Your Credit

Your Credit

Building a Good Record

The best way to maintain your credit standing is to repay all debts on time. But there may be complications. To protect your credit rating, you should learn how to correct mistakes and resolve misunderstandings.

When there's a problem, first try to deal directly with the creditor. Credit laws can help you settle your complaints without a hassle.

On your first attempt to get credit, you may face a common frustration: sometimes it seems you have to already have credit to get credit. Some creditors will look only at your salary and job and the other financial information that you put on the application. But most also want to know about your track record in handling credit, namely, how reliably you've repaid past debts. They turn to the records kept by credit bureaus or credit-reporting agencies, whose business is to collect, store, and report information about borrowers that is routinely supplied by many lenders. These records include the amount of credit you have received and how faithfully you've repaid. 

Here are several ways you can begin to build a good credit history:

  • Open a checking account or a savings account or both. These do not begin your credit file but may be checked as evidence that you have money and know how to manage it. Cancelled checks can be used to show that you pay utilities or rent bills regularly, a sign of reliability.
  • Apply for a department store credit card. Repaying credit card bills on time is a plus in credit histories.
  • Ask whether you may deposit funds with a financial institution to serve as collateral for a credit card; some institutions will issue a credit card with a credit limit usually no greater than the amount on deposit.
  • If you're new in town, write for a summary of any credit record kept by a credit bureau in your former town. (Ask the bank or department store in your old hometown for the name of the agency it reports to.)
  • If you don't qualify on the basis of your own credit standing, offer to have someone cosign your application.

If you're turned down, find out why and try to resolve any misunderstandings.

Maintaining Complete and Accurate Credit Records

Mistakes on your credit record can cloud your credit future. Your credit rating is important, so be sure that credit-bureau records are complete and accurate.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act says that you must be told what's in your credit file and have any errors corrected.

Credit Histories for Women

Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, reports to credit bureaus must be made in the names of both husband and wife if both use an account or are responsible for repaying the debt. Some women who are divorced or widowed may not have separate credit histories because their credit accounts were listed only in their husbands' names. But divorced and widowed women can still benefit from such a record. Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, creditors must consider the credit history of accounts women have held jointly with their husbands. Creditors must also look at the record of any account held only in the husband's name if a woman can show that it also reflects her own creditworthiness. If the record is unfavorable-for example, if an ex-husband is a bad credit risk-she can try to show that the record does not reflect her own creditworthiness. Remember that a wife may also open her own account to ensure starting her own credit history.

What Laws Apply?

The following laws can help you start your credit history and keep your record accurate:

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA)) ensures that all consumers are given an equal chance to obtain credit. This doesn’t mean all consumers who apply for credit get it: Factors such as income, expenses, debt, and credit history are considerations for creditworthiness.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act sets up a procedure for correcting mistakes on your credit record.

Old Information

Sometimes credit information is too old to give a good picture of your financial reputation. There is a limit on how long certain information may be kept in your file:

Bankruptcies must not be reported after 10 years. However, information about any bankruptcies at any time may be reported if you apply for life insurance with a face value over $150,000, for a job paying $75,000 or more, or for credit with a principal amount of $150,000 or more.

Suits and judgments paid, tax liens, and most other kinds of unfavorable information must not be reported after 7 years.

Your credit record may not be given to anyone who does not have a legitimate business need for it. Stores to which you are applying for credit may examine your record; curious neighbors may not. Prospective employers may examine your record with your permission.

Negative Information

If a lender refuses you credit because of unfavorable information in your credit report, you have a right to get the name and address of the agency that keeps your report. Then, you may either request information from the credit bureau by mail or in person. You may not get an exact copy of the file, but you will learn what's in the report. The law also says that the credit bureau must help you interpret the data in the report because the raw data may take experience to analyze. If you're questioning a credit refusal made within the past 60 days, the bureau cannot charge a fee for giving you information.

If you notify the bureau about an error, generally the bureau must investigate and resolve the dispute within 30 days after receiving your notice. The bureau will contact the creditor who supplied the data and remove any information that is incomplete or inaccurate from your credit file. If you disagree with the findings, you can file a short statement (100 words) in your record, giving your side of the story. Future reports to creditors must include this statement or a summary of it.

Don't assume that minor credit problems or difficulties stemming from unique circumstances, such as illness or temporary loss of income, will limit your loan choices to only high-cost lenders. If your credit report contains negative information that is accurate, but there are good reasons for trusting you to repay a loan, be sure to explain your situation to the lender or broker. If your credit problems cannot be explained, you will probably have to pay more than borrowers who have good credit histories. But don't assume that the only way to get credit is to pay a high price. Ask how your past credit history affects the price of your loan and what you would need to do to get a better price. Take the time to shop around and negotiate the best deal that you can.

Whether you have credit problems or not, it's a good idea to review your credit report for accuracy and completeness before you apply for a loan. To order a copy of your credit report, contact:

Major Credit Bureaus

Equifax

(800) 685-1111

www.equifax.com

TransUnion

(800) 888-4213

www.transunion.com

Experian

(888) 397-3742

www.experian.com