Creditor Gets a Judgment Against You — Now What?

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It’s a scary prospect: a creditor securing a judgment against you — which is probably why we get so many reader questions about the issue. A judgment represents a legal obligation to pay a debt, meaning a creditor or collector sued you over an outstanding debt and won. But that court win isn’t necessarily written in stone. Judgments can be appealed, reversed, amended or, at the very least, settled for less, depending on the circumstances and what you do next. (First step: Consider visiting a consumer attorney. Some offer free consults —and many will represent you for free if they think a collector has broken the law.)

If you’re dealing with debt collectors and facing a judgment — or are already (perhaps unexpectedly) saddled with one — we’ve pulled together answers to all the major questions that may be on your mind and where you can go from there.

How Does a Creditor or Collector Get a Judgment Against You?

In order to get a judgment against you, the creditor or collector must take you to court. If you don’t respond to a summons, or if you lose, the court will issue a judgment in favor of the creditor or collector. The judgment will be filed with the court, and once that happens, it is public record. That means it will likely end up on your credit reports as a negative item. (You can check your credit for judgments by viewing your free credit report summary on Credit.com.)

How Are Judgments Collected?

One of the main reasons you want to try avoid getting a judgment against you is that creditors may have additional ways to collect once a judgment has been issued. As we mentioned earlier, depending on your state’s laws, they may include going after your bank accounts or other property, or trying to garnish your wages. But as the saying goes, “you can’t get blood from a stone.” As the National Consumer Law Center points out in its book, “Surviving Debt:”

Even if you lose a lawsuit, this does not mean you must repay the debt. If your family is in financial distress and cannot afford to repay its debts, a court judgment that you owe the money may not really change anything. If you do not have the money to pay, the court’s judgment that you owe the debt will not make payment anymore possible.

If you aren’t sure what a judgment creditor can do to collect from you, it’s a good idea to consult a bankruptcy attorney who can help you understand what may be at risk if you don’t pay. The attorney can explain what property you own is “exempt,” or safe from creditors. You can also check out this article on how to get out of debt.

Can a Judgment Be Reversed?

Yes. In certain circumstances, you can ask the court to re-open a judgment or you can formally file an appeal. t’s also possible to have the terms of a judgment altered. And, with a few exceptions, a judgment can be discharged in bankruptcy. However, laws (and the timelines for their implementation) vary by state, so, again, if a creditor secures a judgment against you, it can be in your best interest to consult a local consumer attorney. You can find more about your legal rights post-judgment here.

Can I Settle a Judgment?

The answer to this question is often “yes.” Most judgment creditors know it is often difficult to collect judgments, especially if the debtor doesn’t have wages that can be garnished or assets they can go after. If you are able to get a lump sum of money from, say a relative, you may be able to offer that to the creditor to pay off the judgment. Just make sure you get any agreement in writing before you pay. Make sure the agreement spells out all the terms of the settlement, including the fact that you will not owe any more money after you make the agreed upon payment.

Can I Avoid a Judgment?

Another option is to settle the debt before it goes to court. The creditor may be willing to settle for part or all of the money you owe. Of course that only works if you can manage to pull together money to pay them. If you can, make sure you have a written agreement from them that states they will not pursue the debt in court if you make the payment as agreed. Then check with the court to make sure the matter has been dropped.

How Long Can Judgments Appear on Credit Reports?

Unpaid, they can remain on your credit reports for seven years or the governing statute of limitations, whichever is longer. Once judgments are paid, they must be removed seven years after the date they were entered by the court. But soon those parameters are changing: Beginning in July, the credit bureaus will exclude judgments that don’t contain complete consumer details or have not been updated in the last 90 days. (Wondering how long other stuff stays on your credit report? We’ve got you covered here.)

How Long Can Judgments Be Collected?

There is a specific time period for collecting judgments, and it also varies by state. This “statute of limitations” is often 10-20 years long. In addition, in most states it can be renewed. For that reason alone, it’s best to try to avoid getting a judgment against you in the first place. And if it does happen, it’s best to try to resolve the debt.

Can Interest Accumulate on a Judgment?

Yes. In most states, interest may be charged on a judgment, either at any rate spelled out in state law, or at the rate described in the contract you signed with the creditor. In addition, the judgment may include court costs and attorney’s fees.

Anything Else I Should Know About Judgments?

A debt collector that threatens to get a judgment against you or to garnish your wages or seize your property may be making an illegal threat. Talk with a consumer law attorney to find out if that’s the case.

And just because you haven’t heard anything about a judgment in a while, that doesn’t mean you should assume it has gone away. It’s possible that the creditor could decide at a later time to try again to collect from you. Plus, an unpaid judgment may prevent you from buying a home or getting credit at a decent interest rate. So it’s a good idea to try to resolve the judgment, either by filing for bankruptcy or by paying off or settling the judgment when you are able to.

Remember, when dealing with debt collectors, it pays to know your rights. You learn more about them in our Managing Debt Learning Center.

Reminder: This post is meant as educational information, not legal advice. Please consult an attorney for legal advice.

This article was updated. It originally ran on January 25, 2012. 

Image: walknboston, via Flickr.com

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Financial Literacy: Are you at the head of the class?

How would you grade yourself when it comes to financial literacy and credit? If you haven’t given it much thought, April is the perfect time to do so, as it is National Financial Literacy Month.

 

In a recent survey conducted by Equifax, most consumers do not place themselves at the head of the class when it comes to financial literacy. According to the findings, one-third of the respondents grade themselves a “C” when looking at their financial literacy knowledge.

 

Additionally, one in five surveyed consumers said they know more about national politics than their own credit histories. Thirteen percent said they knew more about their favorite sports teams, 7 percent said they knew more about this season of their favorite TV series, and 6 percent knew more about the latest fashion trends.

 

The good news is, most consumers are taking steps to educate themselves when it comes to financial literacy. When asked to select the steps they’ve taken to improve their financial literacy within the last year, 45 percent of the consumers said they read news articles on financial websites, while 28 percent sought guidance from family and friends.

 

While parents were the most popular source of information, the second most common source was a personal finance course during high school or college. Ninety percent of survey respondents saw value in teaching personal finance, saying they thought it should be a required course to graduate high school.

 

The survey also found:

 

  • Most surveyed consumers correctly selected the factors that can impact credits scores. Specifically, 87 percent knew paying bills on time is one factor that impacts a credit score.
  • Additionally, 42 percent of surveyed consumers knew that most types of negative information can stay on a credit report for seven years. This is up slightly from the 40 percent of surveyed consumers who knew this same information in 2016.
  • A majority of surveyed consumers felt confident about their short- and long-term financial futures. Sixty-one percent indicated they were confident or extremely confident about their short-term financial futures, and 54 percent indicated they were confident or extremely confident about their long-term financial futures.
  • Respondents 60 years of age and older were most confident about their financial futures, while respondents aged 45 through 59 were least confident.

 

If you, too, would give yourself a “C,” here are some things to consider doing to turn those Cs into better grades:

 

  • Pay your bills on time every time – no matter what;
  • Create and stick to your budget;
  • Check your credit report at least once a year. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting agencies every 12 months by going to www.annualcreditreport.com. You won’t be able to see a credit score, but you’ll be able to check your information and even might spot signs of identity theft; and
  • Pay attention to your credit card balances, and always understand the commitments you’re making.

Stuck With a Huge Tax Bill? Here’s How to Deal

Here's what to do if you're facing down a big payment to Uncle Sam.

This year I owe quite a bit of money in taxes.

This amount (let’s call it “in the many thousands”) doesn’t come as a complete surprise since I made more cash last year than I did the year before, but still, it’s a large amount. As a freelancer I’ve learned to sock away 30% to 40% of each paycheck into a savings account set aside for taxes, so I’ll be OK to pay it. Other people might not be so lucky when Uncle Sam comes calling. A recent survey by the Federal Reserve found that 31% of people couldn’t even pay for a $400 emergency expense and 28% said they would need to borrow that money from friends or family

Luckily there are a few things you can do if you’re saddled with a tax bill you can’t pay.

1. Start at the Source

If you can’t pay your tax bill in full come April, fear not — you won’t be thrown in jail. (At least not yet!) The IRS offers a few ways to potentially alleviate the sticker shock. You could apply for an online payment agreement that allows you to pay your tax liability over time, or you could work with the IRS to settle for less than the full amount owed. That’s called an Offer in Compromise, and you can learn more about it — and if you qualify — here.

2. Ask to Have Your Penalties Reduced

Under certain circumstances — as in you or your spouse dealt with a serious illness last year or had an unusual tax event — the IRS has been known to work with taxpayers to waive certain penalties. Try writing a letter to explain the situation in detail, and be sure to specifically ask for an abatement. It’s worth a try.

3. Consider a Loan

If you’re in good financial standing otherwise, a personal loan through your bank with a decent interest rate could help you pay off a large tax bill right away. A better credit score will help secure a lower interest rate. You can view two of your scores for free on Credit.com.

4. Take out a HELOC 

A HELOC — or home equity line of credit — often offers interest rates that are lower than credit cards or potentially even personal loans, plus your interest could be tax deductible. The downside is that defaulting could mean losing your home — not something to take lightly. Be sure you know what you’re getting into before taking this course of action — learn more about it here.

5. Put It on Your Credit Card

While it should only come as a last resort, paying your bill on a credit card allows you to pay your debt on time (at least as far as the government is concerned), while giving you some time to pay it off in full on your credit card. If this is the way you’ll pay your taxes, it’s worth researching credit cards with 0% APR introductory offers that can allow you to take your time paying off the bill without paying interest. Keep in mind there will be an additional fee — which could be quite substantial, depending on how much you owe.

Whatever option you take, be sure to research all the options before jumping in to understand which one is best for your financial situation.

Image: jacoblund

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Financing a DIY Remodel Project? Here’s How Home Depot & Lowe’s May Help

Home Depot and Lowe's both offer ways to finance home improvement projects. Here's how to pick between them.

Now that spring is here, you might be thinking about tackling home improvement projects. Whether it’s a new deck or a remodel of your kitchen, you’ll need to figure out how to pay for the work. And if you’re taking on these projects yourself instead of hiring a contractor, you may be headed to your local hardware store.

If you’re debating between Home Depot or Lowe’s for supplies, perhaps considering their different financing options may help in your decision-making process. (Before you look for financing options, it’s a good idea to take a look at your credit to see how it’s doing and what terms and conditions you may qualify for. You can check two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

Home Depot Consumer Credit Card

With the Home Depot consumer credit card (which you can read a full review of here), you will receive 0% financing for six months on any purchase of $299 or more. After the promotional period ends, the annual percentage rate (APR) will change to a variable rate of 17.99%, 21.99%, 25.99% or 26.99%, depending on your creditworthiness. There is no annual fee with this card, but it charges deferred interest, calculated from the purchase date if you don’t pay your balance in full by the end of the promotional period.

Home Depot Project Loan

If you need a longer window to pay off your project, especially if you’re doing a large project (think projects like entire room remodels or additions), a Home Depot project loan could be another option. You can borrow up to $55,000 and have up to 84 months to pay off the loan. The first six months are considered a purchasing period during which you only pay interest on the amount borrowed, based on a 7.99% APR. The APR stays the same after this introductory period, but you’ll start to pay off the balance in monthly installments as well.

Why You Might Choose Home Depot Financing

The options at Home Depot and Lowe’s are similar, but there are key differences that could push you in either direction, depending on your preferences. With the Home Depot consumer credit card, there will be times throughout the year when Home Depot offers extended promotional financing beyond the standard six months. Some offers could be as long as 24 months. If you make your purchase during this period, you’ll have more time to pay for your project with no interest.

Lowe’s Consumer Credit Card

When using the Lowe’s consumer credit card there are a few options. You can either elect to receive a 5% discount on your purchase or special financing on purchases of $299 or more. One special financing option is to receive 0% APR for six months. If you go this route you will be charge deferred interest if the balance is not paid by the end of the six-month period. If you think you will need more time, you can choose to borrow for up to 84 months with a fixed 7.99% APR. Just be aware that if you take advantage of the special financing offers, you will not be able to receive the 5% off offer as well.

Why You Might Choose Lowe’s Financing

If you don’t need special financing and just want a discount, the Lowe’s consumer credit card might be the best choice. Because you can earn 5% off every purchase, the overall cost of your project could be considerably reduced.

Alternatives to Home Depot or Lowe’s Financing

If you want to earn rewards for your purchases or extend the 0% APR period, you might want to consider a credit card instead. Here are a couple of options.

Chase Freedom Card

This card allows you to earn rewards on purchases and offers an introductory 0% APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After the introductory period, the APR will change to a variable 15.49% to 24.24%. When you sign up for the card, you receive a $150 bonus after you spend $500 within the first three months. The card also comes with rotating 5% cash back categories each quarter. There is a limit of $1,500 per quarter on bonuses, which typically include home improvement stores once a year. All other purchases earn 1% back. This card comes with no annual fee.

Citi Simplicity

If you want to boost the time you have to pay off your home improvement project, the Citi Simplicity card might be an option. (Full Disclosure: Citibank and Chase advertise on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.) With this card, you receive an introductory 0% APR for 21 months on purchases and balance transfers. Once the introductory period is over, the APR changes to a variable 14.24% to 24.24%. This card also comes with no annual fee and will not charge a late fee.

Looking for more ways to spruce up your house? Check out our annual homeowner to-do list.

Image: andresr

At publishing time, the Chase Freedom and City Simplicity cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

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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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Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

A 2015 study by SunTrust Bank found that it’s not just those in a lower-income tax bracket that are living paycheck to paycheck. According to the online study, which was conducted by Harris Poll, nearly one-third of households earning $75,000 annually found themselves with more month than money. Perhaps even more worrisome, according to the study, a whopping 71 percent of millennials making $75,000 also had difficulties with their monthly spending.

One of the biggest factors to which these survey respondents attributed their spending problems wasn’t related to transportation or housing—or even medical expenses. More than two-thirds of retiree households earning $75,000 or more blamed their issues on dining out, and the same went for 70 percent of millennials making more than $75,000. Money spent on clothing, entertainment, and hobbies also made up a large portion of the drain on monthly cash flow.

If you’re finding that you don’t have as much left at the end of the month as you want, here are a few ideas to consider that may stretch your paycheck dollars further:

  1. Stop dining out as much.

You don’t have to be a financial expert to figure out that this approach can help put your spending on a diet, but the key phrase here is “as much.” You can still dine out, but instead of eating out every night, consider cutting back to once or twice a week. The same goes for weekends. Don’t go out on both Saturday and Sunday; instead, pick one day. The key is to go out less than you are now because a restaurant meal usually costs significantly more when compared to going to the grocery store and then fixing a meal at home.

  1. Spend less when eating out.

If you enjoy adult beverages consider switching to water. Not only will you leave the restaurant with more money in your wallet but also your body will likely appreciate it because you will be ingesting fewer calories. You can also consider ordering lower-cost lunch or appetizer portions instead of the larger dinner portions or splitting a meal with your friend or significant other. Finally, consider order desserts for special occasions only.

  1. Be smarter when clothes shopping.

Even though you may have been out of school for many years, you can still take advantage of a tax-free weekend in the dog days of summer. Depending on your state, sales tax is usually not collected on selected items, such as clothing, typically the weekend or a few days just before school starts. You may also want to consider other clothing options such as consignment stores, which often offer budget-friendly options.

  1. Find alternatives for entertainment and travel.

Instead of paying the big bucks watching professional sports at an overpriced stadium, consider visiting a local minor league, college, or high school football or basketball game. Tickets can be substantially cheaper or even free, as are the items at the concession stand. If you like traveling and consider yourself a little adventurous, take a train trip. Trains can be comfortable, you can see the sights, and the trips usually won’t be too hard on your pocketbook. If you like reading or watching movies, check out your local library. Find your nearest beauty school for a discounted haircut, manicure, or perhaps even a massage.

  1. Make hobbies pay.

If you’re retired and you have more time than money, consider turning a hobby into a fun side job. For example, if you enjoy home renovations, woodworking, painting, or do-it-yourself activities, you might be able to turn those hobbies into some extra money from your friends and neighbors. If you have a talent in stained glass, jewelry making, sewing, or knitting, you may be able to sell your unique goods to local craft stores or online using marketplaces like Etsy.

If you enjoy an expensive hobby like golf, you might consider exploring a cheaper alternative, such as biking, swimming, or tennis. You could take up chess or cards and join a local group, or you may want to try bird watching and nature walks, which usually don’t cost a thing. Whether you are retired or are just starting out your career, living on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have fun!

Steve Repak is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, CFP® Board Ambassador, and financial literacy speaker. He is also an Army veteran and the author of 6 Week Money Challenge: For Your Personal Finances. Follow him on Twitter: @SteveRepak

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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Move Over Black Friday: Holiday Retail Activity Expands Beyond the Day After Thanksgiving

If you can believe, the holiday shopping season is officially under way and with seasonal decorations appearing in some stores as early as October, we all feel like it starts earlier ever year.  Equifax was curious to know just when the holiday season starts and decided to look at  four years of data around consumer debt to understand consumer behaviors during the holiday season.

So what did they learn? First, consumers are continuing to focus their shopping around the days before and after Black Friday, although the day after Thanksgiving does continue to be a highly active. In fact, for the past four years, the Sundays before and after Black Friday have seen a fairly consistent 50 percent increase in the opening of retail credit card accounts over an average day in November or December. New retail credit card openings peak on Black Friday, when consumers on the average have continued to open nearly 3 times more retail credit card accounts.

They also found learned that since 2012, on the average, in November and December, furniture stores have been the top issuer of store credit ($851M), followed by department stores ($790M), jewelry ($451M), electronics ($365M) and clothing ($241M).

Gunnar Blix, Equifax Deputy Chief Economist, says that furniture stores tend to have high-value incentives linked to store credit which drive purchases and this likely accounts for their leading position in terms of credit issuance in the retail credit space.

He also points out that even with compelling incentives across all the shopping categories, since 2012 Equifax has been noticing a modest trend toward consumers showing more restraint in credit card usage.

To view an infographic with the full analysis, visit: Black Friday Historical Trends

How Long Might it Take for Credit Behaviors to Impact Your Credit Score?

If you’ve put a lot of work into establishing good credit habits—you’ve been making sure to pay every bill on time and you’ve been paying down your credit card debt—you might be wondering just how long it’ll be before you see these actions reflected in your credit score. The time between when you exhibit positive credit behavior and when credit for that behavior shows up on your report depends on many factors.

While there are some basic timelines for certain items on your credit report, every consumer’s experience is different. What follows are some things to think about if you’re wondering how long it might take to see your actions impact your credit score, and how long certain items might remain on your report.

Understanding your credit behavior

“Establishing a timeline will be unique to each consumer and dependent on what shape their credit report is in,” says Jo Kerstetter, spokesperson for Money Management International.

The reason behind this individual variation lies with your lenders—the credit card companies, banks, and mortgage companies who report your data to the CRAs. Lenders track and share your payment history, including a record of whether your payments were made in full and on time, but there is no universal date for when they share this information with the CRAs. Additionally, while some lenders may report behavior to all of the CRAs, others will report to only one CRA or to none at all, which accounts for the variations seen between your three credit scores.

Tom Coates, director of Consumer Credit of Des Moines, agrees. “Nothing significant is going to help you overnight,” he says, but adds that positive behaviors may add up over time.

Regularly reviewing your credit report may help you gain a better understanding of your past and current behavior and how your payment history may already be impacting your score. You are entitled to one annual free copy of your credit report from each of the three major CRAs. To request a copy of your report, visit Annualcreditreport.com.

Healthy credit habits

Your credit score may change daily, weekly, or only a few times throughout the month depending on how often your lenders report data to the CRAs. The important thing is to make sure you have been consistent in meeting payments.

“The key is to pay your bills on time every month,” says Kerstetter. Your payment history accounts for around 35 percent of your credit and is the largest factor in determining your score. While there are many factors that determine your score, one of the most important things to consider is to pay your bills on time, everytime.

“Positive information usually stays on your record as long as the accounts are open and in good standing,” Kerstetter says.

The next biggest contributing factor to determining your score is the amount owed across each of your accounts. Amounts owed account for about 30 percent of your score, which means that paying down a debt or carrying a lower total balance on your various lines of credit may also impact your score.

Late payments or bankruptcy

Negative information, such as late payments or a bankruptcy, may impact your score just as often as positive items, but where positive behavior is unlikely to fall off of your credit history, negative credit behavior has the opportunity to disappear—but only after varying lengths of time:

  • Hard inquiries. Hard inquiries typically fall off of your report after two years, but it may impact your score for even less time.
  • Late payments or similar negative behaviors are likely to remain on your credit report for up to seven years. An account left in collections can stay on for even longer, usually seven years and 180 days from the start of the payment delinquency, and unpaid tax liens can remain on you report for up to fifteen years.
  • Bankruptcy, generally remains on your credit history for up to 10 years however the exact amount of time will depend on the type of bankruptcy.

While it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how long it may take for certain behaviors to impact your score, by establishing positive credit habits and maintaining them consistently, you may be in a better position to better understand your entire personal financial picture.

“Sometimes people get so lost on trying to get a better score, they don’t have their basic finances and their budget where they ought to,” Coates says.

Credit Steps to Take after the Death of a Spouse or Partner

The period following the loss of a spouse or partner is an overwhelming time that carries with it many difficult decisions and issues to deal with. Getting a copy of your loved one’s credit report may not be one of the first things you’re thinking about, but doing so may help thwart identity theft and alert you of any financial responsibilities and commitments you may not have been aware of.

“The common question is, ‘Am I responsible for [my spouse’s] debt?’” says Kathryn Bossler, financial counselor for Greenpath Debt Solutions.

Surviving partners and spouses may be confused by which debts or benefits they might inherit. The answers to these questions may impact your life moving forward, so it’s important to take stock of your remaining financial commitments and work to get yourself started in a new direction.


Review your partner’s credit

When a spouse passes away, their credit file will not be closed automatically but will remain active, along with any open lines of credit.

When someone dies, a family member or an appropriate person such as an executor should send a notice letter to one of the three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion and request that they update the credit record to indicate that the person is deceased. The CRA will then share that information with the other two CRAs so that they can update their records.

You’ll need to send the CRA copies of certain documents, including: your partner’s name, birthdate, their social security number, their most recent address, a copy of their death certificate, and your contact information as well. Identify yourself as their spouse and explain that their credit file will need to be closed.

According to Bossler, it’s important to obtain several copies of your spouse’s death certificate for this purpose and send them by certified mail to be sure they are received.

At Equifax, once proper documentation is received and validated, a ‘death notice’ is added to a deceased person’s credit report and a permanent promotional block is also added to the credit file. The ‘death notice’ may provide protection for that deceased consumer’s identification information and prevent another consumer from trying to use the deceased consumer’s ID information to obtain credit or services.

If the CRAs are not notified of the person’s death, the credit file remains inactive and accounts purge off as they reach their purge date.

Bossler recommends starting by determining amounts that may be owed. “And determine from there, what was in [your] spouse’s name only.” This may require that the surviving spouse or partner contact lenders and creditors directly.

“Follow that particular creditor’s policy about what to do,” Bossler says. This may include closing any open but paid-off lines, such as a credit card.

Determine your responsibility

If you had any jointly-owned accounts with your spouse or partner, you might be taking over responsibility for them. The deed to your house, for example, may need to be transferred into just your name and any outstanding debt may now fall solely to you. But if you aren’t a joint owner of their credit card debt, you may not be responsible for paying it.

“Just because you’re married to someone doesn’t mean you’re going to need to pay back their debt,” Bossler says.

If your partner maintained a separate estate from your own, you may be able to use this estate to pay for any remaining debts. If this is the case, you may need to notify the executor of their estate of any amounts owed, Bossler says.

And, don’t forget to consider any benefits your partner received prior to his or her passing. If your spouse was receiving or would have soon received benefits from the Social Security Administration or the Department of Veterans Affairs, you might also need to work with these agencies to receive survivor’s’ benefits and secure any future benefits you may be entitled to.

Consider additional help

You may find the process of shutting down your partner or spouse’s credit account difficult or confusing, especially after such a difficult loss. The situation can become even more stressful if you find yourself the sudden target of collection calls for debts you aren’t responsible for. According to Bossler, there are both professional and non-profit options that are available to consumers who find themselves in this situation.

The FTC also offers information on working with creditors or debt collection agencies that may contact you including sample letters you can send them and ways to submit complaints.

You may feel lost and unsure of which actions to take after such a devastating loss, but these steps and resources might be able to help you feel more confident about closing out your spouse’s credit file and moving forward on your own.