Get Control of Your Credit

We’ve all been taught that we are at the mercy of our credit reports and the credit reporting agencies. But that’s only part of the story. You can be proactive. There are things that you can do to take control of your own credit situation, as well as your own credit report. Here are ten strategies which can help to put you back in the driver’s seat:

  • Pay off your full credit card balance monthly. Use your credit card like cash. This is especially effective if you have a high-interest card that has a grace period. Pay the balance within the grace period and sidestep those interest charges; your rate, therefore, no longer comes into play. Here’s a handy tip on how to do it: immediately deduct the amount that you charge from you checkbook register, and mark that entry. Then, at the end of the month, you’ll know the exact amount that you have to pay; even better, you’ll have the money available because you’ve already deducted it from your checking balance.
  • Check your credit report at least once a year. A very large percentage of consumer credit reports have been found to contain incorrect information. Yours could very well be one of them. The passage of recent legislation has made getting a copy of your report much less complicated and much less expensive for consumers; it’s now free, as a matter of fact. To read about the new law and order your credit report, please visit the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website here.
  • Verify and correct all personal information in your credit report. This information can often be inaccurate or outdated; fortunately, it’s also the easiest to correct. Check closely the spelling of your name, any suffixes (Jr., Sr., III, etc.) that you use, your address, Social Security number, employment history and current employment, telephone number, income; anything which personally identifies you. Notify the credit bureaus in writing if you find any mistakes.
  • Direct the credit bureaus to verify and correct any incorrect credit account information. If you find an incorrect entry on your report, notify the credit reporting agency in writing, explaining why you believe the data to be inaccurate. They then have thirty days to research and verify the information. If it is found to be incorrect, or it cannot be verified, the entry must be removed from your credit record.
  • Add any missing positive accounts to your file. You can supply in writing to the credit bureaus any accounts which you have kept current. They can be loans, credit cards, mortgages, etc. Make sure you include your account number. The agencies must verify the information that you send them and include it in your report if it’s found to be correct.
  • Add your statement to any derogatory credit entry. You have the legal right to make a written statement of explanation about any credit entry, and have it included in your credit file. Sometimes extenuating circumstances are the cause of a negative rating; an explanation of what happened may be the difference between credit granted and credit refused.
  • Direct the credit bureaus to remove any information that’s more than seven years old. By law negative information can remain in your credit file for no more than seven years, except for bankruptcies, which can stay for ten years. Entries are supposed to be removed automatically after their time limits expire, but they often are not. The credit bureaus will remove them, but only if you request it in writing.
  • If you’re refused credit by a lender, find out why. You have the legal right to know. Upon receiving a notice of credit denial, you must contact the lender in writing. The lender must tell you specifically why credit to you was denied. You can then decide if you should reapply with additional or corrected information or apply with another institution.
  • Pay off and/or close unused credit accounts. “Too much credit” can hurt your chances of obtaining new credit. It can also be a huge temptation to use irresponsibly. If you don’t need it, contact the creditor and have them close the account.
  • Rebuild bad credit with secured credit cards or passbook loans. Make sure that the lender reports your account to the credit bureaus. If they do, secured credit cards and passbook-secured loans can be excellent ways to bolster poor credit.

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