: 47.3

Like others on the list, Oregon shows that strong personal credit health can translate to good business credit scores. The state’s top five ranking means its business owners with strong scores can negotiate better payment terms for goods and services from suppliers, like net-60 or net-90 day terms. Like Maine, Oregon ranks very low on the SBE Council’s policy index rating, but its business owners’ credit scores are thriving.

4. Alabama: 47.6

Alabama is the only southern state that cracked the top 10 list—although it has the 5th-worst personal credit score average in the country. Some of this can be explained by Alabama’s strong No. 9 rank for policy measures and costs that impact small business. Strong business credit scores will help most Alabaman companies, but for younger companies (under 2 years in business), business lenders will heavily weigh personal credit scores.

3. Nevada: 48.8

Nevada hit the business credit score jackpot, beating out all but two other states in the nation. It also ranks number one in the SBE Council’s policy index, which should mean that business owners there are less burdened by regulations and taxes. Despite those solid rankings, and reflecting the boom or bust persona of Las Vegas, it also has the third-worst personal credit in the country. For  business owners with strong enough business credit scores and financials, they may be able to overcome personal credit flaws when applying for lending.

2. Iowa: 49.2

Iowa may be first in the nation to pick the Presidential candidates, but it narrowly missed out on pole position for business credit. Business owners here also have the added benefit of strong personal credit, where it ranks in the top 10. Having strong credit scores in both categories can help the state’s entrepreneurs qualify for the money they need to expand — which should come in handy as Iowa’s economy is predicted to expand through 2017.

1. Vermont: 51.7

Like maple syrup on pancakes, Vermont’s business credit is sweet. Its average score takes the top spot in the country and it is the only state that cracks the 50 mark, signifying a lower credit risk. Again, we see that the SBE Council’s policy index ranking doesn’t necessarily correlate with business credit health, as Vermont ranks near the bottom on their list. The state’s stellar business credit score, combined with personal credit that ranks No. 2 in the country, makes for business success. Entrepreneurs in the Green Mountain State with strong business credit are most likely to secure affordable funding, with the best terms.

Considering U.S. small businesses produce 46% of GDP, their success can ripple across the entire economy. That success typically depends on access to affordable capital. One way you can set yourself up to qualify for the best funding is by maintaining a strong business credit profile. Low scores are the number one reason business financing applications get denied. You can get your free business credit scores, along with your personal credit scores, by visiting Nav.com.

A list of business credit score rankings for every state, maps, trends and methodology for Nav’s 2017 State Business Credit Snapshot are available here. Personal credit data was sourced from Experian’s 2016 State of Credit report.

Editor’s note: You can get a snapshot of your personal credit by taking a look at your credit report summary on Credit.com. This provides you with your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, plus a review of the five key areas that affect your scores.

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9 Signs You’re on Your Way to a Perfect Credit Score

Because we get it: Sometimes you just have to have that A-plus.

Hey, there, overachiever. Are you really trying to attain a perfect credit score? Here’s the thing: You don’t need to. Any score over 760 will pretty much net you a lender’s best rates and terms. Plus, even if you do score that elusive 850, you probably won’t keep it for long. Credit scores are mercurial: They change as new information hits your credit report or, most notably, as your loan balances go up and down. (Translation: Perfection is fleeting.)

But we get it. Sometimes you need that A-plus. So, in the interest of indulging your financial dreams, here are nine signs you could one day see a perfect credit score.

1. You’ve Never Missed a Loan or Credit Card Payment …

Payment history is the most important factor of credit scores, accounting for 35% of most popular scoring models. Plus, one little slip can do big damage once it hits your credit report — and it can stay on record for up to seven years. In other words: Don’t expect to see the highest score ever if you’ve missed a payment (or two) in that time frame.

2. … Or Any Other Bill’s Due Date for That Matter

Sure, utility companies, doctors, gyms and other service providers don’t routinely report missed payments to the credit bureaus, but collection agencies do. And, if you leave any old bill unattended long enough, that’s where the debt might end up, with a credit score fall to follow.

3. Your Debt Levels Are Virtually Non-Existent

The rule you commonly hear involves keeping the amount of debt you owe below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your total credit limit(s), particularly when we’re talking credit cards. If you’re trying to achieve credit perfection, you’ll want to focus on the ideal part.

Expert Intel: It’s a bit of a misnomer that you need to carry debt to build credit — you simply need to have credit accounts on the books that are being managed responsibly. So, for instance, someone could conceivably build a good credit score with a single credit card they pay off in full each month. People with 850s tend to have more than one loan on the books (more on this in a minute), but you’ll be best served in the long run by adding financing as you truly need (and can afford) it.

4. You’ve Had Good Credit for a While …

There’s a reason older demographics tend to have higher credit scores: Credit history, or the length of time you’ve been responsibly using credit, accounts for 15% of most scores. Technically, though, this category doesn’t have anything to do with your age. Instead, your credit history “starts” when you open your first credit account.

5. … But Haven’t Applied for Any New Loans Recently

That’ll boost your credit history, which also factors in the average age of your credit accounts. Plus, loan applications generate credit inquiries, which can ding your score for up to one year and hang out on your credit report for up to two. (More on how long stuff stays on your credit report here.)

6. You’ve Got a Mix of Credit Accounts on the Books

Credit scores give you maximum points for responsibly managing different types of credit. That’s why having, say, a mortgage, an auto loan and a credit card (or two) — all in good standing — tends to be a common characteristic of people in the 850 club. In technical terms, this means you have revolving lines of credit, like a credit card, and an installment loan, like that mortgage, on the books.

7. Your Public Record Is Clean

Judgments and liens can wind up on your credit file, though there are indications that will soon be changing. For now, though, a matter of public record could wind up hurting your credit score.

8. Your Credit Report Is Error-Free

Credit report errors can happen for a number of reasons and most misinformation will needlessly harm your credit. To achieve perfection, your file needs to be pristine — which you can help to ensure by diligently pulling your free annual credit reports from each major credit reporting agency and disputing any error you see.

9. You Keep a Compulsive Eye on Your Standing

You know the old adage “if a tree falls in a forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, the same can be said about an 850 credit score. You’ve got to play all your credit cards right, and then you’ve got to be lucky enough to check your score at the precise moment perfection strikes. (Like we said earlier, that 850 probably isn’t going to stick around for long.) Fortunately, you can view two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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This Is the Single Best Thing You Can Do for Your Credit Score

Are your credit scores stuck, even though you do most of the obvious things right? You pay your bills on time (payment history accounts for 35% of your scores), you don’t often open new accounts (inquiries make up 10% of your scores) and you’re not recovering from a bankruptcy or default. Yet you still struggle to get your credit scores into prime range.

“There is no magic bullet for credit scores. You’ll have to shoot twice,” said Rod Griffin, director of Public Education at Experian. “First, pay on time, every single time. The second bullet is utilization.”

Your credit utilization, and taking steps to lower it, could be the key to better credit scores. (If you’re curious about how you’re doing, you can view two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)

What Is Credit Utilization?

Utilization is the amount of debt you have in relation to your total credit limit. So, for example, if you have one credit card with a $1,000 limit and your balance is $500, your utilization is 50%. Credit experts recommend keeping your credit utilization at 30%, ideally 10%, of your total credit limit. (More on that later.)

In most cases, only revolving debts — not debts paid in installments, like mortgages and auto loans — contribute to your utilization ratio. (Find out more about revolving debt here.)

The reason revolving debt counts against your score is that can indicate risk. The credit industry tends to assume consumers who use a higher percentage of their open credit are more likely to fall behind financially.

“A higher utilization rate means a higher risk, which has a greater impact on your credit scores,” Griffin said.

Why Does Credit Utilization Matter?

Credit utilization is a critical element of credit scores, and credit scores lead directly to credit opportunities. Consumers with lower scores won’t qualify for the best credit products available. The credit products that are available to people with lower scores generally have higher interest rates, lower limits and fewer benefits.

“Credit scoring doesn’t look at money. Income and assets, odd as it sounds, have no bearing on whether or not you’ll pay your bills on time. Credit scoring shows the likelihood that the person will pay the debt back as agreed,” Griffin said.

Because of this, it can be very tough to achieve a top credit score if your utilization is very high, even if your debt is low.

How to Lower Utilization & Still Use Your Credit Cards

If you use credit cards, find out when your issuer reports your utilization ration and make sure you pay your balance off beforehand. It can sometimes be before your payment is due each month.

“If you don’t pay before the date the bank reports the information to the credit bureaus, you’ll show a balance,” Griffin said.

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5 Ways Teens Can Start Building Credit Right Now

Here's how you can start establishing credit even before you're 18.

When it comes to building credit, most people start at a disadvantage. It takes credit to build credit, and with no substantial credit history, it’s difficult to qualify for the very credit cards or loans they need to start building credit. And if you’re under 18, you can’t even legally open a credit card in your own name.

Luckily, there are some credit building methods you can use while you’re still in high school — even before you turn 18. Here are a five ways high school students can start building good credit (plus some tips on how to maintain it). 

1. Get a Job 

OK, so getting a job doesn’t directly help you establish credit, but income is a key factor in qualifying for credit, and your job history, just like your credit history usually gets stronger with time. The more experience you have, the better your chances of getting a better, higher-paying job in the future, so get started early (without hurting your academics, of course).

The CARD Act of 2009 requires students and other young adults to demonstrate their ability to repay debt before they can open a credit card account. Having a job will help you do exactly that and strengthens your qualifications for getting a credit card when you’re old enough.

2. Get Added as an Authorized User 

When you’re under 18, one of your options is to get an adult to add you as an authorized user on one of their credit cards. As an authorized user, you can hold and/or use the adult’s credit card, but you won’t be the primary cardholder. The primary card user’s responsible card use can help boost your credit.

“As an authorized user [you] would be able to piggyback off of the more responsible person’s credit,” says Amber Berry, Certified Financial Education Instructor at Feel Good Finances. “Of course, this requires consent from the sponsoring adult because it is the card owner, not the authorized user who is ultimately responsible for making payments.”

This is only a good idea if you and the cardholder both trust each other to use or pay on the card responsibly. You’ll also want to make sure the card in question reports authorized users to the three major credit bureaus. (Still confused about what it means to be an authorized user? We’ve got a full explainer here.)   

3. Get a Secured Credit Card

If you’re already 18, another option for establishing a credit history from scratch is getting a secured credit card. Secured credit cards require a security deposit that dictates your line of credit — for instance, a security deposit of $300 would get you a $300 credit limit. Even though your card is tied to hard cash, you still use it for purchases and make monthly payments just like a normal credit card.

It’s much easier to qualify for a secured credit card, and responsible use will still help you build credit. Card providers may even raise your credit limit or offer you an unsecured credit card after a period of responsible use. You can find some of our picks for the best secured credit cards here 

4. Get a Student Credit Card 

If you’re heading to college soon, another good starter option is the student credit card. Student credit cards have more lenient qualification requirements, have low or nonexistent annual fees and often offer incentives for responsible behavior.  For instance, the Discover it Chrome student credit card offers cash back for good grades, 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in purchases per quarter and a cash back match at the end of the first year.  

5. Use Good Credit Card Habits  

When you do land a credit card, long-term responsible use is necessary to build and maintain your good credit. That includes paying your bills on time, carrying a low balance and paying your balance in full.

“Do your best not to carry a balance on the card. If you carry a balance and pay only the minimum monthly payment, it can take decades or more to pay off the debt,” says David Levy, Editor at Edvisors Network. “Late payments result in late fees, and some credit card issuers will increase your interest rate if you’re late with a payment. Making payments on time will help you build a good credit history.”

As you build your credit, it’s a good idea to monitor your credit reports and credit scores for errors and signs of fraud, which will also help you maintain your hard-earned credit standing. You can get your your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, at Credit.com.

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Collection Accounts Don’t Always Hurt Your Credit for Seven Years

When you fall behind on a bill, you might get charged a late fee and your late payments could be recorded in your credit reports. If a bill goes unpaid for long enough, your creditor may send or sell your account to a collection agency.

The collection agency will then attempt to collect the balance from you — sometimes aggressively — and often reports its possession of your account to the credit bureaus. A new account with the collection agency’s name will then appear on your credit reports, and this can have a significant negative impact on your credit scores.

You might think that paying off the debt clears everything up, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

Generally, if you pay the amount you owe or settle for a lower payment, the collection account on your reports will be updated and marked paid in full, settled, or something similar. The impact of a collection account on your credit scores diminishes over time, and a paid account could look better to creditors than an unpaid account. But like other derogatory marks, the account can remain on your reports for up to seven years and 180 days since the account first became delinquent (your first late payment with the original creditor).

After an account is removed from your credit report, collection agencies can still continue to attempt to collect payment as long as the account isn’t outside the governing statute of limitations (state laws determine how long a creditor can attempt to collect certain debts).

Even so, removing a collection account could improve your credit scores, making it easier and less expensive to open new loans or lines of credit. Here are a few exceptions to the standard timeline and instances when a collection account won’t affect your credit score.

You’re a New York state resident. For current New York state residents, satisfied judgments and paid collection accounts must be removed five years from the date filed or date of last activity, respectively.

The collection account was for a medical bill that your insurance paid. A settlement between New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the three nationwide credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — in March 2015 resulted in new national credit-reporting policies. Now, medical debt can’t be reported to the credit bureaus for 180 days, and medical collection accounts that are being paid, or are paid in full, by an insurance company must be removed from your credit report.

You didn’t have a contractual agreement to pay the debt. Another result of the settlement in New York was that credit reporting agencies can no longer report debts that aren’t a result of a contract or agreement you signed. In other words, if your debt from a parking ticket or library fine gets sent to a collection agency, it won’t be added to your credit reports.

The collection agency agrees to a pay for delete. Also known as pay for removal, a pay-for-delete agreement with a collection agency is an arrangement in which you agree to pay some or all of the amount owed the collection agency and requests the credit bureaus delete the collection account from your reports.

You’ll want to get a written agreement from the collection agency before sending a payment, but this could be difficult because in general a pay-for-delete agreement is considered a little shady. “Right now, the credit reporting standards do not allow for deletion of accurate collections simply because they’re paid,” says credit expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO and Equifax. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, simply that it’s counter to the standards that debt collectors have been given by the credit reporting industry players.”

It requires the collection agency to stop reporting an account that legitimately existed, which may violate the agreement the collection agency has with one or more of the credit reporting agencies.

Midland Credit Management bought your debt. In October 2016, Midland Credit Management, a subsidiary of Encore Capital Group, one of the largest debt collection agencies in the world, announced a new policy.

If MCM bought your debt and you begin payments within three months, and continue making payments until the account is paid off, the company won’t report the account to the credit bureaus (i.e., it won’t appear on your credit reports).

Additionally, if it’s been more than two years since the date of delinquency and you pay the account in full or settle the account, MCM will request the credit bureaus delete the collection account from your credit reports.

The account isn’t yours. If a collection account is on one of your credit reports and you don’t owe the debt, or it’s a type of collection account that meets one of the above criteria for removal, you may be able to dispute the account. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the credit bureaus and data furnishers (such as a collection agency) to correct inaccurate information.

Your lender uses one of the latest credit-score models. You might have paid or settled a collection account and still have to wait for the account to drop off your credit reports. However, if your lender is using the latest base FICO Score, FICO 9, or the VantageScore 3 scoring model, paid or settled collection accounts won’t affect your credit score. FICO Score 8 and 9 don’t consider collection accounts if your original balance was under $100.

However, lenders may use older credit-scoring models, which means a collection account could affect your score for as long as it’s on your credit reports and regardless of the original debt.

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The Latest Way Fraudsters Are Abusing Personal Information

According to a 2016 report from the security firm ThreatMetrix, identity thieves are working a new seam in the identity theft gold mine: online lending.

According to a 2016 report from the security firm ThreatMetrix, identity thieves are working a new seam in the identity theft gold mine: online lending. There is an increase in attacks against providers of alternative lending products.

The reason online lenders have attracted this unwanted attention has to do with the niche they occupy. First, they typically offer smaller loans in the $2,000 to $5,000 range. They differentiate themselves in a crowded market by providing faster turnaround than traditional lenders. It is that speed that makes it an ideal transaction type for the commission of identity theft: Thieves use fake or stolen personal information to apply for funds they can get quickly — before the lenders or potential victims know what’s happened.

I know what you’re thinking: Really? And yes, I am sorry to say it — but very much so: Really. We’re talking about THIS again, because last year fraudsters were able to scam $16 billion from consumers. This is yet another example of how identity thieves abuse people’s personally identifiable information to the detriment of both consumers and businesses. That tells me that we need to keep talking about how to stop being such an easy target.

The New Normal?

There’s a question mark up there because unfortunately curiosity and disbelief are still the most common reactions consumers have when the conversation turns to identity-related crime. Personally, I would add that it boggles the mind people still question the prevalence of the identity theft scourge.

Here’s the deal: Your chances of getting “got” have never been better, whether it’s in a simple credit card fraud scam, a mind-rackingly complex attack on every available crumb of value to be had through the exploitation of your financial reach in the world, or this latest trend where identity thieves target online lenders.

Is it really the new normal? The answer: No, it is not.

There is, in fact, nothing new about it. It’s the plain old vanilla, 100% normal now. The trend began well over a decade ago. If I were being a stickler, the heading would say, “the mind-numbingly old but still not totally understood normal” or “the how can this still be something I have to write about normal.”

When it comes to identity theft, it’s all about your personally identifiable information being in the wrong hands and not so much about what you do to protect yourself. But before you throw your hands in the air and start singing like Madam Butterfly, keep reading.

What You Can Do

With tongue firmly in cheek, one thing you can do is read Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers and Identity Thieves (full and shameless disclosure: I wrote it, and it is now available in paperback).

Since the book came out last year, the problem has gotten much worse. In fact, 2016 brought a new all-time high, with an estimated 15.4 million U.S. consumers becoming victims in one stripe of identity-related crime or another. That’s up from 13.1 million the year before.

You can keep your information from being used by scammers by placing a freeze on your credit. This will make it impossible for anyone to utilize your credit without the authentication to thaw it (including you). In addition, you need to practice what I call in my book, The Three Ms:

• Minimize your exposure. Don’t authenticate yourself to anyone unless you are in control of the interaction, don’t overshare on social media, be a good steward of your passwords, safeguard any documents that can be used to hijack your identity.

• Monitor your accounts. Check your credit report religiously, keep track of your credit score, review major accounts daily if possible. (You can check two of your credit scores for free every two weeks on Credit.com.) If you prefer a more laid-back approach, sign up for free transaction alerts from financial services institutions and credit card companies or purchase a sophisticated credit and identity monitoring program.

• Manage the damage. Make sure you get on top of any incursion into your identity quickly and/or enroll in a program where professionals help you navigate and resolve identity compromises — oftentimes available for free or at minimal cost through insurance companies, financial services institutions and HR departments.

It says somewhere in the Bible that the fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. We learn in the same verse that the wise can go hungry and even the most talented among us can be dirt poor. If the scribes had lived today, they would have added that even the most careful among us can become victims of an identity-related crime.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

Image: Ridofranz

The post The Latest Way Fraudsters Are Abusing Personal Information appeared first on Credit.com.

5 Fumbles That Can Seriously Mess With Your Credit

When it comes to credit, it pays to sweat the small stuff.

Hate to break it to you, but when it comes to your credit, it pays to sweat the small stuff.

That’s because a first fumble can leave a big old blemish on your credit report. And seemingly small missteps can really swing your scores in the wrong direction. Plus, under federal law, negative information can stay on your credit file for up to seven years — 10 years if we’re talking bankruptcy (you can learn more here on how long stuff stays on your credit reports)— and thanks to the agreements most creditors have with the credit bureaus, it can be hard to get certain line items removed ahead of schedule.

But knowledge is power. So, with that in mind, here are five fumbles you should avoid so you don’t seriously damage your credit score.

1. Taking Your Good Credit for Granted

It’s very easy to turn a blind eye to your credit scores, especially if you were at an 850 last time you checked and aren’t looking for any new loans. But it’s important to check your credit reports regularly since errors can crop up unexpectedly. (Here’s what to do if you find one.) Plus, there could be legitimate line items you weren’t aware of (ahem, medical bill) that’ll need addressing.

You can keep an eye on your credit by viewing your free credit report snapshot, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com. You can also pull your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com. If you find your credit score needs improving, consider paying down any high credit card balances, addressing any delinquent accounts and limiting new credit applications until those numbers rebound.

2. Missing Just One Loan Payment

We’ve said it before, but given how important payment history is to credit scores, we’re going to say it again: A first missed loan payment can cause a good credit score to fall by up to 110 points and an average score to fall by up to 80 points. That’s why you’ll want to set up alerts or automatic payments for those monthly bills and, if you do accidentally miss a payment, give your lender a call ASAP. They may be willing to forgive the fumble “this one time.” (P.S. See if they’ll let you skip the late fee, too. Most issuers will accommodate previously perfect customers.)

3. Your Recent Shopping Spree

Retail therapy isn’t going to help your credit much if you charge all those purchases to your credit card — particularly if you can’t even come close to paying them off anytime soon. Credit utilization is the second-most-important factor of credit scores, and, if you’re using more than 10% to 30% of your total available credit limit(s), you can expect your credit scores to take a hit. Keep in mind, too, that credit card interest can quickly accumulate, and the higher your balances climb, the bigger that hit will be.

Be sure to keep your credit card charges to a minimum. And, if you do rack up a big bill, be sure to come up with a solid plan to pay it off. Strategies for getting rid of credit card debt include prioritizing payments (usually by smallest balance or highest annual percentage rate), drafting a new budget to find funds you can put toward your debts or looking into a balance-transfer credit card or debt consolidation loan.

4. An Unpaid Medical Bill

We know. Medical bills are the worst. Half the time you don’t know you have one and the rest of the time, the cost can be hard to cover. But leave any medical bill unattended long enough and it could wind up going to collections — which can end up on your credit reports and do big damage to your credit scores. The same goes, incidentally, for unpaid parking tickets, lapsed gym memberships and even outstanding library fines, so be sure to keep a close eye on your mail. And, if you get an unexpected bill, see if you can negotiate with the creditor or collector before they report it late on your credit reports.

5. That Boatload of Credit Card Applications You Just Filled Out

Sure, credit card churning sounds great in theory. Just think of all those points you can readily rack up. But each credit card application likely generates a hard inquiry on your credit report — and while each one should only cost you a few points, a whole bunch of inquiries in a short time span can really add up. Plus, points aside, the mere presence of too many inquiries can lead to a loan denial. Lenders see it as a sign of money troubles to come, meaning you’ll want to apply for credit cards (and those all-too-alluring signup bonuses) carefully.

Image: Geber86

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5 Big Credit Score Killers & How You Can Avoid Them

It's not just bankruptcy, foreclosure or short sale you and your credit score have to worry about.

Bankruptcy. Foreclosure. Short sale. These are the items that probably jump to mind when you hear the words “credit score killers,” but there are plenty of other line items that can really tank your credit — particularly if your score was stellar at the time they hit your credit report. But knowledge is power — and many credit score crushers can be easily circumvented or ultimately addressed. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

Here are five big credit score killers — and how to avoid them.

1. A First Missed Payment

Blame it on the fact that payment history is the most important factor of credit scores, but, yeah, the first time you go past due, expect your numbers to take a dive. Per a FICO study, a single 30-day late payment can cause a good credit score of 780 to fall 90 to 110 points. An average score of 680, meanwhile, can fall by 60 to 80 points. And that blemish will stay with you for awhile —seven years from when the delinquency occurred, in fact. (Here’s the full list of how long stuff stays on your credit report.)

The good news? If you course-correct, your score should steadily rebound the further you get away from that date. Plus, no guarantees, but there are things you can do to avoid winding up with a missed payment on your credit file in the first place.

How to Avoid a Missed Payment: Set up auto-pay from a linked checking account each month. If that move makes you wary, sign up for alerts that’ll let you know when your bill is about to come due — or whether you’ve just missed one. And, if you do mistakenly skip a due date, call your issuer to make it right. They may be willing to waive the late fee and not report the missed payment to the credit bureaus “just this one time,” especially if you’ve never missed one before.

2. An Error

Because they happen. And more often than you think. Per a 2012 report from the Federal Trade Commission, one in five Americans had an error on their credit reports. Some of these mistakes are innocuous enough — a misspelled name, for instance, won’t drop your score. But a bunch of missed payments that don’t belong to you certainly will, as would new credit accounts used (and abused) by an identity thief.

How to Avoid an Error: You can’t, unfortunately. But you can certainly stay on the lookout for them by regularly checking your credit. If you find an error, be sure to dispute it right away with the credit bureau(s). And, if you’ve got more than one mistake weighing you down, check out our guide to DIY credit repair.

3. A Collection Account

It seems like such a small thing — a $132 utility bill forgotten just after you graduated college. Or a $200 medical bill you thought your insurance had paid. Unfortunately, when it comes to credit scores, a single collection account can be no joke. You could see your score drop 50 to 100 points once one winds up on your credit report — and that account can legally stay there for seven years, plus 180 days from the date of your first missed bill, whether you go on to pay the collector or not. (We say legally because some collections agencies have recently announced changes that could help you get collection accounts off of your credit reports sooner than you think.)  

How to Avoid a Collection Account: This can be a bit tricky, we admit (medical bills, in particular), but you’ll want to keep an eye on your mail and resist the urge to ignore any calls from a debt collector. While there are plenty of scammers out there and mix-ups do occur, the debt could prove to be legit. Quick tip: Request written verification to confirm before agreeing or handing out any payments.

Beyond that, keep an eye on your credit reports so you can readily catch any collection accounts that may pop up. And, if you do owe the debt, consider squaring it away. Yes, they can both hang around your credit reports, but scoring models generally weigh paid collections as less than unpaid ones — and some newer models even ignore paid collections entirely.

4. A Maxed-Out Credit Card

Credit utilization is the second most important factor of credit scores, so bumping right up against your credit card’s limit can be problematic, particularly if that’s the only card you’ve got or, worse, you’re maxing out multiple credit cards. Remember, for best credit scoring results, it’s recommended you keep the amount of debt you owe collectively and on individual cards below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your credit limit(s).

How to Avoid a Maxed Out Credit Card: Monitor your credit card statements regularly, so you know exactly how much you’re charging. Consider paying your credit card bill more than once a month in an effort to preclude a big balance winding up on your credit report. Or aim to pay as much off as you can by your statement billing date, not due date, since that’s generally the balance issuers report to the credit bureaus each month.

And, depending on your situation, you could also consider asking for a higher credit limit (say you’re paying off all your bills in full and on time on a starter or secured credit card with a seriously low credit limit). Just note: The request could result in a credit pull, which could lead to a hard inquiry on your credit report, which could ding your credit score. But that small dip could ultimately be offset by the increased credit limit — so long as you don’t use it, of course.

5. A Tax Lien

No, Uncle Sam isn’t in the habit of reporting your full payment history to the credit bureaus. But leave that government debt unpaid long enough and you could wind up with a tax lien on your credit report, which will do big damage to your credit score. Generally, the Internal Revenue Service will file a tax lien automatically if you owe them $10,000 or more.

How to Avoid a Tax Lien: Be sure to pay Uncle Sam. But, more pointedly, if you’re saddled with a tax bill you can’t afford, contact the IRS to see if you can work out a payment plan. If a tax lien is filed against you and you later pay the balance due, take steps to have the lien withdrawn from your credit reports. You can do this by filing IRS Form 12277.

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