Our #CreditChat is about to begin!

liz-westonIn a few minutes I’ll be answering your questions about how to deal with your debt on Experian’s #CreditChat, which starts at 3 p.m. Eastern/noon Pacific today. Topics include how to balance savings and paying off debt, which debts to tackle first, how to handle student loans and what to do if you’re drowning in debt. Easy ways to follow the conversation include Twubs or tchat.

Please join us!

Please join me today for a #CreditChat on Twitter

liz-westonI’ll be featured as the guest expert on Experian’s #CreditChat at 3 p.m. Eastern today. I’ll be tweeting advice and tips about a bunch of important issues, including:

·         When to focus on savings and when to pay down debt

·         What debts to tackle first and which can wait

·         What to do about your student loans

·         What you should know before applying for a mortgage or auto loan

·         What to do if you’re drowning in debt

So come chat with me! Easy ways to follow the conversation include Twubs or tchat. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

creditImproving your credit score, making the economy work for you, and how that video you just posted on Facebook could come back to haunt you.

How Can I Build My Credit Score?
Ten steps to better credit.

Buying a House? Don’t Make These Mistakes
Don’t be sidetracked by fixable mistakes.

7 Smart Money Moves in an Improving Economy
How to make the improving economy work for your money.

Don’t Let Your Social Media Footprint Kill Your Job Prospects
What you post on Facebook today could keep you unemployed tomorrow.

The Pros & Cons Of Cell Phone Insurance
Having insurance on a fragile smartphone sounds like a good idea. But does it make financial sense?

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Passenger airplane landing on runway in airport.The myth of open houses, the credit report you never knew about and how to avoid being squeezed by airlines.

The Credit Report You Haven’t Seen Yet

How “alternative credit data” could help you get approved at lower rates.

Cyber-thieves: More Tips on How to Protect Yourself From Credit Card Theft

Protecting you and your credit from cyber-theft.

Are Open Houses a Waste of Sellers’ Time?

Open Houses are not only a waste of time; they could be an open invitation to thieves.

The Worst Fee-Greedy Airlines

From bag fees to charging to make reservations by phone, airlines are determined to squeeze as much money out of passengers as possible.

When to Buy a Mutual Fund

There’s money to be made in mutual funds, if you have the patience.

The best place to get your credit reports, scores

Dear Liz: I want to see all three of my credit reports with scores and fix some things on there that could be in error. What site do you recommend to get all three with scores?

Answer: You have a federally mandated right to see your credit reports once a year, and you can access those reports at http://www.annualcreditreport.com. That is the one and only federally authorized site. There are plenty of look-alikes, so make sure you get to the right place. Each of your three reports will include links that will allow you to dispute errors.

When you access your reports, you may be offered credit scores either for a fee or as an inducement to sign up for credit monitoring. Typically, these scores are not the FICO scores that most lenders use. If the word “FICO” is not in the name of the credit score being offered, it’s not an actual FICO score.

To get your FICOs, you’ll need to go to MyFico.com. Currently, you can buy two of your three FICOs — the ones from Equifax and TransUnion — for $19.95 each. Experian has announced it will soon offer FICOs through MyFico.com as well.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Here are some important money stories to check out today:Education savings

Should the Government Mandate Free Credit Scores?

Despite an abundance of free credit score offers, consumers still lack easy access to their FICO and Vantage scores, often the determining factor in credit approval.

Applying Sage Graduation Advice to Your Financial Life

Oh, the places you and your money will go!

Maximize Rewards Offered by Your Credit Cards

A new website shows how to get the most from your reward points based on how you spend.

What Can You Afford: House, Car or Vacation?

A guide to what you can and cannot afford during the summer spending season.

 

Opt out of credit card offers

Dear Liz: I am receiving many unsolicited credit card offers in the mail and am worried about identity theft. Do you know of a phone number or Web address whereby I can opt out of these offers?

Answer: You can call 1-888-5OPTOUT or visit www.optoutprescreen.com to remove your name from marketing lists that the three credit bureaus sell to credit card issuers. Opting out won’t keep every card solicitation out of your mailbox, but it should decrease substantially the number of offers you receive. You can opt out for five years or permanently, but you need to be prepared to give your Social Security number, since that’s one of the key ways the bureaus identify you in their records.

Experian to offer FICOs to consumers again

YCS4 coverExperian stopped offering FICO scores to consumers a few years ago, even though it continued to sell the scores to lenders. This refusal made it tough for consumers to know what rates they should expect from mortgage lenders, which typically take the middle of your three FICO scores (one from each bureau). You could still get your TransUnion and Equifax FICOs from MyFico.com, but not your Experian FICO.

That’s apparently about to change. Buried in a press release today was an announcement that Experian will once again “make FICO Scores available to consumers through myFICO.com and through third parties.”

“This is great news for consumers,” said credit scoring expert John Ulzheimer, the president of consumer education for SmartCredit.com who tipped me off to this important development.
After withdrawing from its partnership with MyFico.com, Experian continued to sell credit scores to consumers–but they weren’t the same scores lenders typically used. One score Experian sells, the PLUS score, isn’t used by lenders, while the VantageScore is used by about 10% of lenders. FICOs, on the other hand, are the leading score, so being able to get them again from Experian is a real boon.

Forgotten credit card trashes scores

Dear Liz: My husband and I are in the process of refinancing our mortgage. I just received my credit report in the mail, and my score was 724. The report indicated that a delinquency resulted in my less-than-stellar score. When I went to the credit bureau site to see where the problem was, I saw that I had a $34 charge on a Visa last year. I rarely use that card, so I did not realize that I had a balance. As a result, I had a delinquent balance for five months last year. I am sick about this, as I always pay my bills on time. To think that my credit score was affected by something so insignificant is really bumming me out. Is there anything I can do to fix this?

Answer: You can try, but creditors are often reluctant to delete true negative information from your credit files. That’s why it’s so important to monitor all of your credit accounts, and to consider signing up for automatic payments so that this doesn’t happen again.

You should know that your mortgage lender won’t look at just one credit score when evaluating your application. Typically, mortgage lenders would request FICO credit scores from each of the three bureaus for both you and your husband, then use the lower of the two middle scores to determine your rate. Even if 724 did turn out to be the lowest of the six scores, you should still get a decent rate, since that’s considered a good score.

Should you pay to boost your credit scores?

Dear Liz: I’ve seen advertisements for services that promise to help you raise your credit score by the exact number of points you need to qualify for a good mortgage rate. Are these services worth the money?

Answer: There’s one thing you need to know about these services: They don’t have access to the actual FICO formula, which is proprietary. So what they’re doing is essentially guesswork.

They may suggest that you can raise your score a certain number of points in a certain time frame, but the FICO formula isn’t that predictable. Any given action can have different results, depending on the details of your individual credit reports.

Rather than pay money to a firm making such promises, use that cash to pay down any credit card debt you have. Widening the gap between your available credit and your balances can really boost your scores. Other steps you should take include paying your bills on time, disputing serious errors on your credit reports and refraining from opening or closing accounts.