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.

Outrage after outrage

Yesterday Equifax broke the news hackers gained access to the Social Security numbers and other sensitive personal information for 143 million Americans (a group that apparently includes me, my husband, our daughter and probably you).

Because that wasn’t enough, today the outrages just continued:

  • The breach was discovered at the end of July. What was Equifax doing in the meantime? Well, its executives sold about $2 million worth of company shares,  The Washington Post reports.
  • The same day the breach was announced, Congress scheduled a hearing on a bill to shield the bureaus from full accountability from their actions.
  • Equifax offered free credit monitoring for a year, but didn’t make clear whether its usual binding arbitration language applied. So were people waiving their right to sue over the breach? Equifax wouldn’t say, until the New York Attorney General demanded and got an answer: the binding arbitration clause applies to the monitoring product, not the breach. Just in case, after signing up I sent this letter using Equifax’s opt out clause to (hopefully) preserve our right to sue.
  • Credit monitoring doesn’t prevent anything; it just notifies you after you’ve been victimized. Equifax is also offering free credit freezes, which prevent others from opening accounts in your name. Well, it was supposed to be free; some journalists reported they were charged $3.
  • Experian and TransUnion aren’t offering free anything. To shut down your credit, you need freezes at all three bureaus. The others are charging $3 to $10 each, plus additional fees if you need to temporarily lift the freeze to apply for credit, a job, insurance, cell phone service, utilities, an apartment, etc. Oh, and freezes won’t help with other types of crime, such as medical and criminal ID theft or blackmail. (The hack is a potential national security threat, according to experts quoted by the New York Times.)
  • Oh, and when victims try to enroll in credit monitoring, Equifax tells them to come back in a few days. Because, apparently, they’re kind of busy.
  • In fact, all three bureaus’ Web sites were having trouble under the deluge of requests. Sites were freezing and offering error messages; people were getting busy signals or being kicked off calls.

There was no way to make this breach better, but clearly there were plenty of ways to make it worse.

 

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.

Q&A: An Internet search isn’t the best way to find a credit counselor

Dear Liz: You’ve mentioned finding a nonprofit credit counselor and I was wondering the best way to go about that without feeling like I’ve been scammed. I’m wise enough (in my later years) to know that “nonprofit” does not mean free or even cheap services, so I didn’t want to just search for “nonprofit credit counseling, McKinney Texas.” Suggestions? Or should I do just that?

Answer: You can find a nonprofit credit counseling organization in your area using the National Foundation for Credit Counseling site at www.nfcc.org. NFCC is the oldest and largest credit counseling organization. Member organizations provide a variety of free and low-cost services. Those include financial education, credit report reviews and counseling about credit and debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure prevention, housing and reverse mortgages. If you’re struggling with credit card debt, these agencies provide debt management plans that can allow you to pay off your accounts at lower interest rates.

If you think you may need a debt management plan, you may also want to consult with a bankruptcy attorney. You can get referrals from the National Assn. of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys at www.nacba.org. Credit counselors — and their clients — are sometimes too optimistic about people’s ability to pay off debt, so you should understand the advantages and disadvantages of bankruptcy before you commit.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: A car insurance quiz to see if you’re savvy or stumped. Also in the news: How to afford college as an older student, five ways car ads lie, and why habits that create good credit can still be a bad thing.

Take This Car Insurance Quiz to See if You’re Savvy or Stumped
Which one are you?

Ask Brianna: How Do I Afford College as an Older Student?
Considering your options.

5 Ways Car Ads Lie
Don’t get taken for a ride.

Habits That Give You Good Credit Can Still Be Bad For Your Finances
Debt is rarely a good thing.

Q&A: Changing credit scoring formulas will help some — but not everyone

Dear Liz: I read that the credit bureaus have started deleting black marks from people’s credit reports. This is good news for me. I have never been late on a house payment in 30-plus years, but my credit is in the low 600s due to a loan I co-signed for an ex-girlfriend who has been chronically late.

Answer: The records the credit bureaus are deleting won’t help improve your scores.

The three bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — are removing virtually all civil court judgments and many tax liens from credit reports. Tax liens result from unpaid state or federal tax bills and civil judgments are court rulings from lawsuits filed over old debts, unpaid child support, evictions and other non-criminal disputes.

Judgments and liens caused a lot of disputes and complaints about accuracy because the records were often missing key identifying information and weren’t regularly updated. The bureaus are removing the records that don’t include minimum identifying information such as Social Security numbers or dates of birth in addition to names and addresses. The records must also have been updated within the previous 90 days.

The deleted records are expected to lead to small credit score increases for most of the 12 million to 14 million people who have such black marks on their credit reports.

Your issue is different. Because you co-signed, the loan appears on your credit reports as well as your ex’s. Every late payment hurts your credit scores. If your ex had simply stopped paying, your scores would have plunged even more — but then would have begun to improve as your responsible use of credit began to offset the default.

After seven years and 180 days, the defaulted loan would no longer show up on your credit reports or affect your scores. Because your ex keeps paying, albeit late, your credit scores sustain fresh damage each time. Each late payment also resets the clock on how long the negative marks show up on your credit reports. You won’t begin to get relief until the loan is paid off or refinanced.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why you should have a credit card even if you don’t carry a balance. Also in the news: Credit card debt is down in early 2017, how to take advantage of cooling car sales this summer, and how to avoid being a victim at the car repair garage.

Why Have a Credit Card if You Don’t Carry a Balance?
The importance of maintaining credit.

Credit Card Debt Shrank in Early 2017
Paying off debt.

How to Take Advantage of Cooling Car Sales This Summer
Prices are dropping.

How to avoid being a victim at the car repair garage
Don’t get taken for a ride.
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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

Today’s top story: How to assess your credit card needs after divorce. Also in the news: Generation Z is off to a strong start with credit, why your friend has a better credit score than you, and how to ensure your gift cards don’t go to waste.

How to Assess Your Credit Card Needs After Divorce
How to determine what you need.

‘Gen Z’ Off to Strong Start With Credit, Analysis Shows
The fiscally responsible generation?

Why Your Friend Has a Better Credit Score Than You
Sifting through the possibilities.

How to ensure your gift cards don’t go to waste
Don’t toss away free money.

Are you afraid to look at your finances?

Credit counselor Linda Humburg understands why many of her debt-burdened clients don’t want to open their mail. What bothers her, though, is the sheer volume of untouched bills and collection notices that some bring to their first counseling appointments.

“The shoeboxes (full of bills) don’t make my heart drop as much as the grocery bags and garbage bags,” says Humburg, counselor manager for FamilyMeans Financial Solutions in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Not wanting to confront unpaid bills is a perfectly understandable, if unfortunate, reaction to a bad financial situation. And it’s not just people in extreme debt who might be afraid to look. Many people avoid checking their credit scores or using retirement calculators because they’re afraid of what they might find.

The problem is that delaying action usually makes matters worse.

In my latest for the Associated Press, the high cost of living in denial.