Financial matters can be a major source of stress, especially as the tax season approaches. With that in mind, this is the second in a series of newsletters designed to help you gather, organize and review information for your personal finances.
In the previous newsletter we provided instructions for creating a Master File in which to store 12-13 important financial and legal documents. In this issue we focus on a document that is relatively easy to order, is integral to making a major purchase and is a good way to catch and prevent identity fraud: your credit report.
STEP 2: GET YOUR FREE CREDIT REPORT
A credit file disclosure, commonly called a credit report, is a report compiled by one or more of the three major American credit bureaus--Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. The report tells you and potential lenders which companies have examined your credit history, the dates when accounts were opened and closed, the amount of credit extended to you as well as your on-time or late payment behavior. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.
Why Should I Get a Copy of my Credit Report?
You might discover that someone has stolen your identity or that a simple mistake has damaged your credit standing. If you are thinking of making a major credit-based purchase, such as a home or car, it's a good idea to get a credit report six months prior to filling out a loan application to clear up any discrepancies. This includes applications for private student loans and other installment loans, too. Note that the free annual credit report does not include credit scores, which must be ordered separately. See www.AnnualCreditReport.com to order the report by phone, mail or online. If you work from the website, you can save the results as a PDF or--ideally--print out the reports for your Master File (depending on how many credit cards you have, make sure you have enough paper and cartridge ink!). You must list U.S. addresses in the address section of the form. If you give a foreign address, the credit reporting companies will not be able to find your information.
To verify your identity, you will be asked a series of questions. These questions are meant to be hard. You may even need your records to answer them....one more reason to have a Master File with all important information. They will include:
• Name, Date of Birth, Social Security Number, Current and Previous Addresses
• A Series of Random Multiple-Choice Questions--such as a previous home phone numbers, zip codes or your automobile license numbers.
Should I Order All Three Reports at Once?
The answer depends on you. If you are thinking about buying something big soon--a new car or even a home--you may want to get all of your credit reports now. That way you can correct any mistakes that could prevent or slow down the purchase. If you are not planning a big purchase, requesting them over time might be a better choice. When you spread them out, watch for expected changes or suspicious activity throughout the year. Whichever strategy you choose, mark your calendar so you know when you can request your next free credit report.
What Should I Look for When I Review my Credit Report?
Make sure you recognize the information on the report(s) including your personally identifiable information, such as names, addresses, social security number, accounts and loans. If you recognize an old bank account or a credit card that you haven't used in a long time, make sure it says, "Closed." Otherwise, call the credit card company or bank and request that the account be closed ASAP. Check that the rest of the information on your report is accurate and complete. If you find information that you believe does not belong to you or is not correct, follow-up with the business or credit reporting company that issued the report. It is not unusual to find mistakes--from simple misspellings to things that aren't yours.
Will Checking my Report Lower my Score?
No, it will not affect your score which you must order separately. Your report will tell you if there are negative items that you may want to dispute, how and why to request a "Fraud Alert" and who is looking at your credit history. More questions? Go to Frequently Asked Questions
The CDC reports that this year's strain--the A(H3N2) virus seems to make people sicker. And because prevention is the key to staying healthy, a quick reminder:
An unguarded sneeze or cough is like a horse that has already left the barn. Coughing into your hands is a no-go and a Kleenex is preferable to a handkerchief to catch germs. But what if you don't have a Kleenex? The CDC says if you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve as shown in the picture to the left. If you are sitting near an offender, try to change seats, or turn away. First chance you have, wash your hands vigorously as soon as possible and for at least 20 seconds. If you are still worried, wear a tightly woven scarf to protect your mouth and nose. If it's attractive no one will know if you are just chic or smart, or both. God bless you!
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