Q&A: This innocent oversight can torpedo your credit scores

Dear Liz: My wife just had a credit card closed due to late payments, and we need some advice. It was a mileage card that she stopped using, but in November she made a charge for $120. She forgot about the charge, and in December they added the annual $60 fee. We weren’t monitoring the card, as it wasn’t being used, so we missed paying the two charges for three months. They closed the account and refused to reopen it even after we paid the balance.

This was an account my wife had for 17 years, always making payments on time, with a $26,000 credit line. Is there a way to get the company to reopen the account? Would you suggest writing a goodwill letter asking the bank to remove the account from our credit record? This was a stupid oversight on our part, and now I fear it’s going to kill our credit score!

Answer: Let’s take the good news, bad news approach.

The good news is that there is no such thing as a joint credit score. If this account was in your wife’s name alone, then only her credit scores have been affected. If you were an authorized user on the card, then the late payments may be affecting your scores as well, but you have some recourse. You can call the issuer and ask to be removed as an authorized user from the closed account, or you can dispute the account with the credit bureaus and (hopefully) get it removed that way.

Now, the bad news. If your wife’s credit scores used to be high, they aren’t anymore. That first skipped payment probably knocked 100 points or more from her scores. The next two skipped payments just exacerbated the damage. The account’s closure didn’t help matters, but most of the damage happened when she missed the first payment.

She can try writing a letter asking the issuer for mercy, but she shouldn’t get her hopes up. The issuer no longer wants her business and has little incentive to accommodate her.

Fortunately, credit score damage isn’t permanent, but it may be a few years before her scores are back to where they were.

This is a good reminder to consider putting all credit accounts on automatic payment, so at least the minimum payments are made each month. It’s also smart to monitor at least one of your credit scores and get alerts if there’s a sudden drop. Many banks and credit cards offer free scores, as do financial websites.

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Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Identity theft protection you may not know you already have. Also in the news: How auto insurers use you non-driving habits to raise prices, how younger consumers can get a credit boost from their elders, and how to close a credit card the right way.

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Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to navigate your most dangerous decade. Also in the news: 5 questions to ask before you share a credit card, how to use your tax refund to polish your credit, and how to save on your cell phone bill without a family plan.

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Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 8 million student loan borrowers must do this in 2020. Also in the news: 5 ways to get credit-healthy in the New Year, how to take charge of your credit this year, and where to file state and federal taxes for free.

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Q&A: Credit scores measure Dad’s accounts, too

Dear Liz: I recently added myself onto my 95-year-old father’s two credit card accounts as an authorized user. I am his agent under a power of attorney and handle his finances. I noticed that after being added to those accounts, my credit scores increased. When he passes on, I plan to close those accounts. Will my credit score be negatively affected?

Answer: Possibly. Closing accounts doesn’t help your scores and may hurt them. Scoring formulas are sensitive to the amount of credit you have versus how much you’re using. Closing an account shrinks your available credit, and the formulas don’t like that.

If you have good scores and plenty of other open accounts, though, the damage from closing these accounts probably will be minor and short-lived.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Don’t let holiday shopping sink your credit score. Also in the news: 10 housing and mortgage trends or 2020, money habits that are doing you more harm than good, and the No. 1 job of 2019 pays $140,000 – and its hiring growth has exploded.

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Q&A: Too many credit cards? Protect your credit scores while closing accounts

Dear Liz: Over the years, my husband and I have accumulated a number of credit cards. All have had a zero balance for years. I want to start canceling these cards, but I’m concerned that will hurt our great credit scores. How should I go about this, or should I?

Answer: As you probably know, closing credit accounts won’t help your scores and may hurt them. That doesn’t mean you can never close a credit card, but you shouldn’t close a bunch of them at once or close any if you’ll be in the market for a major loan, such as a mortgage or auto loan.

If you’re not planning to borrow money in the near future, then you can start closing accounts one at a time. You’ll probably want to keep the cards with the highest credit limits, and perhaps your oldest card as well. Monitor your scores to see how long they take to recover from each closure. You may need to wait a few months before shutting the next account.

Be sure to use your remaining cards occasionally by charging small amounts and paying the balance in full. That will keep the cards active and help prevent the issuer from canceling them.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: One credit score factor to check twice during the holidays. Also in the news: How to give back without busting your budget, how not to get hustled in the holiday bustle, and the best apps for tracking your credit card rewards.

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