Outrage after outrage

Yesterday Equifax broke the news hackers gained access to the Social Security numbers and other sensitive personal information for 143 million Americans (a group that apparently includes me, my husband, our daughter and probably you).

Because that wasn’t enough, today the outrages just continued:

  • The breach was discovered at the end of July. What was Equifax doing in the meantime? Well, its executives sold about $2 million worth of company shares,  The Washington Post reports.
  • The same day the breach was announced, Congress scheduled a hearing on a bill to shield the bureaus from full accountability from their actions.
  • Equifax offered free credit monitoring for a year, but didn’t make clear whether its usual binding arbitration language applied. So were people waiving their right to sue over the breach? Equifax wouldn’t say, until the New York Attorney General demanded and got an answer: the binding arbitration clause applies to the monitoring product, not the breach. Just in case, after signing up I sent this letter using Equifax’s opt out clause to (hopefully) preserve our right to sue.
  • Credit monitoring doesn’t prevent anything; it just notifies you after you’ve been victimized. Equifax is also offering free credit freezes, which prevent others from opening accounts in your name. Well, it was supposed to be free; some journalists reported they were charged $3.
  • Experian and TransUnion aren’t offering free anything. To shut down your credit, you need freezes at all three bureaus. The others are charging $3 to $10 each, plus additional fees if you need to temporarily lift the freeze to apply for credit, a job, insurance, cell phone service, utilities, an apartment, etc. Oh, and freezes won’t help with other types of crime, such as medical and criminal ID theft or blackmail. (The hack is a potential national security threat, according to experts quoted by the New York Times.)
  • Oh, and when victims try to enroll in credit monitoring, Equifax tells them to come back in a few days. Because, apparently, they’re kind of busy.
  • In fact, all three bureaus’ Web sites were having trouble under the deluge of requests. Sites were freezing and offering error messages; people were getting busy signals or being kicked off calls.

There was no way to make this breach better, but clearly there were plenty of ways to make it worse.

 

Credit bureaus ease medical debt pain for a few

Too many Americans have bad credit because of unpaid medical bills. That’s not likely to change anytime soon, despite two reforms in how those bills will be reported to the credit bureaus.

Starting Sept. 15:

—There will be a 180-day waiting period before unpaid medical debts can show up on people’s credit reports.

—Medical collections will be deleted from credit reports if they’re paid by health insurers.

Credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion agreed to the new standards as part of two settlements with state attorneys general in 2015. The changes in medical debt reporting were designed to help people whose bills fell through the cracks between their health care providers and their insurance companies, says Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center.

In my latest for the Associated Press, find out who these changes are expected to help.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Hand with money and toy car isolated on white background

Hand with money and toy car isolated on white background

Today’s top story: Tricks to help you build good credit. Also in the news: How rising interest rates will affect your investments, understanding the credit bureau differences, and what you should know before buying a new car.

3 Simple Tricks That Can Help You Build Good Credit
Improving your score a little bit at a time.

4 Ways Rising Interest Rates Will Affect Your Investments
Your savings accounts will benefit.

Why Your Credit Scores at the Three Bureaus Are All Different
Understanding the differences.

How Do Dealers Set Car Prices?
What you should know before heading into the dealership.

4 hacks to boost your credit scores–fast

FICO-score-calculation-300x281Losing points from your credit scores is all too easy — and getting them back is hard. But if you know how credit scoring works, you can hack the process to rehabilitate your numbers faster. Here are four effective strategies to do just that.

(This article first appeared as “4 hacks to boost your credit score quickly” on DailyWorth.)

Pay your credit cards twice each month. Even if you pay your balances in full every month, using up too much of your available credit at any given time can hurt your scores. You can lessen the damage by making two payments each month: one just before the card’s statement closing date and another just before the due date. The first payment typically reduces the balance that’s reported to the credit bureaus, while the second assures that you don’t wind up paying interest or incurring a late fee on any remaining charges.

Dispute old, small collection accounts. The latest version of the leading credit scoring formula, the FICO 8, already ignores collection accounts where the original balance was less than $100. Not all lenders use this formula, though, so you might see an increase in your scores if you dispute that $50 parking ticket you forgot to pay or the $75 medical bill that slipped through the cracks of your insurer’s reimbursement system. The collection agencies that report these minor bills may not bother to respond to the credit bureaus’ investigation attempts, especially as the accounts approach the seven-year mark, where they’d have to be dropped from your credit reports anyway.

Get added as an authorized user on someone else’s account. Another person’s good history with their credit card could be imported into your credit bureau files to help burnish your scores. Plus, the other person doesn’t have to give you access to the account — you can be an authorized user in name only. Some card companies will allow this importing only if you’re a relative, so check in advance.

Pay off your credit cards with a personal loan. Paying down your credit card balances widens the gap between your available credit and the amount you’re using, which is great for your scores. If you can’t pay your cards off immediately, consider moving the balances to a three-year personal loan. Balances on such installment loans don’t affect your scores as strongly as balances on credit cards. Check with your local credit union first, since these member-owned financial institutions tend to offer the best rates and terms on personal loans.

For more of my DailyWorth columns, visit https://www.dailyworth.com/tags/liz-weston.

Big changes afoot for credit bureaus and your scores

check-credit-report-easilyCredit bureaus will have to hold off on reporting delinquent medical bills and supply actual human beings to review disputes under an agreement announced today with New York’s attorney general.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the agreement, to be announced later today, will change how credit bureaus operate nationally. Bureaus will have to wait 180 days before reporting any medical debt on people’s credit reports. When an insurance company pays a medical bill, all references to it will have to be deleted from the individual’s reports.

This is a big deal, since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates about 43 million Americans medical collection accounts on their credit reports. One such collection can devastate an otherwise pristine credit report and cause credit scores to plunge.

Having human beings review disputes is another significant change. Currently, humans stick a code on disputes before they’re sent to lenders, but the process is highly automated. Errors that have been removed from a report can crop up again (and again and again) when the lenders upload their data files to the bureaus. Getting problems fixed can be a frustrating process when you can’t get a human being to intervene.

The changes won’t happen overnight. The bureaus have three and a half years to roll them out.

Should your credit card issuer have to give you free credit scores?

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau today called on major credit card issuers to provide free scores to their customers on their statements or online. The regulator’s idea is that low scores could tip people off to problems in their credit reports–problems they might not otherwise find, since too few people get their free credit reports each year.

Creditors use a variety of scores to evaluate and monitor their customers–scores that measure everything from the likelihood of default to the likelihood the user will stop using the card. It’s the score that measures the likelihood of default that the regulators want customers to see.

I believe you should be able to see any score that’s used to evaluate you, and that you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Getting scores from your credit card company could be a good start, assuming the companies aren’t allowed to sub in some “FAKO” score that no one actually uses.

The problem comes in the execution. Seeing their scores is likely to make a lot of people upset, and not just the folks with low scores. People with high scores usually want to know why their scores aren’t even higher. Credit card companies may not want to mess with having to explain how scores work or take the heat for a process they don’t control. (Credit scoring formulas are created by other companies, like FICO-creators Fair Isaac, and applied to data held by the credit bureaus.)

We’ll have to stay tuned to see if any major issuers bite. In the meantime, you can get free scores from sites like Credit.com and Credit Karma, although they aren’t the FICO scores most lenders use. For those, you’ll need to go to MyFico.com and pay.

Credit denial: a corporate trick or cause for alarm?

Dear Liz: A few years ago when buying my son his college laptop computer, I applied for the store card at a big, well-known electronics store (at the encouragement of the sales associate). I was denied. I have never been denied a credit card before. I have eight cards that are always paid off monthly, own my own home and have a satisfactory retirement income and a top credit score. By receiving the card, I would have had a substantial savings on the computer. The denial has bothered me ever since. Was this a ploy on the company’s part to deny me the savings?

Answer: That kind of bait-and-switch happens sometimes, but there may be other reasons you were denied.

When you were turned down, the company should have provided you with the name, address and phone number of the credit agency it used to evaluate you. You should have immediately requested your report from the agency to see if the information was accurate. Someone may have stolen your identity, and credit denials are often the first sign many victims have that there’s a problem.

A collections account also could have torpedoed your scores. Many people discover that a medical bill, library fine or parking ticket went unpaid only when they find the resulting collections on their credit reports.

Why are there so many credit scores?

Dear Liz: I am confused. I have always thought there was one FICO score, prepared by a private company. I thought each credit agency also had its own credit score but it was not scaled the same as FICO. Your recent column said one can buy two of the three FICO scores (Equifax and TransUnion), and the third (Experian) will soon offer its FICO through the MyFICO website. Please clarify.

Answer: It’s no wonder you’re confused. Many of the companies marketing credit scores don’t make it clear that there are many types of credit scores, and even many types of FICOs, which is the leading credit scoring formula.

The credit bureaus typically sell their own proprietary scores to individuals, either “consumer education” scores that lenders might not use or some version of the VantageScore, a credit scoring formula that was created as a rival to the FICO. Older versions of the VantageScore ranged from 500 to 990, but the latest version has the same 300-to-850 scale as the FICO.

The bureaus also sell FICO scores of various types to lenders. The FICO formulas were created by a separate company, Fair Isaac. Bureaus apply the proprietary FICO formula to the data in your credit reports to create your FICO scores.

Individuals usually can’t purchase their FICO scores directly from the credit bureaus. People can, however, buy their FICOs from the MyFICO website, which now offers FICOs from all three bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. (For a few years Experian had refused to sell its FICOs to individuals, but that’s now changed.)

Something else you should know is that the FICOs you see may be different from the ones lenders see. The underlying data in your credit reports may change between the time you see your scores and the time the lenders see them. Or the lenders may buy FICO scores that are tweaked for their industry, such as for credit cards or auto loans. Another possibility is that lenders may use a different (usually older) version of the formula from the ones used to create the MyFICO scores.

Still, the scores you get from MyFICO at least should be in the same ballpark as the ones your lenders use. The same might not be true of any credit score that’s not specifically labeled FICO.

In case you missed it: credit score myths, zero waste and baby dilemmas

YCS4 coverToo many people believe too many lies about credit scores, and it’s costing them money. Read the real scoop in my MSN Money column “Credit score myths that need to die.”

Our family may never achieve “zero waste,” but we’ve started some easy ways to reduce the amount of garbage we generate. More in “Are you ready for a zero-waste lifestyle?

Kyle has a good job, and better health care coverage than her husband. He thinks those are reasons to keep working and create a more flexible schedule. But daycare is eating up most of her paycheck and she’s wondering if she should quit to stay home with their baby. Read my assessment, plus what you need to do if you’re considering becoming a stay-at-home parent, in Marketplace Money’s new feature “Financial Feud.”

Some financial missteps may not show up on your credit reports, but they’re big red flags that you’re headed for trouble. Read more in CardRatings.com’s “Danger ahead: 5 warning signs that won’t show up on your credit report.”

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

creditThe mystery behind credit scores, why buy a dress when you can rent one, and what turns Americans off about haggling.

What Really Influences Your Credit Score?
The creators of the VantageScore, a rival to the leading FICO, discuss the formula behind the numbers.

Taking Control of Your Personal Debt

While the math may be simple, the choices can be difficult.

Should You Rent Your Next Dress?
Why pay thousands for a designer dress you’ll wear only a few times?

The Secrets of Super Travelers
How to travel like the pros.

Haggling Can Pay, But Many Americans Refuse to Bargain
Why Americans are wary of this worldwide custom.