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How to get free credit scores …
and help with credit problems
By Jim Murphy
In Part 1, we talked about the fact that a poor credit score can cost you tons of money.
Not only can you end up paying more for loans, auto insurance and rent, you may lose out on job offers or promotion. You can even reduce your online dating choices!
But you can correct credit problems
As a start, I hope you went to annualcreditreport.com and ordered at least one of the three free credit reports you are entitled to each year.
Go through the report and make sure the information is accurate and up to date. Correct any mistakes in writing. (The Federal Trade Commission even provides a sample letter to dispute errors on your credit report. See the last source lasted at the bottom of this blog for the sample letter.)
But it’s also very helpful to get your credit score, especially the score your lender is using.
Fortunately, there now are ways to do that for free.
- Your credit card issuer may give you your free FICO Score. More than 50 do. Check with yours. FICO stands for Fair, Isaac and Company, (now Fair Isaac Corporation) which developed the score in 1989. Base scores run from 300 to 850. The higher the score, the more creditworthy you are … and the less likely to default on your loan. Before a major purchase, like buying a home, it’s helpful to get FICO Scores from all three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Each may have a different score, depending on the data on you that bureau has in its files.
- You can now get a different score for free from these online companies: CreditKarma.com, CreditSesame.com and Credit.com. None will ask you for a credit card, so they can’t charge you. But the scores you get are “educational” scores. And these numbers can differ sometimes greatly from FICO Scores, which MyFICO.com says “are the credit scores used by 90% of top lenders to determine your credit risk.”
- You can go to a non-profit counseling agency like Clarifi to get help and a free FICO Score. A friend of mine, a retired banker, volunteered at Clarifi to help people overcome credit problems and was very impressed by the organization. Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union, where I wrote and edited Choices Magazine for nine years, refers members there, as do the Police and Fire Federal Credit Union and American Heritage Federal Credit Union,
Clarifi, formerly known as the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Delaware Valley or CCCS, has been helping people who are struggling with debt for over 50 years. It has an excellent reputation.
Your credit union may direct you to Clarifi. Otherwise, you can call 800-989-2227 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The mailing address is 1608 Walnut Street, 10th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19103.
Be careful of many of the “debt settlement” companies who advertise heavily, say you can eliminate 50 to 70% of your debt and use robocallers to reach consumers.
Remar Sutton, a former columnist for the Washington Post and a consumer advocate, calls these company pitches “misleading and deceptive at best. At worst, they are fraudulent, abusive, unfair, and some are illegal”
Credit problems hit everyone
By the way, anyone can run into credit problems. New York Times economics reporter Edmund L. Andrews proved this in 2009 when he wrote a humiliating piece about how he lived higher than he should have, and defaulted on his mortgage.
Run – don’t walk – away from any company that:
- Wants you to pay before providing services.
- Says it can get ride of negative credit information
- Does not tell you your rights
- Won’t let you contact any of the nationwide credit reporting agencies directly.
- Suggests you create a “new” credit identity.
Jim Murphy is a direct marketing copywriter who has run his own consulting business since 2004. For nine years, he wrote and edited “Choices,” an award-winning credit union magazine with a circulation of 80,000. He also is a certified member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides.
Any comments made are Jim’s opinion, and not necessarily those of the Old Pine Community Center.