Some Credit Information You May Not Know

Rights to Free Credit Reports Under federal law, you're entitled to a free credit report if a company takes adverse action against you, such as denying your application for credit, insurance or employment, and you request your report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action. The notice will give you the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting company that supplied the information about you. You're also entitled to one free report a year if you're unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days; if you're on welfare; or if your report is inaccurate because of fraud. Otherwise, a consumer reporting company may charge you up to $9.

50 for additional copies of your report. To buy a copy of your report, contact: Equifax: 1-800-685-1111 Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742) TransUnion: 1-800-916-8800 Under state law, consumers in Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont already have free access to their credit reports. If you ask, only the last four digits of your Social Security number will appear on your credit reports. Establishing a Credit History If you're denied a loan or credit card because you have no credit history, consider establishing one.

The best way is to apply for a small line of credit from your bank or a credit card from a local department store. Make sure you list your best financial references. Make payments regularly and make certain the creditor reports your credit history to a credit bureau.

If Your Spouse Dies Under the ECOA, a creditor cannot automatically close or change the terms of a joint account solely because of the death of your spouse. A creditor may ask you to update your application or reapply. This can happen if the account was originally based on all or part of your spouse's income and if the creditor has reason to believe your income alone cannot support the credit line. After you submit a re-application, the creditor will determine whether to continue to extend you credit or change your credit limits.

Your creditor must respond in writing within 30 days of receiving your application. During that time, you can continue to use your account with no new restrictions. If you're application is rejected, you must be given specific reasons, or told of your right to get this information. These protections also apply when you retire, reach age 62 or older, or change your name or marital status. Kinds of Accounts It's important to know what kind of credit accounts you have, especially if your spouse dies.

There are two types of accounts ? individual and joint. You can permit authorized persons to use either type. An individual account is opened in one person's name and is based only on that person's income and assets. If you're concerned about your credit status if your spouse should die, you may want to try to open one or more individual accounts in your name.

That way, your credit status won't be affected. When you're applying for individual credit, ask the creditor to consider the credit history of accounts reported in your spouse's or former spouse's name, as well as those reported in your name. The creditor must consider this information if you can prove it reflects positively and accurately on your ability to manage credit. For example, you may be able to show through canceled checks that you made payments on an account, even though it's listed in your spouse's name only. A joint account is opened in two people's names, often a husband and wife, and is based on the income and assets of both or either person. Both people are responsible for the debt.

Account "Users" If you open an individual account, you may authorize another person to use it. If you name your spouse as the authorized user, a creditor who reports the credit history to a credit bureau must report it in your spouse's name as well as in yours (if the account was opened after June 1, 1977). A creditor also may report the credit history in the name of any other authorized user. If You're Denied Credit The ECOA does not guarantee you'll get credit. But if you're denied credit, you have the right to know why. There may be an error or the computer system may not have evaluated all relevant information.

In that case, you can ask the creditor to reconsider your application. If you believe you've been discriminated against, you may want to write to the federal agency that regulates that particular creditor. Your complaint letter should state the facts.

Send it, along with copies (NOT originals) of supporting documents. You also may want to contact an attorney. You have the right to sue a creditor who violates the ECOA.

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