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.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

shutterstock_101159917Today’s top story: When and how much a Fed rate hike will cost you. Also in the news: The art of lowering your bills, how to become Social Security savvy, and why you should check your credit report after getting married.

Fed Rate Hike: When and How Much It Will Cost You
What to expect when the Fed pulls the trigger.

Ace the Art of Lowering Your Bills
Treat it like a science.

Are You Social Security Savvy?
What you know and don’t know.

Check Your Credit Report for Inquires After You Get Married
Checking for changes.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Credit report with score on a desk

Credit report with score on a desk

Today’s top story: Understanding your credit card’s free FICO score. Also in the news: The difference between a soft inquiry and a hard inquiry, surviving Social Security with a minor cost of living adjustment, and how apps can both help and hurt your finances.

To Understand Your Credit Card’s Free FICO Score, Get Your Credit Report
How your credit card use factors into scores.

What’s the Difference Between a Soft Inquiry and a Hard Inquiry on My Credit Report?
Which ones affect your credit score?

Social Security survival strategies with COLA only at 0.2%
Surving a stagnant cost of living increase adjustment.

How Apps Can Help (and Hurt) Your Finances
Could your apps lead you to spend more?

Monday’s need-to-know money news

1436536219414Today’s top story: Time to give your financial goals a midyear checkup. Also in the news: The statute of limitations on debt, how to save on child care, and financial concepts to teach your teen.

Give Your Financial Goals a Midyear Checkup
Checking your progress.

The Difference Between a Debt’s “Statute of Limitations” and Your Credit History
The debts that will not die.

7 Ways to Save on Child Care
Saving where you can.

5 Financial Concepts To Teach Your Teen Before High School Graduation
Get them on the right path before they leave for college.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

mortgage2Today’s top story: Why debt-to-income ratio matter when buying a house. Also in the news: Crucial insurance changed to make after divorce, how to manage your finances when you’re separated, and a bill in congress that would remove credit report strikes after four years.

Debt-to-Income Ratio Matters When You’re Buying a House
How to improve your DTI.

5 Crucial Insurance Changes After Divorce
Things to address immediately.

Managing Your Finances When You’re Separated
You may be apart, but your money is still together.

This Bill in Congress Would Remove Credit Report Strikes After Four Years
Significant changes could be ahead.

Q&A: Taking out a loan to boost credit scores

Dear Liz: I have little to no information — good or bad — in my credit reports. I am considering obtaining a secured loan from my credit union to establish better credit. Does it make any difference to my credit score if the credit union reports the loan as “secured”?

Answer: Credit scores don’t treat installment loans differently based on whether they’re unsecured, with just your promise to repay, or secured, which means backed by an asset such as an amount on deposit with the credit union.

What matters is how you pay off the loan (every payment should be on time) and whether the account will be reported to all three credit bureaus, so that you’re building scores at all three. Call and ask, because not all credit unions report to all three bureaus.

You also might want to consider a secured credit card, because having both types of credit accounts — installment and revolving — can boost your scores. Again, it’s important that you pay on time and that the card is reported to all three bureaus. You should use the card lightly but regularly and pay the balance in full each month for best results.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Credit report with score on a desk

Credit report with score on a desk

Today’s top story: Why students missed out on nearly $3 billion dollars in financial aid. Also in the news: Things on your credit report that look like errors, but might not be, how to protect your loved ones from financial elder abuse, and how to protect inherited IRA assets from creditors via a trust.

3 Things on Your Credit Report That Look Like Errors, But Might Not Be
Analyzing your report.

Why students missed out on $2.7 billion in financial aid last year
The FAFSA is essential.

How to Protect Your Loved Ones (and Yourself) From Financial Elder Abuse
Protecting their assets.

Protect Inherited IRA Assets From Creditors With a Trust
Keeping your inheritance.