Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Cutting through credit score confusion after the Experian fine. Also in the news: Eat out without biting into your budget, the female faces of student loan debt, and why it’s harder than ever to apply for financial aid.

Cutting Through Credit Score Confusion After Experian Fine
Making sense of it.

Eat Out Without Biting Into Your Budget
It’s all about strategy.

Female Faces of Student Loan Debt
A Women’s History Month feature.

It’s Harder Than Ever to Apply for Student Aid
Finding ways to make the process easier.

Big changes afoot for credit bureaus and your scores

check-credit-report-easilyCredit bureaus will have to hold off on reporting delinquent medical bills and supply actual human beings to review disputes under an agreement announced today with New York’s attorney general.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the agreement, to be announced later today, will change how credit bureaus operate nationally. Bureaus will have to wait 180 days before reporting any medical debt on people’s credit reports. When an insurance company pays a medical bill, all references to it will have to be deleted from the individual’s reports.

This is a big deal, since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates about 43 million Americans medical collection accounts on their credit reports. One such collection can devastate an otherwise pristine credit report and cause credit scores to plunge.

Having human beings review disputes is another significant change. Currently, humans stick a code on disputes before they’re sent to lenders, but the process is highly automated. Errors that have been removed from a report can crop up again (and again and again) when the lenders upload their data files to the bureaus. Getting problems fixed can be a frustrating process when you can’t get a human being to intervene.

The changes won’t happen overnight. The bureaus have three and a half years to roll them out.

Credit myths that need to die

YCS4 coverThe more you understand about how credit works, the more frustrated you get with how much misinformation is floating around out there. At least, that’s true for me and the three experts who joined me last week on a Google hangout to talk about “Credit myths that need to die.”

John Ulzheimer, who’s worked at Equifax and Fair Isaac, has unique insight into the credit reporting world. One thing that drives him around the bend is the persistent myth that employers use credit scores to evaluate applicants. Another myth he hates: the one about how closing accounts hurts your credit scores.

Gerri Detweiler, who writes for Credit.com and runs the DebtCollectionAnswers.com, discusses how medical debts affect your credits and debunks the myth that you need to carry balances to improve your credit scores.

Maxine Sweet heads consumer education at Experian and battles the myth that there’s just one credit score.

Take some time today to check out our discussion. You’ll come away from it a lot more informed about credit and how to make yours the best.

Experian to offer FICOs to consumers again

YCS4 coverExperian stopped offering FICO scores to consumers a few years ago, even though it continued to sell the scores to lenders. This refusal made it tough for consumers to know what rates they should expect from mortgage lenders, which typically take the middle of your three FICO scores (one from each bureau). You could still get your TransUnion and Equifax FICOs from MyFico.com, but not your Experian FICO.

That’s apparently about to change. Buried in a press release today was an announcement that Experian will once again “make FICO Scores available to consumers through myFICO.com and through third parties.”

“This is great news for consumers,” said credit scoring expert John Ulzheimer, the president of consumer education for SmartCredit.com who tipped me off to this important development.
After withdrawing from its partnership with MyFico.com, Experian continued to sell credit scores to consumers–but they weren’t the same scores lenders typically used. One score Experian sells, the PLUS score, isn’t used by lenders, while the VantageScore is used by about 10% of lenders. FICOs, on the other hand, are the leading score, so being able to get them again from Experian is a real boon.