Q&A: Here’s how to find that annual free credit report

Dear Liz: Please tell me the website for the free credit check. At a department store checkout counter, a stranger’s name came up connected to my cellphone number. I think I should check my credit reports, but I don’t want to pay for what I understand I can get free.

Answer: It’s entirely possible a clerk simply made a mistake in entering another customer’s phone number. But you should be checking your credit reports regularly anyway, and this is as good an excuse to do so as any. The federally mandated free site can be found at www.annualcreditreport.com. Searching for “free credit reports” can turn up a number of other sites, so make sure you use the correct one.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The scariest thing to find on your credit report. Also in the news: How to spend your day when you’re unemployed, advocates praise student loan scam crackdown, and how to get your student loans back on course.

The Scariest Thing to Find on Your Credit Reports
Beware of surprises.

How to Spend Your Day When You’re Unemployed
Getting off the couch is a good start.

Advocates Praise Student Loan Scam Crackdown, Demand More
The tip of the iceberg.

Ask Brianna: How do I get my student loans back on course?
Course correction.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The best cities for recent college graduates. Also in the news: Why paying bills is a grind for almost half of Americans, how to trim expensive wedding frills without cutting guests’ fun, and everything you wanted to know about your credit report but were afraid to ask.

Best Cities for Recent College Grads
Starting someplace new.

Paying Bills Is a Grind for 43% of Americans, CFPB Finds
Living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Trim Expensive Wedding Frills Without Cutting Guests’ Fun
Concentrating on the important things.

Everything you wanted to know about your credit report — but were afraid to ask
No dumb questions.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Credit report with score on a desk

Today’s top story: How ‘Pay for Delete’ might help your credit – if you’re lucky. Also in the news: 19 less-obvious wedding costs to bake into your budget, why financial advice is still important regardless of your income, and how to make sure you’re not going to an Equifax phishing site.

‘Pay for Delete’ Might Help Your Credit — If You’re Lucky
Negotiating with a creditor.

19 Less-Obvious Wedding Costs to Bake Into Your Budget
Budgeting the entire package.

Not Made of Money? Financial Advice Is Still for You
You don’t need to be to rich.

Make Sure You’re Not Going to an Equifax Phishing Site
Don’t make matters worse.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 3 ways to scrub a collections stain off a credit report. Also in the news: Why you probably need title insurance, socially responsible investing, and the Equifax hack just got worse.

3 Ways to Scrub a Collections Stain Off a Credit Report
Do your homework.

Title Insurance: What It Is and Why You (Probably) Need It
Title insurance protects the insured from a financial loss related to the ownership of a property.

Socially Responsible Investing Takes Clearing a Few Hurdles
Align your investments with your values.

Your Credit Cards May Also Have Been Compromised in the Equifax Hack
It keeps getting worse.

Q&A: Debt has a habit of hanging around

Dear Liz: Last year my dad had an account he couldn’t pay and it is showing up on his credit report as a closed, charged-off account. As expected, the lender sold it to another company. The new company now also has it listed as an open account in collection on his credit report. How can the same account be listed twice? I thought the second company couldn’t report it.

Answer: That’s not correct. Once the debt was charged off and turned over to collections, it could be reported again as a collection account. If the original account still shows a balance owed or more than one collection shows up for the same debt, however, your dad should definitely dispute it and file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Q&A: Making sure your free credit report really is free

Dear Liz: Please tell me again how to get my free credit report each year.

Answer: You can get a free annual look at your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you search for “free credit report,” you may wind up at a look-alike site, rather than the federally mandated one. A good clue that you’re on the wrong site will be if you’re asked for a credit card number.

Your free reports don’t include free scores, which are the three-digit numbers lenders and others use to judge your creditworthiness. Your bank or credit card companies may offer free scores, or you can sign up with one of the many sites that offer them. Keep in mind that there are different types of scores, and the one that you’re seeing may not be the same as the ones your lenders use.

Q&A: How long will a tax lien linger on a credit report?

Dear Liz: You wrote an article about how the credit bureaus are removing civil judgments and tax liens from people’s credit reports. I’ve been denied credit due to a few tax liens. Creditors won’t negotiate, even though the IRS has already deemed me unable to pay due to my disability. (I’m receiving Social Security disability income.) My question now is, how can I be sure it is being removed? Do I need to call the bureaus? Order another credit report?

Answer: Your unpaid tax liens may disappear, or they may not.

Starting in July, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion began removing liens and judgments when those records lack enough personally identifying information to ensure that the negative marks wind up on the right people’s reports. Another new requirement is that the records be properly updated, so that accounts that have been paid or resolved aren’t still showing as unpaid.

The error rate for these records was high, leading to many complaints, disputes and lawsuits. The bureaus expect to purge virtually all civil judgments but only about half of the tax liens.

If your liens aren’t purged and you can’t pay them, you may have to wait a while for them to fall off your credit reports. Paid liens are subject to the seven-year limit on how long most negative items can appear on credit reports. Unpaid liens can technically remain indefinitely, although the bureaus typically remove them after 10 years.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Costly subprime credit cards offer little help. Also in the news: Take charge of your credit score with your credit report, why you should consider a mortgage recast, and four ways to manage your credit card debt.

Costly Subprime Credit Cards Offer Little Help, NerdWallet Study Finds
Just digging a deeper hole.

If You Want a Good Credit Score, Read Your Credit Reports
Studying up.

Why You Should Consider a Mortgage Recast
Save on your monthly payment.

4 ways to manage your credit card debt
Getting it under control.

Black marks fall off credit reports in July

Starting July 1, the credit scores of up to 14 million people could begin to rise as credit reports are scrubbed of nearly all civil judgments and many tax liens.

Consumer advocates hail the data’s deletion as a long-overdue victory for people whose scores were unfairly dinged by inaccurate information. Others worry the changes could inflate the scores of risky borrowers and have a catastrophic impact on lenders.

People shouldn’t expect an immediate jump in their scores, however.

In my latest for the Associated Press, how the process will work and when you can expect to see changes.