Q&A: Getting help with credit scores after identity theft

Dear Liz: Would you please help readers learn how to fix credit scores after identity theft? I have been a victim at least eight times in the past five years. I have filed three police reports regarding these matters and sent them along with other proof to the big three credit report agencies. Only one quickly answered and deleted the false entries.

Answer: You have a friend in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In the past, complaints about credit bureaus went into a black hole. The Federal Trade Commission collected them but warned consumers that it couldn’t expect any action on their individual cases. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, by contrast, forwards consumer complaints directly to the financial company and works to get problems solved. The bureau says 97% of complaints get a timely response.

Before you make your complaints, though, you should check your credit reports again. One bureau may have been faster in responding, but the other two may have since deleted the bogus accounts.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

o-CREDIT-REPORT-facebookToday’s top story: How to buy your kid a good credit score. Also in the news: What keeps us awake at night, what low-income families lose by not having bank accounts, and finance lessons Baby Boomers could learn from Millennials.

How to Buy Your Kid a Good Credit Score for $200
Starting them off on the right foot.

Money, Safety and Privacy Keep Us Awake at Night
What we worry about when we try to sleep.

Low-Income Families Are Most Likely to Skip the Bank Account — and Pay the Price
Losing interest and protection.

5 Finance Lessons Baby Boomers Could Learn From Millennials
Taking advice.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

money-under-mattress-istock-630x434Today’s top story: The high cost of being unbanked. Also in the news: What you need to ask when choosing a mortgage broker, how getting a car loan can affect your credit, and how your Facebook account can ruin your finances.

The Cost of Being Unbanked: Hundreds of Dollars a Year, Always One Step Behind
No more stuffing your money under your mattress.

4 Must-Ask Questions When Choosing a Mortgage Broker
Getting the important answers.

How Getting a Car Loan Can Affect Your Credit
For good or for bad.

How your Facebook account can slowly destroy your finances
The modern day Keeping Up with the Joneses.

Q&A: How to improve your credit scores

Dear Liz: I don’t have a credit score. I have one item on my credit report that’s a court judgment. What can I do to get a score? If I pay the balance due for the judgment, would it be removed?

Answer: Paying a judgment doesn’t remove it from your credit reports, but it does limit the amount of time that the judgment can hurt you.

By federal law, an unpaid judgment can remain on your reports for seven years after it was entered against you. But creditors often have 10 to 20 years, depending on the state, to use the judgment to garnish your paycheck or put a levy on your bank account. Some states allow creditors to renew a judgment that hasn’t been paid, which means that it could pop back up on your credit reports after the initial seven-year period has expired.

To answer your other question, you get credit scores by having and using credit. The leading FICO formula needs six months’ of credit history to generate scores. One way to get credit if you don’t have any is with a secured credit card. These cards typically give you a line of credit equal to the deposit you make at the bank that issues the card. Use the card lightly but regularly and pay the balance on time and in full each month. You don’t need to pay credit card interest or carry debt to create good scores.

Another option is a “credit builder” loan, sometimes offered by member-owned credit unions. One form of credit builder loan puts your payments, minus interest, into a certificate of deposit that’s yours to keep once you’ve made the final payment. With one loan, in other words, you build your credit and your savings.

You can build credit either way, but having both types of credit — revolving accounts such as credit cards and installment loans such as a credit-builder loan — can help you build it faster.

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?

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

18ixgvpiu0s24jpgToday’s top story: Why you shouldn’t wait for a 401(k) to start saving for retirement. Also in the news: Cell phone options for when you’re traveling overseas, credit problems that can destroy your home-buying dreams, and five crucial retirement years for your money.

Don’t Wait for a 401(k) to Start Saving for Retirement
Don’t wait to start saving period.

Cell Phone Options When You’re Traveling Overseas
Keeping your bill as low as possible.

5 credit problems that can destroy your home dreams
Tackling issues before you buy a home.

5 crucial retirement years for your money
Years to pay attention to.

Q&A: The ins and outs of credit scores

Dear Liz: I’ve been using a free credit site to learn more about credit reports and credit scores. Recently I looked around and found reviews about how “horribly inaccurate” these free scores are. Where can I go to find my real FICO credit scores? I need the ones that matter, the ones that lenders use.

Answer: Some free scores aren’t used by any lenders. But many sites these days give out VantageScores, a FICO rival that’s being used in a growing number of credit decisions. So VantageScores are “real” scores, just not the most commonly used scores.

Here’s the thing, though: You generally can’t predict which scores a lender will use. Not only are there different name brands, but FICO offers versions customized for certain types of lending. The scores typically used by credit card issuers are different from the ones used by auto lenders, for example. These industry-specific FICO scores are on a 250-to-900 scale, rather than the 300-to-850 scale used by other FICO scores.

There are also different generations of each type of score, much like the different operating systems for your computer. Some lenders quickly upgrade to the latest version, just as some computer users upgraded to Windows 10 when it came out. Others use older versions of the scores, just as users may cling to Vista or XP. (For you Mac users, that would be something like hanging on to Mountain Lion or Snow Leopard instead of updating to El Capitan.)

Mortgage lenders, in particular, use relatively old versions of FICO. That’s because the agencies that buy most home loans, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, haven’t updated their requirements so that lenders can use newer versions.

Some credit card companies offer their customers free FICO scores, typically from one bureau. You can get a glimpse of the array of scores lenders might use by buying the most commonly used FICO, the FICO 8, for about $20 each from MyFico.com. Along with each FICO 8 you buy (you can buy three, one from each of the three major credit bureaus), you’ll get additional versions used for auto, credit card and mortgage lending.

If you’re going to be in the market for a major loan, such as a car loan or a mortgage, it makes sense to buy your FICOs so you can get a better idea of how lenders might view you. If you’re just interested in tracking your scores generally, though, the free versions can be perfectly adequate.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Credit report with score on a desk

Credit report with score on a desk

Today’s top story: Americans are confused over credit card fees and rewards. Also in the news: Using refinancing to pay for home renovations, taking one day a month to be your personal finance day, and how to protect your credit score.

Americans Confused Over Credit Card Fees, Rewards
Cardholders are paying extra, losing out on rewards.

Should I Pay for Home Renovations by Refinancing?
Pros and cons.

Pick One Day a Month to Be Your Personal Finance Day
Getting everything done at once.

Avoid these 3 mistakes to protect your credit score
Taking a proactive approach.