Q&A: Free credit report

Dear Liz: I was trying to get my free credit report as you suggested in a recent column. I was asked to pay $1, which made me very uneasy. Why do they do this?

Answer: The fact that you were asked to pay for your free credit report — even a nominal amount such as $1 — shows that you went to the wrong site.

That can happen if you typed the correct site, www.annualcreditreport.com, into a search engine, rather than into your browser address bar, and didn’t carefully review the options before you clicked.

These look-alike sites are supposed to disclose that they’re not the real thing, but sometimes those disclosures are easy to miss.

The real site notes that it’s the only site for free credit reports and is authorized by federal law. You don’t need to provide a debit or credit card to get your reports, although you will have to provide identifying information such as your Social Security number.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

debt collectorsToday’s top story: How a single missed student loan payment can damage your credit. Also in the news: Finding a financial advisor who won’t rip you off, how tax liens can affect a spouse’s credit, and seven fall budget moves you need to make before the holidays begin.

Most Students Don’t Get How Bad It Is to Miss Loan Payments
A single missed payment could take a severe bite out of your credit score.

How to Hire a Financial Advisor Who Won’t Rip You Off
Due diligence is key.

Life Insurance Agents and Commissions: What You Should Know
Beware the sales pitch.

How Tax Liens Affect a Spouse’s Credit
Community property states mean trouble for both credit scores.

7 Fall Budget Moves You Need to Make Now
Get busy before the holidays.

Q&A: Co-pays and collections

Dear Liz: My primary care physician referred me to a gynecologist for a medical issue. I called the office three times and asked that the appointment be made as an annual exam.
During the appointment, the doctor was rude and critical of my body and lifestyle. (I am obese.) I left the appointment in tears before it was over.

Five months later, I got a $160 bill for the appointment. My insurance denied the claim twice, saying the doctor was double charging, but the office fought back, saying the charge was for the referral, not the annual exam.

I have tried to work with the doctor’s office and my insurance, but now the bill has gone to collections. It’s knocked my FICO score from 780 to 680 in a matter of months.

Part of me does not want to pay the bill because of the abuse I received from the doctor. However, this is affecting my finances. Would it help my FICO score if I negotiated with the bill collector and then repaid a part of the bill? What are my options?

Answer: Your best option is to ask the doctor’s office, politely, to take back the collection account in exchange for your paying the bill in full.

The doctor should not have been rude to you. But you shouldn’t have tried to get a referral for a medical issue treated as an annual exam. You were probably trying to avoid a co-pay, because health plans typically cover this type of preventive care, but that’s not why you were there.

You could ask whether the bill collector will delete the account from your credit reports. You would almost certainly have to pay the bill in full to win this concession, and even then the odds are against it.

That’s why it’s better to ask the medical provider to take back the account. In many cases, medical providers place accounts with collectors on assignment and have the ability to pull them back if they want.

The latest version of the FICO credit scoring formula ignores paid collections and treats unpaid medical collections less harshly than other collections. But that formula is just starting to be adopted, and the more commonly used previous version, FICO 8, ignores only collections worth less than $100.

As you’ve seen, even one dispute can lead to a big drop in your scores. If you feel an issue is worth pursuing, it often makes sense to pay the disputed bill and then seek justice in Small Claims court.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Excellent Credit Score with writing hand

Excellent Credit Score with writing hand

Today’s top story: What can lead to a black mark on your credit report. Also in the news: Rules to follow for starting a business with a friend, how to reduce student loan costs, and the most undervalued cities in the United States.

What Will Leave a Black Mark on My Credit Report?
Discovering what qualifies for the dreaded black mark.

3 Rules For Starting A Business With A Friend
Get it all in writing.

5 Easy Ways to Reduce Student Loan Costs
Tips that can help you reduce what you owe and pay off your loans faster.

The U.S. Cities With the Most Undervalued (and Overvalued) Housing
Relocating? Here are a few cities to consider.

Q&A: Personal loan debt vs credit card debt

Dear Liz: I need to understand how credit reporting agencies treat personal unsecured loan debt versus credit card debt.

I am considering getting a personal loan from a reputable lender to pay down my credit card debt. The amount of my overall debt will still be the same, just in a different category. How will my credit score be affected?

Answer: What you need to understand is how credit scoring formulas treat installment debt (loans) versus revolving debt (credit cards). Credit reporting agencies maintain the credit reports used to create scores — but don’t bless (or curse) particular types of debt.

The personal loan’s overall effect on your credit scores is likely to be positive if you pay the loan on time. What you owe on an installment loan is typically treated more favorably than a similar balance on a credit card.

Installment loans have other advantages: You typically get a fixed rate, rather than the variable one charged on most credit cards, and your balance will be paid off over the term of the loan, which is usually three years. If you stop carrying balances on your credit cards, you should be in much better shape: free of debt with potentially higher scores.

Often the best place to get installment loans is from credit unions, which are member-owned financial institutions that may offer lower interest rates.

Avoid any lender that gives you a high-pressure sales pitch, that offers you a loan if you have bad credit or that pitches debt settlement, which is far more dangerous to your finances than a personal loan.

If the lender tries to tell you about a new “government program” that wipes out credit card debt or tries to collect big upfront fees, you’ve stumbled onto a scam.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

fraud, scam, theftToday’s top story: Habits that can help build your credit. Also in the news: Protecting your data from cyber crooks, the important steps of financial planning, and who’s digging through your credit report?

3 Smart Habits That Can Help Build Your Credit
Habits you should pick up.

Protect Your Data From Cyber Crooks
Tips on keeping your data safe.

The 7 Most Important Steps of Financial Planning
One at a time.

Who Can See My Credit Score or Credit Report?
Who’s digging through your stuff?

Most Americans Can’t Pass This Basic Social Security Quiz
Can you?

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

o-CREDIT-REPORT-facebookToday’s top story: Tips on improving your credit score by Labor Day. Also in the news: How to get credit bureaus to remove errors from your credit report, the money moves college graduates should make, and how to decide between a credit card or a personal loan.

How to Improve Your Credit Score By Labor Day
Boosting your score over the summer.

5 Ways to Get Credit Bureaus to Remove Errors From Your Report
Be persistent.

Top 5 Money Moves to Make After Graduation
Don’t let your student loan debt overwhelm you.

Credit Card vs. Personal Loan: Which One Should I Get?
The pros and cons of both.

Catch The Company Stock Tax Break While You Can
The window is closing on a little known tax break.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

401K Nest EggToday’s top story: Auditing your 401(k) plan. Also in the news: When you should buy both whole and term life insurance, the tax documents you should always keep, and how a balance transfer could help your credit score.

How Good Is Your 401(k) Plan?
This basic audit will tell you.

When to Consider Both Whole and Term Life Insurance
Why purchasing both may be best.

Tax Documents You Should Always Keep
What to keep and what to shred.

A Balance Transfer Can Help Your Credit Score
Understanding your credit utilization ratio.

6 Mistakes You Make When You Check Your Credit
Of course, not checking your credit would be the biggest mistake of all.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: What you need to ask before hiring a financial adviser. Also in the news: How often you should check your credit report, the benefits of tracking all of your expenses, and retirement savings mythbusting.

20 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Financial Adviser
Making sure you hire the right one.

How Often Should I Check My Credit?
Finding the happy medium between ignoring it and obsessing over it.

Do You Track All of Your Expenses?
How tracking all of your expenses could help you stick to a budget.

10 Retirement Savings Myths That Won’t Go Away
Time for some mythbusting!

Friday’s need-to-know money news

teen-creditToday’s top story: Finding the best credit card for your teenager. Also in the news: Financial date nights, what to do if you can’t pay your taxes, and keeping old credit cards on your credit history.

5 Credit Cards for Teens
How to make sure their first card is the right one.

Avoid money fights with financial date nights
Dinner, a movie, and money talk.

Can’t Pay Your Taxes? How to Get IRS Relief
Don’t ignore the problem.

Use Recurring Charges to Keep Old Credit Cards on Your Credit History
Avoid the ding of a closed account.