Credit Report Guide

20 Apr 2016
Robert Wilkins
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Personal Information
This section lists your name and address, the date it was first reported to the credit bureau by one of your creditors, and the date the information was last updated. This section also lists the name and address of your current employer. If your report contains information about any previous employers, it will also be listed.

Summary
The summary section includes a categorized list of all the accounts on your credit report. This overview allows you to quickly review your credit profile and compare data between the three agencies. The accounts on your credit report are sorted into the following nine categories:

  • Total Accounts
    The total number of accounts – both open and closed – on your credit report.
  • Open Accounts
    The number of accounts listed as “open” on your credit report.
  • Closed Accounts
    The number of accounts listed as “closed” on your credit report.
  • Delinquent
    The number of accounts on your credit report that are currently past-due for payment.
  • Derogatory
    The number of accounts on your credit report that are negatively impacting your credit score.
  • Balances
    The total amount of debt that you owe for all accounts on your credit report.
  • Payments
    The total amount you owe in monthly payments for all the accounts on your credit report.
  • Public Records
    The number of public records listed on your credit report. This category includes bankruptcy filings, court judgments and tax liens.
  • Inquiries
    The number of inquiry records on your credit report from the last 2 years. These records are placed when your data is checked by a financial institution for the purpose of an application for new credit. Checking your own credit does not cause this type of inquiry to be reported and does not harm your credit score.

Account History
The account history section of your credit report gives detailed information about the credit accounts in your name. Credit accounts are divided into five categories- real estate, installment, revolving, collection and other:

  • Real Estate
    First and second mortgage loans on your home.
  • Installment
    Accounts comprised of fixed terms with regular payments, such as a car loan.
  • Revolving
    Accounts with opened terms with varying payments, such as a credit card account.
  • Collection
    Accounts seriously past due that have been assigned to an attorney or collection agency.
  • Other
    Accounts where the exact category is unknown. This could include 30-day accounts, such as an American Express card.

Your credit report lists a summary of the details and terms for each account. This summary includes information about the account number, condition, balance, type and pay status for each account. The summary for collection records is slightly different (see below). The following information is for real estate, installment, revolving and other type records:

  • Creditor name
    The official account name. This name may be different than you expect if your account is managed by a larger financial corporation, such as MBNA.
  • Account #
    An identifying number for your account. Typically, this would be a credit card number for a credit card account or a loan identification number for a mortgage. A portion of the number is hidden for security reasons. A partial account number is all that is needed to file a dispute about the record.
  • Condition
    The account’s status as open or closed, according to the most recent update from your creditor.
  • Balance
    The amount you presently owe on the account, based on the last reported activity. Very recent activities may not yet have appeared in the bureaus’ computer system, so this balance may be a few days out-of-date.
  • Type
    The account’s specific type. Some common types are real estate, automobile, educational and credit card accounts.
  • Pay Status
    The account’s payment status, according to the most recent update from your creditor.

For each account, the report also displays an illustrated payment history over the last 24 months.  Each accounts pay history should read as follows depending on how often you pay the debt. 

Not applicable indicates that the payment information has not been reported by the credit reporting agency.

Unknown indicates that the credit reporting agency has reported that they are not aware of your payment status this month. This is common for accounts that you have not used in a long time or that you recently opened.

The payment was received by the due date for this month.

The payment was not received as of 30 days after the due date.

Payment was not received as of 60 days after the due date.

Payment was not received as of 90 days after the due date.

Payment was not received as of 120 days after the due date.

Payment was not received as of 150 days after the due date.

A payment arrangement has been agreed to by the creditor and the consumer.

The following information may be reported for your account in this section:

  • Past Due
    The amount of payment overdue as of the most recent reported activity. Very recent payments may take a few days to appear on your credit report.
  • High Balance
    The most you have ever owed on this account. In the case of a credit card, this is the highest balance you’ve ever charged. For a mortgage, it is the initial amount of the mortgage.
  • Terms
    This is the number of payments you have scheduled with a creditor. Most commonly this applies to loan accounts. For example, an auto loan may have a repayment plan scheduled over 36 months and a home loan may have a repayment plan scheduled over 360 months.
  • Limits
    For a credit card or other revolving account, this is the maximum amount you are approved to borrow.
  • Payment
    This is the minimum amount you are required to pay each month toward the account.
  • Opened
    The date the account was opened.
  • Reported
    The last date when any activity for this account was shown. Activities include payments, creditcard billings and changes in your terms. Very recent activity may not yet show on your account, since it takes time for it to appear in the credit reporting agency’s system.
  • Responsibility
    This indicates your responsibility for the account. For example individual, joint or co-signer.
  • Late Payments
    A summary of your 30, 60 and 90 day late payments over the past 7 years. Please note that the figures in the seven year history include any late payments shown in the two-year history.
  • Remarks
    Notes about the status or condition of your account.

Collection accounts are accounts that are seriously past due and have been transferred to an attorney, collection agency or creditor’s internal collection agency. As your debt is transferred between different agencies, you may see several records on your report for the same debt. Only one record should be marked as open at a time. All the collection records and the original debt record will expire from your credit report at the same time. Collection records use a unique summary format on your credit report:

  • Creditor Name
    The official name of the company that is currently collecting the debt.
  • Original Creditor
    The name of the original creditor where you accumulated your debt. This could be an account that is listed on your credit report (such as a credit card) or an account that is not listed on your report (such as a library, video rental or cell phone company). If this creditor was a medical office, the name may be masked for your privacy.
  • Responsibility
    This indicates your responsibility for the account. For example individual, joint or co-signer.
  • Condition
    The current status of your collection record. For example open, closed or paid.
  • Original Balance
    The amount of debt owed on the original account before it was transferred.
  • Date Opened
    The date the account was transferred to the collection agency.
  • Date Reported
    The date of the collection agency’s last update to this account record.
  • Remarks
    Notes about the account as reported to each credit reporting agency. For example, this section may note that the collector has been unable to locate you or that you have not yet paid the debt.

 

Public Information
The public information section of your credit report includes publicly available information about legal matters affecting your credit. This could include judgments against you in civil actions, state or federal tax liens and bankruptcies.  Here are definitions of the eight types of public records you could see listed on your credit report:

  • Bankruptcy
    A legal filing that relieves a person of responsibility for all or some of their debts because they are unable to pay.
  • Tax Lien
    A claim filed by a local, state or federal tax agency against a person who owes back taxes.
  • Legal Item
    A general filing. This is most commonly a judgment against you in civil action.
  • Marital Item
    A legal filing related to a marital or divorce issue.
  • Financial Counseling
    A public record indicating that a person has participated in financial counseling.
  • Financial Statement
    A type of lien filed by a creditor against a person’s property. This can be filed when a loan is secured against personal property.
  • Foreclosure
    A record indicating that a mortgaged property has been taken over by the creditor because the borrower has defaulted on the loan.
  • Garnishment
    A record indicating a court order to withhold some or all of a person’s wages to repay a debt owed to a creditor.

The summary information listed for each of these types of public records can vary. Here are some definitions of common record categories:

  • Type
    The type of record. For example a tax lien, bankruptcy, garnishment or judgment.
  • Status
    Current status of the record. For example released, filed or dismissed.
  • Date Filed/Reported
    Date when the record was initially filed or created.
  • How Filed
    The role that you played in the public record. Usually the record is filed either individually or jointly.
  • Reference No.
    Identifying number for the record.
  • Released/Closing Date
    Date when the record was closed, released or judgment was awarded.
  • Court
    The court or legal agency that has jurisdiction over the record.
  • Plaintiff
    Plaintiff in the case of a legal judgment.
  • Amount
    Dollar amount of the lien or judgment.
  • Remarks
    Notes regarding the public record as reported to the credit bureaus.

If the public record is a bankruptcy, three other fields will be visible:

  • Liability
    The amount the court found you to be legally responsible to repay.
  • Exempt Amount
    The dollar amount claimed against you that the court has decided you are not legally responsible for.
  • Asset Amount
    The dollar amount of total personal assets used in the court’s decision. The Asset Amount can include items of value that can be used to pay debts.

 

Inquiries
The inquiry section of your credit report includes records of businesses that have checked your credit in the last two years. When creditors and lenders review your credit data for the purpose of an application, a “hard inquiry” is listed on your credit report. Too many hard inquiries can harm your credit score. Each hard inquiry record lists the creditor’s name, the date of the request and the credit bureau that processed the request. Hard inquiries are only recorded on the credit file maintained by the agency that processed the request. Checking your own credit data or subscribing to a credit monitoring service does not cause a hard inquiry to be recorded and will not damage your credit score

 

Creditor Contacts
The creditor contact section lists the name and contact information for each creditor that appears on your credit report. This can also include the contact information for creditors that have made inquiries. Each creditor’s address is listed to the right of the creditor’s name. When available, a phone number is listed for the creditor. Creditors without listed numbers should be contacted by mail

Common Misconceptions

We have all heard the rumors…from neighbors, relatives or friends. There are a wide variety of myths floating around about what you should and shouldn’t do to manage your credit. The buck stops here! We have exposed these urban legends to provide you and your informers with the truth about credit.

Your score will drop if you check your credit
Fortunately; this one is definitely not true. Checking your own report and score is counted as a “soft inquiry” and doesn’t harm your credit at all. Only “hard inquiries” from a lender or creditor, made when you apply for credit, can bring your credit score down a few points. Worried about damaging your credit while shopping around for a loan? Multiple inquiries for the same purpose within a short amount of time (a few weeks) are grouped together into a less damaging period of inquiry.

Closing old accounts will improve your borrowing power.
To close or not to close, that is the question. Many people advocate closing old and inactive accounts as a way for improving your credit. In most cases, closing accounts will actually have the opposite effect. Canceling old credit accounts can lower your credit score by making your credit history appear shorter. Think twice before closing the oldest account on your credit report. If you want to reduce your levels of available credit, ask for your credit limits to be lowered or close newer accounts instead.

Once you pay off a negative record, it is removed from your credit report
Negative records such as collection accounts, bankruptcies and late payments will remain on your credit report for 7-10 years. Paying off the account before the end of the set term doesn’t remove it from your credit report, but will cause the account to be marked as “paid.” Reducing your debts, maintaining record accuracy and paying your bills on time can improve your borrowing power.

Being a co-signer doesn’t make you responsible for the account
When you open a joint account or co-sign on a loan you are taking on legal responsibility for the account. Any activity on these shared accounts, good or bad, will show up on both people’s credit reports. If you co-sign for a friend’s auto loan and they don’t make the payments, your credit profile will be hurt by their actions and visa versa. The only way to stop this double reporting is to refinance the loan or to have the creditor officially remove you from the account.

Paying off a debt will add 50 points to your credit score
Your credit score is calculated using a complex algorithm that takes into account hundreds of factors and values. It is very hard to predict how many points you can gain by changing one factor. For a person with a high credit score, just one late payment can cause a significant drop. If a person has a low credit score, it may not cause a large drop at all. There is no magic way to improve your credit, just keep paying your bills on time, reducing your debts and removing negative inaccuracies from your credit report. Good financial behavior and time are the two most important factors for your credit score.

All About Inquiries

We all have them. Most of us aren’t sure where they came from or how long they are staying. No, we’re not talking about in-laws! We’re talking about inquiries on our credit reports. Inquiries are one of the most confusing and least understood aspects of the credit reporting system. Here’s the skinny on inquiries and how you can manage them:

  • What are inquiries?
    An inquiry is a record of someone checking your credit information. Inquiries come in two distinct categories: “hard inquiries” that occur when a business views your credit report for the purpose of an application and “soft inquiries” that occur when your credit is checked for other reasons. If you apply for a new credit card, a hard inquiry record will appear on your credit report and may cause a drop in your credit score of about 5 points. When you check your own credit report, or when it is checked for a pre-approved marketing purpose, it is considered a soft inquiry and will not harm your credit score.
  • Will checking my own credit harm my score?
    Checking your own credit data will not harm your credit score. You can check your credit and review your data without worrying about causing any damage to your credit score.
  • Why are inquiries recorded?
    Inquiries are recorded so that potential creditors and lenders can view how often you have applied for new credit. Potential creditors may think you are trying to spend beyond your means if there are too many inquiries on your credit report. You can still shop around for a loan; multiple inquiries for the same purpose in a short amount of time are commonly grouped into one less harmful inquiry session. Inquiries are also helpful for consumers because they can notify you of a potential identity thief applying for accounts in your name.
  • How long do they last?
    Most hard inquiries remain on your credit report for two years from the original placement. All inquiries must stay on your credit report for at least a year. You are allowed to dispute inquiries on your credit report, but it can be difficult to prove that the inquiry is indeed inaccurate. If you are unsure of where an inquiry came from, try contacting the company listed before sending off a letter of dispute.
  • Who can place an inquiry?
    According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, only people with legitimate business needs can access your credit information. This includes creditors, lenders, insurers and landlords who need to review your credit as a part of an application process. Each inquiry record will only appear on the credit report that was checked for the application. For example, if a lender checks your TransUnion credit history to help determine your rates, this inquiry record will only appear on your TransUnion credit report.
Personal Goals

Trying to improve your finances? Not sure where to start? Whether your goals involve credit clean-up, refinancing, or saving, you can make this year a personal best for your credit. Read on for our top credit targets:

Set Goals

  • Check your credit report every three months: The first step to robust credit health is to know which bad financial habits, such as late payments, are present in your credit report. Regular check-ups will also help you guard against identity theft.
  • Focus on managing your credit: A credit score above 650 will help qualify you for most credit and loan terms. The higher your score, the better the interest rates available to you.
  • Reduce your debt balances to below 35% of the available credit limit: Reducing your balances while maintaining active credit use makes you more appealing to prospective lenders.
  • Create a monthly spending plan and stick to it: This simple commitment can help you start a savings plan and will keep you from building up unmanageable debt.

Clean Up Your Records

  • Dispute negative inaccuracies on your credit report: Don’t let your credit standing suffer because of inaccurate information.
  • Most negative records expire from your credit report after 7-10 years. These accounts have a significant negative effect on your credit rating, so make sure they are removed from your report at the right time.
  • Consider Refinancing: See if refinancing your home or car could save you money. Would it make sense to refinance your mortgage? Investigate your options with a lender.

Plan Ahead

  • Start putting money into a savings account each month: No matter how much available credit you have, it can’t beat cash in the bank. Setting aside a fixed amount each month will guarantee interest-free funds in the case of emergency while helping you develop financial discipline.
  • Contribute to your 401(k): See if your company offers matching funds and try to add the maximum amount allowable for your budget.
  • Guard against identity theft: To guard against this increasingly prevalent crime, sign up for a credit monitoring service that will quickly alert you to any changes in your report.


Credit Check-up

With a little research and simple steps, it’s easy to spruce up your credit report and credit score.

Get the facts
The first step is to get a clear picture of your credit profile. Order your credit reports, credit scores and debt analysis online to get a complete picture of your current status. Look closely at the data from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian to see that it all matches up. Keep an eye out for:

  • Wrong mailing addresses
  • Incorrect Social Security Numbers
  • Old employers
  • Signs of identity theft
  • Errors in your credit accounts

Right the wrongs
Contact your creditors or send letters of dispute to the credit bureaus to have inaccuracies on your credit report corrected. The credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate your claim and make any appropriate corrections.

Improve your behavior
Identify problem areas on your credit report and make a plan for improvement. If you’ve had a hard time paying your bills on time, sign up for an automated payment service. If your debt levels are above 35% of your available limit, create a payment plan to reduce your balances. Set goals for improving your credit and be sure to celebrate when you reach a milestone.

Follow up
Check your credit again 30-60 days after disputing errors to see if any inaccuracies remain. If any inaccuracies remain, continue to negotiate to have them taken off your credit report. If you want to tell your side of the story, ask to have a consumer statement added to your credit file.

Monitor your credit
To guard against fraud and keep your credit healthy, sign up for a credit monitoring service that will quickly alert you to any changes in your report. Keep copies of your old credit reports and letters of dispute in a safe place for future reference. Make a plan to evaluate your progress in a few months.

Warning Signs

Keeping your finances running smoothly is simple when you know about possible detours that lie ahead. The five danger signs described here are the top reasons for credit report troubles. Spot them early and you can avoid any bumps in your financial journey.

Strange data
Not sure where that credit card came from? Unauthorized account or address changes could be a sign that a thief is using your identity. If you find a credit card or loan that you don’t remember opening, call the creditor immediately to investigate. If it turns out to be a case of identity theft, have the account closed and follow the fraud resolution procedures outlined in the identity theft section of the Credit Education Center.

Maxed-out credit cards
High balances on credit cards are common but that extra debt could be reduce your borrowing power significantly. Reducing your balances to below 35% of your credit limits helps improve your creditworthiness and can save you a bundle on interest charges.

Late payments
Paying your debts late not only costs you a fee but also damages your credit. If you have had trouble making your payments on time lately, evaluate what is causing the problem. Ask your creditor to move your due date to a different time of the month or sign up for online bill payment service that can be programmed to remind you before the due date.

Mistaken identity
With over 290 million people in the United States, a few crossed credit records can be expected from time to time. Finding someone else’s credit data on your report is especially widespread for people with common or shared family names like “Joe Smith Jr.” If you find something that does not belong on your report, contact the credit reporting agencies to have your data corrected.

Credit score differences
A dramatic difference in one of your three credit scores can point to a potential error on that report. If one of your scores is 50 points lower than your other two scores, it is a good idea to look closely at that score’s credit report for inaccuracies or signs of identity theft.

Medical Bills

Unpaid medical bills can cause surprising and serious damage to your credit report.

It’s often a plain and simple case of miscommunication. Your insurance company and your medical provider are in negotiations over paying a recent hospital bill. You think it has been paid, or at least should have been, because you have insurance. The bill is delinquent and then overdue and then sent to collections. All of the sudden you are stuck with a collections record on your credit report for 7 years. Not your fault? Think again.

Medical collections are becoming increasingly common. If you are injured and your insurance company doesn’t pay, you can often become legally responsible for the bill. That collections account can stay on your credit report for up to seven years if you don’t prove that it was a factual error. How can you be sure your credit doesn’t end up with a scar? Follow these tips for keeping your credit out of harm’s way:

Prevention

  • Emergency reserve– It’s important to have enough money saved to cover your living expenses for a few months in case you lose your job or unexpectedly land in the hospital. Medical bills can sometimes add up to unbelievable amounts, so you may want to also keep a credit card with a high limit reserved for emergency use.
  • Be flexible– Flexible Spending Accounts or “Cafeteria Plans” offered through your employer provide an easy pre-tax way to pay for medical expenses. Ask your employer about what plan may be included in your benefits. With this system, you decide how much of your salary to set aside when you sign up for the year. For example, if you choose to pull out $100 a month for the plan, you have $1,200 you can use for medical bill reimbursements that year.
  • Power of attorney– If things get really sticky, having a trusted spouse or family member with legal power of attorney can help. When you are sick in the hospital, you may not be able to wrestle with the insurance companies and billing offices on your own. Talk to a financial planner or lawyer to have these papers drawn up. Be sure that this person understands the responsibilities and has a copy of your medical insurance policy.

Prescription

  • Get the facts– If you receive a bill you thought was covered, go through your insurance policy with a fine tooth comb to see what you are really responsible for paying. These documents can also outline the best procedures for cutting through the red tape in the billing office. You’ll also want to contact the insurance company and the medical office for more information as soon as you suspect something is wrong with your bill.
  • Settle your bills– Even if your insurance company is at fault, you will probably be better off paying the medical bill yourself before it’s sent to collections rather than continuing to deny the charge. Paying the bill doesn’t mean you have to stop negotiating with your insurance company over the amount, it just means that you won’t also have to negotiate over a collection account on your credit report.
  • Righting the wrongs– If the account was sent to collections, avoid “settling” the bill and try to pay off the amount in full. A fully paid collections account is slightly better for your credit than an unpaid or settled account. If your medical bill was sent to collections in error, you still have options. You can dispute the record on your credit report if you can prove that the bill was sent to collections unlawfully (for example – if you were never billed directly for the amount before it was sent to collections).

Credit and College

You’ve seen the ads and been tempted by the giveaways – but how much do you really know about credit cards? Wading through offers to find a credit card that suits your student lifestyle can be tricky. If you know a little about how credit works and your options, you can start your credit report off on the right foot. Here’s a crash course in credit cards:

Statistics
The prevalence of credit cards among college students has been growing fast over the last few years. According to Nellie Mae, 83% of undergraduate students in 2002 had credit cards, a 24% increase in credit usage from 1998. Plus, undergrads now have a whopping 4.25 credit cards to their name on average. There’s a downside to all this credit mania – the number of bankruptcies filed by people under 25 is also escalating, up 33% between 1991 and 2000. Now that you know the credit stats, let’s move on to some of the details.

Economics
Think you’re ready for a credit card? Opening a credit account has its benefits: you’ll have access to emergency funds, you can start building your credit report and your purchases are protected if damaged or stolen. It also has its dangers: you can easily rack up serious debt, interest rates can cost you and you might damage your credit report if not careful. Opening a credit account is only a good idea if you are sure you can use it responsibly.

Accounting
How can you find the card that is right for you? There are four major factors to take into consideration when looking at credit card offers:

  • Card Type – Credit cards come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. If you don’t qualify for an ordinary credit card, investigate secured credit cards that use a savings account as collateral.
  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR) – As a student your interest rates will probably range between 10-18% percent. This is higher than the rates an established borrower would receive but better than the rate for people with poor credit histories. Read the APR offer closely to see what the terms are for the introductory rate. The lower the rate, the less your credit spending will cost.
  • Annual Fees – Most standard credit cards don’t come with annual fees. Some premium or reward cards, such as airline mileage cards, charge annual fees. Look at the small print disclosure to see if your card has an annual fee. Also look for late fees, transaction fees and over-limit fees.
  • Grace Period – The grace period on a credit card is the amount of time between when you make a purchase and when interest applied to the purchase. For many cards, the interest-free grace period is around 25 days.

History
Once you start using your new card, it’s a good idea to check your credit history online to see if the account is being recorded correctly. Your credit reports from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian should have accurate information about the account’s name, open date, balance, monthly payment and credit limit. After a few months you’ll want to check again to make sure your payment history is being reported properly. Late payments can damage your credit score for up to 7 years and can lead to problems receiving new credit in the future.

Philosophy
The lethal student combination of a limited income and a lot of opportunities for spending makes it easy for young credit card users to end up in deep debt. Using your new credit card to pay a regular monthly expense (like gasoline or cable) is a good way to start, you’ll know what to expect from your bill and can pay it in full each month. Having a conservative credit philosophy will help you graduate with your debt under control.

IdentIdentity Theft 101
From stolen credit cards to total identity kidnapping, these prevalent crimes are hard to prevent and often difficult to correct. Learn how to guard against this damaging crime. Use the identity theft section of the education center to find out how.

How identity theft occurs Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, impacting more than 9 million people each year. The more you know, the better prepared you will be to protect yourself.

Minimize your risk
By managing your personal information carefully and sensibly, you can help guard against identity theft. There are a few simple precautions to keep your personal information safe.

Pack your bags and prepare your finances
Whether you’re planning your trip to Las Vegas or Venice, including a few financial arrangements in your preparations will help keep your credit reports safe and your mind free of worries while you are away.

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, impacting more than 9 million people each year. The more you know about this prevalent crime, the better prepared you will be to protect yourself. Identity thieves can get hold of your personal information in a variety of sneaky and illegal ways:Your mail

  • They go through your mail and take your bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers or tax information
  • They complete a change of address form and reroute your mail to another location
  • They call your credit card company and ask to change the mailing address on your accounts.Then they run up the charges on your credit card. Because your bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before you realize what has happened.

Stealing your information

  • They steal your wallet or purse containing your personal identification and credit cards
  • They dumpster dive, rummaging through trash bins for your personal information such as unshredded credit card and loan applications
  • They shoulder surf at ATM machines and phone booths in order to capture PIN numbers
  • They use hand-held card readers called skimmers to steal your credit card data at a restaurant or store
  • They send out phishing emails pretending to be a bank or online business and ask you to update your account information.

Buying your information from a third party

  • They buy your personal information from “inside” sources. For instance, an identity thief may pay a store employee for a copy of your credit application

While pretending to be you, thieves

  • They use your name, date of birth and Social Security Number, to open a new credit card account. They use the credit card and don’t pay the bills. Or, sometimes they make the minimum payment every month so that the activity can go on unnoticed for months
  • They establish phone or wireless service in your name
  • They open a checking account or apply for a job in your name
  • They file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying the debts they’ve incurred as you

Minimize Your Risk By managing your personal information carefully, you can help guard against identity theft. Follow a few simple precautions to keep your personal information safe.

  • Do not carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport with you unless needed
  • Never give out personal information over the phone. Identity thieves may call, posing as banks or government agencies
  • Shred your receipts, bank statements, returned checks, and sensitive information before throwing it away
  • Check with your employer, landlord, and others with access to your personal data to be sure that they are keeping your records safe
  • Check your credit report regularly to make sure it is accurate. If you find any inaccuracies, you can dispute these items with the credit reporting agencies.
  • Protect your Social Security Number with extra care. Disclose it only when it is absolutely necessary. Don’t have your Social Security Number printed on your checks.
  • Follow your billing cycles closely. A missing credit card bill could mean that an identity thief has changed your billing address to his own address.
  • File away a list of all your account numbers–with expiration dates and telephone numbers. If your wallet is stolen, you will be able to quickly alert your creditors.
  • When creating passwords & PINs, use a random mix of letters and numbers. Do not use information that may be easily discovered by identity thieves.
  • Prepare for Travel
  • Whether you’re planning your trip to Las Vegas or Venice, including a few financial arrangements in your preparations will help keep your credit reports safe and your mind free of worries while you are away:
  • Guard against mix-ups
    Call your credit card issuers to notify them before you leave on a vacation, especially if you are traveling outside the U.S. If your banks and card issuers know that you are traveling, they are less likely to mistakenly block your access to the account when charges from unusual locations appear.
  • Make photocopies of important documents
    Having copies of your credit cards, driver’s licenses and passports will make the replacement process much faster if you lose something important while traveling. Add a list of emergency contacts to this folder including the phone numbers of your doctor, banks and family members. Leave a set of these documents at home with a friend and store one in a separate piece of luggage.
  • Avoid late payments
    Plan ahead so you won’t miss any bill payments while you are away. Online bill payment systems now make it easy to schedule a payment in advance. A little preparation can help you avoid expensive late charges and unnecessary damage to your credit.
  • Keep an eye on your identity
    Guard against fraud by asking the Post Office to put a vacation hold on your mail and by being careful where you use your credit card. Check the activity on your financial statements and your credit report(s) closely when you return to make sure they are accurate.