FICO vs. VantageScore: 5 Differences You Should Understand

new-fico-score

When you think credit score, you probably think FICO. Since the Fair Isaac Corporation introduced its FICO scoring system in 1989, “What is my FICO score?” has become a common question. FICO scores have burrowed their way into all kinds of lending decisions, most notably mortgages, credit cards, and rentals.

But over the last decade or so, FICO’s market dominance has been challenged by a newcomer called VantageScore. As the result of a collaboration between the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs)—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—VantageScore uses similar scoring methods to FICO but with slightly different results.

So what are the differences, and more importantly, do they really matter to you, the consumer? The short answer: usually no. But you might want to look at different scores for different needs or goals.

In this article, we’ll cover the five main differences between FICO and VantageScore and tell you which one to watch.

1. Difference in Scoring Models

FICO and VantageScore aren’t the only scoring models on the market. Lenders use a multitude of scoring methods to determine your creditworthiness and make financial decisions. But despite the numerous options, FICO and VantageScore are likely the only scores you’ll ever personally see.

How do FICO and VantageScore rate you? Both use the same basic criteria:

  1. Payment history
  2. Length of credit
  3. Types of credit
  4. Credit usage
  5. Recent inquiries

Although both FICO and VantageScore consider much of the same information, they gather their data in different ways.

FICO bases its scoring model on credit reports from millions of consumers at once. They gather these reports from the three major credit bureaus and analyze the reports’ anonymous consumer data to generate an accurate scoring model.

Alternatively, VantageScore uses a combined set of consumer credit files, also obtained from those same three credit bureaus, to come up with a single formula.

Both FICO and VantageScore issue scores ranging from 300 to 850. In the past, VantageScore has used a range of 501 to 990, but the range was adjusted when VantageScore 3.0 was issued in 2013. VantageScore’s numerical rankings now match FICO’s, which makes it easier for consumers and lenders to implement the VantageScore model—plus, it’s less confusing for consumers who check both their FICO score and VantageScore.

2. Variance in Scoring Requirements

If you don’t have a long history of credit, VantageScore is the score you want to monitor. Before it’s able to establish your credit score, FICO requires at least six months of credit history and at least one account reported to a CRA within the last six months. VantageScore only requires one month of history and one account reported within the past two years.

Because VantageScore allows a shorter credit history and a long period for reported accounts, it’s able to issue credit ratings to millions of consumers who wouldn’t qualify for FICO scores. Considering how everyone from employers to landlords want to see your credit score these days, if you’re new to credit or haven’t been using it recently, VantageScore might be able to prove your trustworthiness before FICO has enough data to issue a rating.

3. Significance of Late Payments

A history of late payments will impact both your FICO score and your VantageScore. Both models consider these factors:

  1. How recently the last late payment occurred
  2. How many of your accounts have had late payments
  3. How many payments you’ve missed on an account

However, while FICO treats all late payments the same, VantageScore judges them differently—it penalizes late mortgage payments more harshly than other types of credit.

If you’ve had late payments on your credit cards, they will have about the same impact on both your FICO and your VantageScore. But if you’ve had late payments on your mortgage, you might find you have a higher FICO score than VantageScore.

4. Impact of Credit Inquiries

You’ve probably heard you shouldn’t open too many credit cards in a short period of time. One reason for this is every time you apply for a credit card, the lender does a “hard inquiry” to check your creditworthiness.

VantageScore and FICO both penalize consumers who have multiple hard inquiries in a short period of time, and they both do “deduplication.” Deduplication is important for things like auto loans, where your application may be sent to multiple lenders, thereby resulting in multiple inquiries. Both FICO and VantageScore don’t count each of these inquiries separately—they deduplicate them, or consider them one inquiry.  However, the timespan they use for deduplication differs.

FICO uses a 45-day span to deduplicate your credit inquiries. VantageScore limits its focus to only a 14-day range. VantageScore also looks at multiple hard inquiries for all types of credit, including credit cards. FICO considers only mortgages, auto loans, and student loans.

Inquiries aren’t your biggest concern when it comes to your credit score, but they do have an impact. If you want to buy a house or a car, restrict hard inquiries as much as possible to avoid lowering your credit score.

5. Influence of Low-Balance Collections

VantageScore and FICO both have penalties for accounts sent to collection agencies. However, FICO might give you a bit more of a break when it comes to low-amount collection accounts.

FICO ignores all collections where the original balance was under $100. It also doesn’t count collection accounts you’ve paid off. VantageScore, on the other hand, ignores only paid collection accounts, regardless of the original balance amount.

Keep Your Credit High

Regardless of the differences between FICO and VantageScore, the essential advice for keeping your credit score high remains the same:

  • Avoid late payments. Pay your bills, and pay them on time.
  • Keep your credit balances low. Don’t max out your credit cards, and try to keep your cumulative balance to less than 30%—the lower the better.
  • Apply for new credit only when you have to. Don’t open a bunch of new cards in a short period of time, and don’t close old accounts without good reason.

Check Your VantageScore Monthly

You can get a free VantageScore 3.0 credit score, updated monthly, from Credit.com. You can also see how your score compares to others and get a custom action plan for your credit. Remember, every point counts when it comes to getting the best interest rates and lending terms.

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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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What Credit Score Do I Need to Buy a Car?

What Credit Score Do You Need to Get An Auto Loan?

If it’s time to purchase a new vehicle, you may be wondering about one obstacle that could get in your way: your credit. Maybe you’re unsure how good your credit is and you don’t know what credit score is needed to buy a car either.

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to this question. No matter your credit score, you can probably find a way to finance a car loan if you absolutely must buy a new vehicle. The real question is what your credit score will cost you when you make the purchase. The better your credit score, the better your chances of getting a cheaper rate.

So while there’s no minimum credit score for a car loan, your credit history can make a big difference.

Bad Credit Scores Mean Much Higher Interest Rates

According to data from Experian Automotive, the difference in interest rates on a new car loan for someone with excellent credit versus someone with very poor credit is over 11 percentage points. In fact, 2.84% was the average interest rate someone with a super-prime (excellent) credit score paid in the first quarter of 2017, while those with deep subprime (very poor) credit paid an average interest rate of 13.98%.

To illustrate this difference, consider that you apply for a 60-month loan on a car that costs $25,000. With a 2.84% interest rate, the total cost of your car would be $26,847 with payments of $447 per month. Not too shabby.

For the same loan but an interest rate of 13.98%, your car loan would cost you $34,887, and you’d pay $581 per month. That’s more than $8,000 extra! Clearly, poor credit can result in you paying a lot more for your new vehicle.

The difference was even starker for those financing used cars. Those with super-prime credit paid an average rate of 3.56%, while those with deep subprime credit paid an average of 19.62%—more than 16 percentage points higher.

Average New Car Loan Rate by Credit Score (Q1 2017)

  • Super-prime (781–850): 2.84%
  • Prime (661–780): 3.77%
  • Nonprime (601–660): 6.60%
  • Subprime (501–600): 11.05%
  • Deep subprime (300–500): 13.98%

Note that the credit labels above represent Experian’s credit ranges. Other credit reporting agencies use different scales and labels.

Average Used Car Loan Rate by Credit Score (Q1 2017)

  • Super-prime: 3.56%
  • Prime: 5.29%
  • Nonprime: 9.88%
  • Subprime: 16.48%
  • Deep subprime: 19.62%

The dealer may also evaluate your credit using another type of credit score called VantageScore. VantageScore, which was developed by all three of the major reporting agencies, assigns different weights to different parts of your credit history, such as on-time payments, balances, and utilization. Some people may benefit from a lender using their VantageScore, while others may be at a disadvantage.

Where to Start If You’re Unsure

If you’re nervous about letting a car dealer check your credit—but even if you aren’t—it’s helpful to check your score yourself in advance. You can check your credit report for free to make sure you don’t have any surprises and to find mistakes.

Note that the credit score an auto lender uses may be a slightly different because it will be tailored for an auto loan. Still, it’s a good start—if your general credit score is strong, you can also bet that the score the dealer uses is strong.

We also recommend that you try to get pre-approved for a car loan from a bank or credit union before setting foot in the dealership. With a set interest rate in hand, if the dealer can offer you a better rate, perfect! If not, you’ll be prepared to pay what your bank approved you for.

A Word of Caution

Credit inquiries related to auto loans made within a short time frame (usually 14 days, or 45 days depending on the credit score model being used) are supposed to count as a single inquiry. However, some of our readers have found their credit scores dropping after multiple car dealers sent credit inquiries for financing. This is another reason why getting pre-approved before going to the dealership is a good idea.

If you still have questions about how your credit score can affect your car-buying decisions, check out our auto loan resource center, or visit one of the links below.

Here’s What Else You Should Know about Auto Loans:

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What Happens When You Submit a Credit Report Dispute

paid-judgement-on-credit-report

Finding a mistake on your credit report can be frustrating. Unfortunately, according to a Credit.com survey of credit report awareness, one in five consumers (21%) who have seen their credit reports say they found inaccurate information on their reports.

Not only is that a lot of frustration, but the error may also have a negative impact on your credit score. Submitting a credit dispute is the first step in the process of correcting inaccurate information and improving your score.

But what comes next? How do credit bureaus fix the error? What effect does a dispute have on your credit score? Here’s the whole story on what happens when you submit a credit report dispute.

How to Dispute an Error on Your Credit Report

There are two ways to dispute an inaccuracy on your credit report.

  1. Go directly to the furnisher to dispute the error: You can contact the furnisher (the creditor furnishing the data to the credit bureau) directly to dispute the incorrect data on your credit report. If the furnisher finds the information to be inaccurate, it will correct the error and notify all three Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs) of the discrepancy. If there is no resolution and you still feel there is a mistake on your report, the furnisher will inform the CRAs that the account is in dispute.
  2. Dispute the error with the credit reporting agency: You can also file a dispute through the CRA that has the inaccuracy on its report. Each one—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—has its own submission process for disputes. Once a dispute is submitted to a CRA, an investigation process starts.

Filing Disputes with the Credit Bureaus

If you include enough documentation when you submit a dispute through a CRA, the agency will resolve the error on your report. If additional information is needed, the agency you submitted the dispute to is required to initiate an investigation (unless your dispute is considered “frivolous”).

When the CRA investigates, the agency forwards relevant information about your dispute to the creditor. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the creditor must then investigate the claim and report its results back to the credit reporting agency. If the information is found to be inaccurate, the furnisher must submit corrections to all three credit reporting agencies.

Confirm with the CRA to find out if you need to continue making payments while in the dispute process. Each CRA has its own policies and procedures for investigations.

While disputed information is being reviewed by a credit bureau, it is not typically labeled as “disputed” on your credit report.

  1. Experian Disputes
    When you file a credit dispute with Experian, the agency reaches out to the furnisher and gives it 30 days from the date you submitted your request to respond back. For Maine residents, the time frame is 21 days. When the agency receives a response, Experian will notify you of the results of the investigation. If it does not get a response in the allotted time, Experian will correct the disputed information as you requested or delete the disputed information. During the investigation process, Experian does not add a comment, note, or any other indication of a dispute on your credit report. 
  2. TransUnion Disputes
    TransUnion usually finishes an investigation and provides you the results about 30 days from the receipt of your dispute—but the company recommends preparing for up to 45 days. When a customer contacts the agency directly, it does not add an “in dispute” comment to their credit report.
  3. Equifax Disputes
    Once your dispute request is submitted, Equifax notifies you of the results within 30 days. On average, disputes are resolved within 10 days. Unlike the other two CRAs, Equifax makes an indication of a consumer dispute on your credit report during the investigation. On Equifax reports, the item will be “noted as ‘Consumer Disputes—Reinvestigation in Process” says Meredith Griffanti, senior director of public relations for Equifax, noting in her email, “If the consumer applies for credit during this time, the potential creditor will see this comment.”

Credit Disputes with Creditors

It is your right to dispute information that you believe to be inaccurate on your credit report. The overall process for disputing inaccurate information with creditors is similar to that of disputing information with the CRAs, but with one important difference: if you dispute an item directly with the furnisher, it will very likely be noted as “disputed” on your credit report for potential lenders to see.

Once you submit a dispute, the creditor has a duty to investigate your claim, according to the FCRA. In most cases, the creditor is expected to respond to your claim within 30 to 45 days and to inform you of the results of its investigation within five business days.

The creditor must notify the credit reporting agencies that you have disputed information, and, if it finds that the information is indeed incorrect, it must promptly provide accurate information to the reporting agencies. If you have received notice that the creditor agrees with your dispute, send a copy of that documentation to the CRAs that reported the information to ensure it gets updated. 

Why Credit Disputes Matter

Negative information on your credit report brings down your credit score. But whether an account is listed as “disputed” or not could also have an effect on your credit score.

When an account is documented as disputed, “it is temporarily excluded from consideration by the VantageScore model,” explains Jeff Richardson, spokesperson with VantageScore. Similarly, “the FICO Score algorithm excludes account activity that is in dispute,” says FICO spokesperson Jeffrey Scott.

VantageScore excludes entire accounts in dispute from the model that calculates your score. FICO, on the other hand, excludes only the disputed information such as an account balance and late payments—not the entire account—from its calculations of your score. “The dispute doesn’t include the age, type, or other non-controversial aspects,” Scott says. “It includes things directly impacted by the dispute—e.g., account balance or late payment.”

There are times when the VantageScore model could be a plus. For example, Richardson says, “If there was a missed payment on the disputed account, the consumer’s credit score can increase because the missed payment will be ignored.”

Unfortunately, the dispute process has been abused. Consumers will sometimes dispute an item that is negative but accurate, then quickly apply for credit, hoping the application will be approved while that information is under dispute and not recognized by the credit scoring model. If you’re thinking of trying that approach, be careful: It could backfire.

The Downsides of Disputing an Error on Your Report

Disputing inaccurate credit report items sounds like it would always be a positive thing, but it is important to recognize that there can be downsides to disputing an item—especially while you are trying to get a loan.

  • Positive information can also be affected: “A consumer could possibly see a decline in his or her score because they would also not receive the positive impact of the account’s age, history, credit availability, or on-time payments,” Richardson points out.
  • You may not be able to get a mortgage: Challenging a mistake while you are trying to get a home loan can hold up your loan. Lenders often will not close a mortgage until the dispute notation is removed. It may be best to wait to dispute incorrect data until after you close a mortgage.

The good news is that most disputes are processed quickly—in less than two weeks, says Griffin—and once the investigation is complete, the item should no longer be listed as disputed. If it’s not, the consumer can request the “under dispute” notation be removed. “If the credit report indicates the dispute has been resolved and/or closed, the account activity will be treated just like all other account activity,” Scott says.

If you have disputed information that is found to be accurate, time is the only thing that can remove that negative information from your credit report. In most cases, negative information stays on your report for 7 to 10 years.

Review Your Credit Report for Inaccuracies

Either way, to dispute a mistake on your credit report, you have to know there is one. You can get your credit reports for free at Credit.com and find out how the information they contain affects your credit by checking your credit scores. You can get your credit scores, which are updated monthly, for free on Credit.com.

If you discover your credit report contains erroneous information, dispute it—but give yourself plenty of time to get the item(s) corrected and the dispute resolved before you apply for a mortgage, car loan, or credit card.

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5 Ways to Get Your Finances in Shape Before the Year Ends

Everyone has those New Year’s resolutions that, even with the best intentions, seem to fall by the wayside. While it might be too late for some, there’s still plenty of time left in 2017 to fulfill your financial goals.

Courtney Lindwall, 24, an editor in New York City, says she set out at the beginning of this year to spend less money eating out. While she’s been better lately, she says she didn’t start working toward the goal right away.

“Around March, I was finally like, ‘Enough,’ and have been a little stricter about it,” she says.

In fact, mid-year is the perfect time to re-evaluate your financial situation and find new motivation for saving, says Catalina Franco-Cicero, director of financial wellness and a financial coach at Fiscal Fitness Clubs of America.

“We could all say that we get really excited at the beginning of the year,” Franco-Cicero says. “Then come summertime, we think, ‘Holy cow, I didn’t do anything. I really want to get remotivated.’”

Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says he also recommends reassessing financial goals mid-year. Making financial resolutions at the new year almost seems to “curse” them, he says, and there are many events to plan for financially in the second half of the year, such as back-to-school season and the holidays.

Here are five areas to evaluate to help you become more fiscally fit in the last half of 2017.

1. Put together a status report

You need to understand your financial situation in order to set goals for improving it. Finding the money to save or pay off debt can seem doubly daunting if you don’t know how you’re spending your money each day.

Evaluate the last six months’ worth of your expenses and income so you can plan for the rest of the year. McClary suggests reviewing the following things:

  • Your budget: Determine how much you’re spending each month on your home, car, food, and other living expenses.
  • Your debts: Make a list of all your debts, how much you owe on each one, the interest rates, and any pay schedules.
  • Your savings: Take stock of your savings accounts, including retirement accounts and emergency fund. Also think of things you would like to save for.
  • Your credit score. (If you’re not sure how, you can check out our guide to getting your free credit score.)

“Really give yourself a full picture of your financial situation so you can then go in and identify your best ways to save,” McClary says.

2. Dig into your spending habits

Once you have a high-level view of your finances, take a closer look at how you’re spending your money.

Franco-Cicero says she uses Mint, a money management tool, with her clients to help them categorize their transactions — a process people can easily turn into a habit.

Then, evaluate your discretionary spending to see what’s not necessary or where you can cut back. For example, consider reducing the amount you spend on subscription services or dining out and use the savings to pay off debt or to boost a savings account.

One thing to remember is seasonal expenses, like heating and cooling, McClary says.

“You want to make sure you’re making adjustments to your budget, while at the same time, being mindful of the expense categories that can change on a seasonal basis,” he says.

3. Reassess your credit card situation

A key step in reassessing your debt is taking a look at how much of a balance you carry on credit cards each month, how much you’re paying off each month, and how long it will take you to become debt free at that rate. You can figure this out with a credit card payoff calculator.

“Say [to yourself], ‘Hey, if I continue at the rate that I am going, will I ever be debt free?’” Franco-Cicero says.

Then create a plan to pay off your debt. McClary says the most important thing is to craft it around what motivates you the most. For example, if paying off the credit card with the highest interest rate motivates you, focus on that. If paying off the card with the lowest balance motivates you more, check that off first.

And even if it seems impossible to pay it off, he says there are benefits to chipping away at your credit card balance: Your minimum payments could go down, and using less of your credit line can help your credit score.

4. Start saving for something

We all know that we should be saving, whether it is for an emergency, retirement, or vacation. However, 23% of Americans don’t save any of their income, and only 38% report making good progress toward their savings needs, according to a 2017 survey from the Consumer Federation of America.

One of the best ways to become fiscally fit is to start saving for something that motivates you. You’re more likely to stick with saving toward a goal that you set for yourself, Franco-Cicero says.

If you don’t know where to start, she recommends a so-called “curveball” account.

“Curveball” accounts are similar to emergency funds in that they can help you cover unexpected expenses. The difference is that your “curveball” account would be used for things like replacing the worn-out tires on your car versus using your emergency fund to repair a blown transmission.

Now is also a good time to focus on saving for a house, McClary says, because you’ll have six to eight months to save before the next home-buying season. You can plan how much you need to save by looking at your existing savings, the cost of buying in your desired neighborhood, your debt-to-income ratio, and your credit standing.

No matter what you’re saving toward, McClary says an ambitious goal would be to save 20% of your monthly income between now and December.

If you make $2,000 a month after taxes, that means you would put about $400 toward savings each month. If you start in August, you could save $2,000 toward your goal by the end of the year.

5. Stick to your plan

Establishing where you are and where you want to be is only half of the battle when it comes to being fiscally fit by the end of 2017. Sticking with your action plan, as with all resolutions, can be the toughest part.

To be successful, Franco-Cicero suggests automating everything you can, from paying your bills each month to putting money into your savings account. This way, you don’t have to think about making sure a portion of your paycheck goes toward savings — your bank account will do it for you.

Franco-Cicero also says you should find a “money buddy” who knows your goals and can help you stay on track. Be sure to find someone who also has a financial goal and who will stick to a schedule so you can check in with each other. It’s a good idea to pick someone with whom you feel comfortable talking about money, not someone who you feel passes judgment on your purchases.

“We can be very lenient with ourselves, so you’ve got to find somebody who will hold you accountable,” she says.

Lindwall has had success following a similar approach. She says cooking more at home with her boyfriend has helped her stay on track toward her goal of eating out less.

“The biggest thing is getting someone else on board to do less expensive things with you,” she says.

The post 5 Ways to Get Your Finances in Shape Before the Year Ends appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

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.

Image: jacoblund

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5 Tips for Splitting Bills With Roommates

Roommates can be great. Or a nightmare. Here's how to keep your experience as positive as possible on the financial front.

There are many benefits that come with roommates: the ability to rent a larger space, share cleaning duties, and easily find friends to watch a movie with. On the other hand, sharing a space with a roommate – or roommates – is not always easy and can bring on some challenges, especially when it comes to money.

Here are some tips to help you split the bills and keep the peace.

1. Establish Ground Rules & Guidelines

Just as your lease spells out every detail, consider working together with your roommates to create some ground rules or guidelines. This is a good time to discuss exactly which expenses you will be sharing and which you will be paying for individually.

A major key for keeping the peace is making sure bills are organized. Figure out when and how bills will be collected and split each month, how they will be payed, and who is responsible for paying what amount. While this may sound obvious, too many times roommates will wait until the last minute, causing stress, tension, and possibly late bills.

2. Make a Cost Spreadsheet

Once ground rules and guidelines are created for paying the bills, make a spreadsheet outlining each expense you and your roommates will need to pay. Each expense should show details such as due dates, the amounts owed, and the person responsible for paying. It may be wise to have a monthly meeting to discuss the bills and this spreadsheet. This will make sure everyone is on the same page and no one is surprised by a bill when it’s time to pay.

3. Use Apps

There’s always an app for that! When you have large expenses, such as rent or utilities, consider using an app that can help with the math and the payments. Gone is the excuse that a roommate “doesn’t have cash” on them as Venmo can easily solve that issue. This free app lets you send money from a debit account to friends. The app also lets you request money letting your roommates know that money is due.

Another great app is Splitwise. This app lets roommates track bills, tally who paid, and send reminders so you’re never late. If a cost spreadsheet is too old-school for you, consider using an app to make paying bills easier among you and your roommates.

4. Keep Some Purchases Separate

Unless you and your roommates plan on selling everything when the time comes to move out, consider buying furniture separately. While it may sound logical to split furniture costs that you both will be using, what happens when your lease is up? Deciding who gets to keep what can be stressful and problematic. Consider making a list of furniture and electronics necessary for your place and figure out who will be responsible for each item while keeping your overall costs even.

Like furniture, groceries are another item which roommates should consider buying separately. If you love to eat fresh foods while another roommate loves frozen pizzas, splitting the costs won’t exactly be even. This also creates controversy when your roommate decides they want fresh food that day and indulges in your groceries.

5. Choose Your Roommates Wisely

Obviously you won’t want to live with someone who you’re going to constantly clean up after. You also won’t want to live with someone who will never pay their share of the bills. Doing so could end up hurting your credit, especially if they skip out and you can’t afford the rent on your own. You may want to request that they check their credit scores and you can do the same. That way you’ll know what their history of paying bills is like (you can get your credit scores for free on Credit.com).

While it may be hard to know your possible future roommate’s habits, at the very least, consider meeting with them beforehand so you can feel them out. You won’t want to be stuck in a lease with someone you’re going to regret living with.

Image: martinedoucet

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9 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Credit.com Account

Here's how to use the tools at Credit.com to get your financial life in order.

Chances are if you’re reading this you’re ready to take control of your financial life. Well, we want to make sure you’re getting the information and help you need to do it. That’s why we’ve put together a list of nine ways you can make the most of your Credit.com account.

1. Download the Credit.com App

Download the Credit.com app for iPhone and get updates on your latest credit score information while you’re on the go. You’ll also have access to the latest news and information from Credit.com’s blog.

2. Begin Tracking & Improving Your Credit Scores

Included with your account is a recommended plan to improve your personal credit scores. It shows you in what areas your scores could improve and offers guidance on how to achieve an attainable goal. And if you run into problems, don’t worry. You can reset your action plan at any time so you can get guidance on your real-time credit situation.

3. Get the Latest News

Besides helping you track and improve your credit, our credit experts offer regular articles on ways to cut back on your spending, get better terms on your credit cards, save money on a wide variety of everyday purchases and more. You can check the latest news on our app or on our website.

4. Follow Us on Facebook & Twitter

Beyond our daily articles, you’ll get bonus information through our Facebook and Twitter pages. And be sure to watch for our live chats on Twitter where we discuss a variety of financial topics.

5. Use Our Financial Tools

Want to know how long it will take you to pay down your credit card debt? We have a calculator for that. We also have financial tools to help you figure out the lifetime cost of your debt and how much house you can afford.

6. Get Help Fixing Your Credit

Is your credit in need of some professional help? Not sure if it is? Check out the free consultation provided by our partner Lexington Law. You can also look at getting help from a credit repair company, like our partner CreditRepair.com. Lexington Law and CreditRepair.com also have iPhone and Android apps.

7. Use Our Interactive Calculators

We’re not just about helping you improve your credit, we’re also here to help you find the best rates and terms for your particular credit standing. Whether you’re looking for a personal loan, a mortgage loan or even student loans, our tools can help you find the right product to fit your needs.

8. Compare Credit Cards

Finding the right credit card can be daunting. That’s why we’ve compiled numerous expert guides for helping you choose which cards are right for you. Do you need a rewards card? A balance transfer card? Which cards do you even qualify for? We provide you with answers so you’ll know what to look for when applying, and offer tips for the application process.

9. Ask Us Questions

Our credit experts genuinely want to help you get the guidance you need. Something isn’t clear? You want further information? Ask your question on Twitter, our Facebook page or in the comments section of our blog articles.

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The post 9 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Credit.com Account appeared first on Credit.com.

3 Things You Must Do Before You Lease a Car

Three Things You Must Do Before You Lease a Car

I tend to drive my cars until they die, and a couple of years ago that’s what happened. In need of a new car, but not sure what I wanted for the long-term, I considered leasing a vehicle. But if buying and financing a car seemed confusing, leasing seemed even more overwhelming. I ended up buying instead.

Turns out, though, that while leasing isn’t for everyone, it can have some advantages. Lower monthly payments and more flexible credit score requirements may be two of them.

If you are thinking about leasing, here are three things you can do to help improve your chances of getting approved.

1. Check Your Credit

Your credit score plays a key role in the lease you get. “There are going to be different tiers of credit that will be evaluated,” said Scot Hall, Executive Vice President of WantALease.com, an online marketplace for new lease deals. “If you have better credit, you will get better rates unless it’s a dealer-subsidized lease.”

Checking your credit reports at least a month before you plan to start shopping is ideal, since that will give you time to dispute and fix mistakes. While you are at it, check your free credit scores as well (you can access two of your scores free on Credit.com). You will get an idea of where you stand and whether there are potential issues with your credit.

What kind of credit scores are required to qualify for a lease? “(If) you do have good credit it really unlocks the door to the best lease deals. You’ll be able to take advantage of some of the lease specials,” said Edmunds.com Consumer Advice Editor Ron Montoya.

In addition, it may be easier to qualify for a lease than a loan on certain vehicles, at least when it comes to your credit scores. The make and model of the vehicle you choose will also affect your options. Experian Automotive found, for example, that the average credit score of someone who took out a loan for a new Jetta in the fourth quarter of 2014 was 716, while the average credit score for someone leasing one was 692. But for someone driving a new Grand Cherokee, the average credit score for a loan borrower was 735, while the average credit score for a lessee was 728.

average credit score

2. Know Your Cash Flow

One of the distinct advantages of leasing is that it may allow you to pay less per month than if you financed the same vehicle. According to Experian Automotive, the average monthly payment for a new lease was $420 in the fourth quarter of 2013, and the majority of leases (66%) were for a 24- to 36-month term.

But your lease payments may be lower than a loan payment for a similar vehicle. For example, the average lease payment for a Jetta was $287 while the average loan payment was $389. And for a Grand Cherokee, the loan payment averaged $611, compared to $470 for the lease payment.

average payment

Keep in mind that these monthly payments don’t take down payment or trade-in into account. And if you lease, you’ll either have to turn in the vehicle or purchase it when the lease term is up. “Consumers need to fully understand any potential cost on the back-end and be sure they can meet the terms of the lease – such as mileage limits and wear and tear,” said Melinda Zabritski, senior director of automotive credit for Experian Automotive.

3. Don’t Just Shop for a Car, Shop for a Lease

Unlike auto loans (which are available from a variety of sources including banks, credit unions, dealers and even online), leases today are largely controlled by the manufacturer. “Nearly all leases are done on a captive basis,” said Hall. For example, “Ford Motor Credit Company does most of the leases for Ford vehicles.”

That means you may be able to get a better deal if you are flexible and willing to consider a vehicle from a different manufacturer.

In addition to credit, the company offering the financing looks at your debt-to-income ratio and the “lease-to-value” ratio – in other words, how much you are financing compared to the value of the vehicle, said Hall. If you are having trouble qualifying, you may need to put additional money down or get a co-signer, he adds.

The good news is most people who apply for a lease qualify for one. Lease approval rates during the month of January were above 70%, according to SwapALease.com. Though that’s down from 73% in December of 2013, it’s up from September 2013 when a little more than 62% of applications were approved.

And there’s still another option: If you’re not ready to commit to a two- or three-year lease, you can consider taking over the remaining term on someone else’s lease. As long as your credit is in the same “tier” or better than the person whose lease you are assuming, you shouldn’t have much trouble qualifying, says Hall. Sites like SwapALease.com and LeaseTrader.com help bring together consumers who want to get out of leases and those who want to assume one and allow you to try out leasing without a longer-term commitment.

Image: Len44ik

This article has been updated. It originally ran on March 20, 2014.

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