Update 2/22/21: USAA has sent out letters surrounding this error.
Update: Seems like this issue has now been fixed.
Today a number of people have reported issues with their USAA credit cards being reported as ‘closed by the creditor’ by credit monitoring software. When USAA is contacted they state the card hasn’t actually been closed and they are receiving high call volume due to this issue but are unaware of exactly what is going on. We’ve reached out to USAA for comment.
Hat tip to reader musclera via DocBasher (USAA subreddit)
If you’ve ever searched for a home to buy, you know the first step is mortgage pre-approval — and in today’s competitive market, you likely need to have it before you even put in an offer.
But if you’re like one-fifth of Americans, an error on your credit report could mean banks could be scared of lending to you and won’t give you a pre-approval. And even if they do, it could be for an absurd loan rate that can cost you tens of thousands of dollars or more by the time you pay off the house — yikes.
So if you didn’t see that roadblock coming, your dream house could be someone else’s before you have a chance to fix it.
That’s why you need to make sure your credit report card is free of errors and your score is in tip-top shape before you even start Zillow-ing. A free website called Credit Sesame makes it super easy to check for issues and can help you raise your score. And when you do improve, you can earn cash rewards every 30 days!1
By signing up for a free account with Credit Sesame, you’ll have quick access to your score and personalized tips on how to improve it. You’ll also get free credit monitoring and ID protection, meaning no surprises when you start the homebuying process.
It takes about 90 seconds to join the free service. And you don’t need to put in your credit card — meaning no sneaky subscriptions.
Being prepared before you put an offer on the corner lot starts with a clean credit report and a high credit score. Just enter your email address here to sign up for your free account with Credit Sesame. It could be the first step toward your dream home.
Kari Faber is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.
1 This is a limited time offer. To be eligible for cash rewards, a deposit of $25.00, every 30 days, must be made into your Sesame Cash account. Rewards earnings are available for credit score improvements of ten points or more within a 30-day reward cycle. Improvements are calculated from your baseline credit score, as determined by Credit Sesame. Please review the full program terms for more details.
Paying off your debts is a critical part of a healthy credit profile. Here’s what you need to know about how to find your debts.
It’s uncomfortable to admit, but it’s entirely possible that you have debts you didn’t even know about. Whether mail went missing or communication about medical debt got mixed up, it’s possible an account with your name on it is languishing somewhere in collections. Get some tips to find out all your debts so you can make educated decisions about how to clean up your credit history.
How to Find All Your Debts
Even if you keep meticulous records, it’s possible for some debts to have fallen through the cracks. And perhaps you know you owe a debt, but it’s been passed around between collection agencies so many times you’ve forgotten who currently owns the debt. Here’s how to find out which collection agency you owe or uncover debts you don’t know about.
1. Check Your Credit Reports
Our first tip for finding your hidden debts is to turn to your credit report. While not every debt is reported, many are. And if you’re in collections or have owed the debt for a while, chances are someone has placed a negative item on at least one of your credit reports.
The trick here is getting copies of all three of your credit reports from the major bureaus. Not all creditors report to all three, so TransUnion, for example, could have a detail that Equifax and Experian do not—and vice versa.
You can get one free copy of your credit report from each agency every year at AnnualCreditReport.com. (They’re available weekly for a limited time due to COVID-19.) But for those who really want to get a handle on who they owe and what’s on their report, a service such as ExtraCredit is a good choice.
ExtraCredit lets you see your credit reports from all three bureaus—anytime. The reports are pulled monthly. It also gives you regular updates on 28 of your FICO® scores, so you have a clear picture of what your credit history looks like to lenders. Plus, you can get rewards and offers for valuable credit services, including credit monitoring and credit cards.
2. Go Through Old and New Mail
Who among us hasn’t picked up the mail, only to put it in a stack by the front door and leave it there to languish for months? Life gets busy, and it can be tempting to slide unopened envelopes into a bin or drawer and forget about them. But mail can back up before you realize it, and you might miss a notice of a bill or debt.
Take some time to gather all the mail you have. Open it and sort it, carefully looking to see whether you need to take action on something or if you might owe someone money. Keep a notebook or computer nearby so you can make a list.
3. Listen to All Those Old Voicemails
Voicemail can back up just like snail mail. Many people never actually check their voicemail, assuming those who need them will call them back or text them.
Legitimate creditors and collections agencies should leave a voicemail, including contact information. They’ll also usually show up on your caller ID.
Clear out your old voicemail, listening to each one and making notes about it. Compare that information with the notes you got from your mail and what’s on your credit report to compile a master list of debt you might owe. Keep an ear open for potential debt collection scammers and do your research before following up with anyone.
4. Contact Creditors You Think You Owe
In some cases, you know you owe someone, but it’s been a while. You can contact the last creditor you remember and find out if they still own the debt or if they wrote it off and sold it to a collection agency. They should be able to confirm your debt and give you the name and contact information for the agency that they sold the debt to, if applicable.
What to Do After You Find Your Debt
Once you go through a debt finder process and figure out who you owe money to, you have some decisions to make. Here are three tips for dealing with debt once you find it.
1. Decide Whether You Can—or Will—Pay
You might rush to pay off old debts thinking it will boost your credit, but that may not happen. Yes, the debt should then be marked as paid on your credit report. But the damage from the late payments and collection accounts could still linger.
So, you need to consider seriously how you can and will deal with old debt. If you simply can’t afford to pay, talk to a legal professional about your options, rights, and what consequences could come from paying or not paying old debt. For example, if you start making payments, the statute of limitations could restart and leave you at risk of lawsuits and legal collection activity much longer.
2. Consider Credit Repair Services
One result of digging through credit reports and chasing down old debt can be finding errors or collections you don’t actually owe. If you find inaccurate information on your credit reports, you might consider working with a credit repair service.
Credit repair services work on your behalf to dispute inaccurate information with the credit bureaus. You can actually do credit repair yourself, but if you don’t have time or just know you aren’t going to follow up, you might get more value by paying professionals to handle it for you.
3. Keep Up with Credit Reports and Debts in the Future
Finally, once you do the work to find your debt and clean it up, keep up with your credit reports in the future. While every single debt may not appear on your credit report—or appear right away—staying on top of your credit report ensures you’re aware of most of them. ExtraCredit gives you the access to your accounts that you need to keep track of your debts and your credit score.
Bonus Tip: Once you’ve found all your debts, use a debt management app like Tally to keep track of them moving forward so you’ll never have to wonder about them again.
TL;DR: ExtraCredit Could Help You Identify and Manage Your Debts
If you’ve lost track of your debts and what you owe to who, it can take some work and time to track everything down. But once you do, stay ahead of these things with help from ExtraCredit.
Your credit history can affect how much you pay for car or home insurance, your ability to rent a house or an apartment and even your chances of getting some jobs. That’s why it pays to work on your credit and build it up.
Monitoring your credit can be a little like checking your blood pressure to see how your new exercise program and diet are affecting it. You’re unlikely to see steady, unbroken progress, but it can let you know if you’re on the right track.
What is credit monitoring?
Credit monitoring is simply checking your credit report and/or score for changes. It can help you connect how you’re handling credit with changes to your score. That’s especially useful when you’re building credit because seeing progress encourages you to keep going.
It can also help you quickly spot problems or signs of fraud. Credit monitoring may alert you to:
An application or new account in your name.
Payments reported as 30 or more days past their due date.
An account that has been closed.
New address or name changes to your credit file.
Public records in your name, such as bankruptcies, property liens and judgments.
No-hassle credit report
Your latest credit data, including score, at your fingertips. Hear about changes, get expert tips.
How often should you check?
Credit expert John Ulzheimer recommends checking monthly. That’s how often your creditors report your account activity to credit-reporting agencies.
You can check more often if you like — checking your own credit will not affect your score. Many personal finance websites offer free scores and credit reports. NerdWallet updates your free credit score and report information weekly.
Through April, you can also get your credit reports weekly for free from the three major credit bureaus by using AnnualCreditReport.com, although it does not include a score.
There may be times when you want to check your credit frequently. Credit bureau TransUnion says those include when you plan to apply for new credit or you are searching for a new job. But there is no need to check daily — that can lead to needless anxiety.
How to get the most out of credit monitoring
Credit monitoring should make your life simpler. To that end, use it to confirm that your credit report is as you expect it to be.
Expect your credit scores to fluctuate — they are calculated on demand, so they’ll change a bit depending on the data that’s in your report at the time a score is requested. You are looking for overall trends or a big, unexplained change that could suggest identity theft or fraud. There is no need to explore tiny changes in your score to try to figure out what happened.
You may be able to control the number and types of alerts you get. Limit them to ones you really need. Too many emails and texts can lead you to delete them unread.
If you see information on your credit reports that you don’t understand or don’t recognize, investigate. If you see an error, dispute it with the credit bureau in question. Check the other two bureaus, too, to see if they have the same mistake needing correction.
What credit monitoring can’t do — and what you should
Credit monitoring won’t prevent someone from using your credit data — it just lets you know what has already happened. It’s still up to you to do the things that build and protect your credit, such as:
Paying bills on time and not using too much of your credit limits.
Disputing inaccuracies on your credit reports.
Avoiding identity theft ploys, like phishing emails, and keeping your credit information private.
Checking your credit card statements for signs of fraud.
The simplest way to avoid worrying about an application you did not make or new credit opened in your name is to seal off access to your credit information by freezing your credit. That way, if someone attempts to apply for credit using your information, the would-be creditor can’t access your credit reports, and the application likely won’t be approved.
Is it worth paying for a monitoring service?
Several companies offer paid credit monitoring, but before you commit to paying, compare the service to protection you may already have access to. You may have memberships or employee benefits that include identity theft coverage — and credit monitoring is generally included. If your personal data has been compromised in a data breach, you may be offered monitoring coverage at no cost to you.
If you decide to pay for monitoring, pick a service that covers all three major credit bureaus so you have a comprehensive view of your credit. But if high debt is holding your score down, that money might be better spent reducing that debt.
Just like you’d get an annual health check-up, a regular credit check can help make sure you’ve got your finances under control. At the very least, you should check your credit score once a year.
This helps you make sure all of your loan and credit card information is correct and can also help identify any potential identity theft concerns.
There are other times you may want to check your credit score more frequently. Anytime before you apply for a large loan, it’s a good idea to gauge what kind of interest rate to expect. Alternatively, if you’re trying to repair your credit, finding out your credit score lets you know the kind of progress you’re making.
But while you can get your free credit report once each year, getting your credit score can be a little trickier. Here are four ways you can find your credit score.
Credit Card and Loan Statements
A great way to potentially access your credit score for free (and often on a regular basis) is through a credit card or loan statement with an existing creditor.
Check to see if any of your accounts offer this service. You can look either on your monthly statement or your online account.
There are plenty of credit cards offering a free credit score to customers. If you’re in the market for a new credit card, consider one of these in order to take advantage of this ongoing perk.
Just be aware that while many creditors offer your monthly FICO score (the one most frequently used by lenders), others may use a different type of credit score. They may also only show you your credit score from one of the three major credit bureaus. So while the number you see may differ slightly from the trio of numbers your lender will likely look at, it’s a great jumping-off point.
Free Credit Score Services
There are lots of websites offering free credit scores. They make money from affiliate links and advertising. That’s how they are able to offer them for free. You may, however, have to give certain personally-identifying information and some websites require a credit card.
Others, like Credit Karma, offer a 100% free credit score. You’ll only have to enter the last four digits of your social security number when setting up your account, but never any credit card information.
Instead of getting your FICO score from these websites, however, you’ll likely get what’s called an educational credit score. Many often use VantageScore, which is a credit scoring model developed by the credit bureaus.
It’s not completely the same as a FICO score, but it’s still based on information found directly on your credit report. So again, it may not match up exactly with what your lender pulls, it gives you expectations to draw from.
Purchase a Credit Score
If you’re set on getting your actual FICO score and can’t find it through one of the previous methods, you do have the option of purchasing it directly from MyFICO. There are a couple of different one-time purchasing options depending on your needs.
For about $20, you can choose a single credit bureau to receive both your credit score and credit report. For just under $60, you can get the same information from all three credit bureaus at once.
The nice thing about going through FICO is that you get some analysis along with your credit scores and credit reports. First, FICO will identify the top factors affecting your credit score for each credit bureau. You can also use a decision simulator to figure out how potential financial moves might affect your credit score.
And if you’re applying for a specific type of loan, FICO gives you access to your credit score across models, including those for mortgage, auto, and credit card lending. This information can help you know what a specific type of lender sees when you apply for credit. That’s because these credit scoring models weigh certain factors differently than the traditional FICO score.
Credit Monitoring Services
This choice doesn’t make sense for everyone, but it could be a good option for people in certain situations. Many credit monitoring services offer regular credit score updates as part of their services. Of course, you’ll have to pay a fee (usually on a monthly basis), which can vary depending on the level of service you choose from your provider.
Who should consider a credit monitoring service?
There are typically two types of individuals this makes sense for. The first is if you have bad credit and are working on repairing it. Signing up usually lets you track your credit score regularly. This can be particularly helpful if you’re waiting to hit a specific benchmark score before making a big financial decision, like a mortgage or auto loan.
The other type of person that can benefit from it is a victim of identity theft, or if your personal information has been compromised. If someone has stolen your information or managed to open fraudulent accounts on your behalf, a drop in your credit score can be one of the first indicators.
Non-profit Credit Counselors
If you’re looking for help with your credit, a non-profit counselor may give you free access to your credit score. You may have to pay them a nominal fee for their service. However, they will give your credit score and also help evaluate your financial situation. They can give you unbiased advice on debt relief options and even help you figure out a budget to regain your financial footing.
HUD-approved housing counselors can also help you get this information. They’re similar to a credit counselor, except they specialize in foreclosure prevention. If you’re worried about keeping up with your monthly mortgage payments, it may be wise to reach out to a housing counselor for help.
No matter what method you choose to get your credit score, make sure it’s part of your regular financial routine. Reviewing your credit history is helpful, but your credit score is a huge part of the bottom line when it comes to any type of credit application. It can also be incredibly motivating to improve your financial habits when you’re rewarded with a boost in your credit score.
Sometimes, you notice right away if you have been overcharged for an item. If you pick up a box of cereal marked $2.99 and see it listed at $3.22 on your receipt, that error is pretty easy to spot.
In other cases, price discrepancies aren’t so obvious, as seen in a new pre-filled propane tank class-action settlement offer.
Check out this month’s highlighted class-action settlement offers, some of which have taken years of litigation, to see if you can benefit.
AmeriGas Propane Tanks
If you bought an AmeriGas or Blue Rhino pre-filled propane tank between Dec. 1, 2009 and Nov. 30, 2020, you could be eligible for a portion of a $6.5 million settlement.
AmeriGas and Blue Rhino allegedly agreed with each other to reduce the amount of propane in the pre-filled tanks they sold from 17 pounds to 15 pounds without reducing the price, according to court documents. The lawsuit accused the companies of colluding to reduce the amount of product in the propane tanks while keeping the cost the same in order to increase their profit margin by more than 13% per pound.
AmeriGas admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to the settlement to end litigation. Even though consumers who bought either AmeriGas or Blue Rhino propane tanks may be affected by this settlement, it only resolves claims made regarding AmeriGas because the Blue Rhino case is ongoing.
There are two settlement classes:
The Indirect Purchaser Settlement Class is made up of those who purchased AmeriGas or Blue Rhino propane tanks, other than a wholesale purchase directly from AmeriGas or Blue Rhino for resale, in Arizona, California, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah or West Virginia between Dec. 1, 2009 and Nov. 30, 2020.
The Direct Purchaser Settlement Class is made up of consumers nationwide who purchased one of the propane tanks directly from AmeriGas or Blue Rhino through a vending machine at retailers or other locations, or paid one of the companies directly through a vending machine to exchange a previously purchased propane tank, other than a wholesale purchase intended for resale.
Consumers can claim a cash payment of $5 for each tank when they provide proof of purchase along with a completed claim form. If no proof of purchase is submitted, the payment is $2.50 each for a maximum of 50 propane tanks.
Submit your valid claim by March 8, 2021.
ABB Optical Group LLC Contact Lenses
You may be eligible to share in a $30.2 million settlement reached with contact lens distributor ABB Optical Group LLC over allegations of a conspiracy to increase the cost of contact lenses.
If you purchased disposable contacts made by Alcon, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, CVI or Bausch & Lomb between June 1, 2013 and Dec. 4 ,2018, you may be eligible for compensation. However, Bausch & Lomb contact lenses bought through 1-800-Contacts after July 1, 2015 are not included in this settlement.
The suit alleged contact lens manufacturers, independent optometrists and ABB agreed to “unilateral pricing policies” that prevented competition from online and discount contact lens retailers. This agreement purportedly began in June 2013.
The settlement money provided by ABB will be added to the claims made under previous settlements with contact lens manufacturers. The estimated amount that will be provided to each consumer is not available at this time.
See if you qualify and submit your valid claim by March 10, 2021.
If you received a call from Synchrony Bank between June 1, 2016 and Oct. 19, 2020, you could receive a portion of a $2.9 million class-action settlement.
Synchrony Bank allegedly violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by calling individuals who did not have an account with the bank. These unsolicited calls were made by an automatic dialing system or artificial/pre-recorded voice, which is in violation of the TCPA unless the caller has prior written consent from the recipient.
Payment amounts will vary, but are estimated between $25 and $50.
Submit your valid claim by March 1, 2021.
Stonefire Naan Bread
You may be eligible for a portion of a $1.9 million settlement from the maker of Stonefire Naan products, FGF Brands, if you bought their naan bread that was marketed as baked in a tandoor oven between Nov. 16, 2013 and Oct. 23, 2020.
If you bought any of these products within that time period, you may claim $2.50 for each item purchased:
Stonefire Original Naan
Stonefire Roasted Garlic Naan
Stonefire Whole Grain Naan
Stonefire Organic Original Naan
Stonefire Original Mini Naan
Stonefire Ancient Grain Mini Naan
Stonefire Naan Dippers
Consumers alleged FGF Brands bakes its naan in a conveyor-style, gas-heated oven even though the company claims the breads are baked in a tandoor oven, which is a clay oven that uses charcoal heat that produces smoky flavors.
The lawsuit alleges FGF Brands used fraudulent and deceptive advertising to market its use of a tandoor oven. FGF Brands denies that it has violated any laws.
Consumers may receive $2.50 for each product purchased, but only five may be claimed without a receipt. With proof of purchase, consumers can claim an unlimited number of products.
Submit your valid claim by Feb. 18, 2021.
21st Century Oncology
If you are one of the 2.2 million patients whose personal information was accessed through a 2015 data breach of 21stCentury Oncology, you could be eligible for compensation from a $12.5 million class-action settlement.
In October 2015, hackers accessed names, Social Security numbers, doctors’ names, medical diagnoses, treatment plans and insurance information. Patients whose data was breached should have received a notice from the cancer treatment center in March 2016.
Several affected consumers filed lawsuits alleging 21st Century Oncology failed to take reasonable cybersecurity steps to protect personal data. 21st Century Oncology admitted to no wrongdoing, but agreed to the settlement to resolve the litigation.
Several forms of relief are available, including:
Two years of credit monitoring through Identity Guard.
Cash payments up to $40 for lost time without any documentation (two hours valued at $20 per hour.)
Cash payments of up to $260 for lost time with documentation (13 hours valued at $20 per hour.)
Cash payments of up to $10,000 for any fraud and out-of-pocket expenses incurred because of the data breach.
Submit your valid claim by the May 10, 2021 deadline.
Walmart, Sam’s Club Sales Tax Refund
Customers who returned an item bought at Walmart or Sam’s Club between July 17, 2015 and Nov. 25, 2020 may be eligible for part of a $5 million settlement.
Walmart and Sam’s Club were accused providing some customers with incomplete refunds by not including the sales tax paid on the original purchase.
The exact cash payment per customer is not available and will depend upon the number of claims filed and the net settlement fund after attorney’s fees, costs and other expenses are deducted.
Complete and submit your valid online claim form by April 1, 2021.
If you made a purchase at a Godiva Chocolatier retail store between April 6, 2013 and Nov. 20, 2015, you may be eligible to share in a $6.3 million class-action settlement.
The settlement benefits customers who made a debit or credit card purchase and received a point-of-sale receipt that displayed more than the last five digits of the card number.
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) prohibits any more than the last five digits from appearing on such a receipt in order to protect consumers.
The complaint alleged Godiva receipts contained 10 digits, including the first six and the last four of the card numbers on its point-of-sale receipts.
Eligible class members might have received a notice regarding a Godiva settlement in 2016 as the case was pending in U.S. District Court in Florida. The case was later refiled in Cook County, Illinois, so if you submitted a valid claim response to the 2016 notice, you do not need to file a new claim in order to receive a payment.
Potential awards are expected to be between $55 and $60.
If you did not submit a valid claim response to the 2016 notice, but you do qualify for this settlement, submit your claim by March 22, 2021.
In the fall of 2017, Equifax experienced a massive data breach. Approximately 147 million people were victims of this data breach. Recently a federal court has purposed a class action settlement. If you are part of this data breach, you are able to file a claim today.
Was I Part of The Equifax Data Breach?
You can check if you are part of the Equifax data breach by going to Equifax’s data breach settlement website. You will need to enter your last name and last six digits of your social security number. After entering in this information on the settlement site, it will say if you were or were not a victim of the Equifax data breach.
Can I File a Claim?
You can file a claim if you if you are a victim of the Equifax data breach. To file a claim go to the Equifax data breach settlement site mentioned above to verify your eligibility. If you were a victim, the website will take you to a screen where you can file a claim.
What are My Claim Settlement Options?
Victims of the Equifax data breach, you can select from the following options:
A one-time cash payment up to $125 (if you already have credit monitoring)
Free credit monitoring service for 10 years. Which includes $1 million in identity theft insurance, identity restoration services (for seven years), and options to add more monitoring from Equifax.
Exclude yourself from the Equifax settlement
You can file a claim for eligible for reimbursement for time spent recovering from this incident if you were a victim of the Equifax data breach. You can also request compensation for reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses if you spent or lost money recovering from this incident.
Which Settlement Option Should I Pick?
A one-time cash payment of $125 sounds great, right? But the actual cash payment amount is expected to be much less. Equifax set aside $31 million for cash payouts. This means that if only 248,000 people select a cash payment, they will get the full $125. Don’t forget, there were 147 million affected by the Equifax data breach.
If you do the math and estimate 10% of the affected victims select the one-time cash payment, that is approximately $2.10 per claim. If 1 million people select the one-time cash payment, that is about $31 per claim.
Credit monitoring cost about $9 to $40 per month depending on the company you select and the credit-monitoring package. Estimating $15 a month for 10 years, this equals $1,800 – far more than a one-time cash payment of $125.
There has been a lot of publicity about the Equifax settlement. They are expecting a high rate of people filing claims. The FTC is warning victims not to expect the full one-time cash payment of $125.
What do you do if you have already selected the one-time cash payment but want to change to the credit monitoring option? You can contact Equifax to change your settlement option.
Changing Your Equifax Settlement Option
The Credit.com Editorial Team called the Settlement Administrator to find out. Settlement members can email Info@EquifaxBreachSettlement.com to change their settlement option. In the email to Equifax include the following information: your claim number, full name, and details about changing the settlement option. You only need to do this if you want to change your claim option.
Whichever selection you decide, make sure to do it before time runs out. You have until January 22, 2020 to file.
Preventing Identity Theft
It may seem impossible to prevent your personal data, but there are steps you can take to be proactive. Here are some ideas:
Be mindful of what your share on social media. A data thief can find out a lot of information about a person on social media. Limit your exposure by limiting what you share and whom you share it with. Don’t give away your address, date of birth and mother’s maiden name on social media. Are you already doing this? It’s a good idea to check your security settings every so often.
Take outgoing mail to the post office or a collection box. When you mail your mortgage payment and put the flag up on your mailbox, it is an open invitation to thieves to come check your mailbox to see what they can find. You can put a stop payment on a stolen check but the thief now has your bank account and routing number, which is a much bigger issue. Go for online bill payments or dropping off at a secure location.
Keep your Wi-Fi secure. Make sure your home Wi-Fi is password protected. If you are using public Wi-Fi, be careful what information you enter and view while on a public browser as others could see this information.
Opt out of prescreened credit card offers. You can opt out for five years or permanently. If you go with the permanent option, you have to mail something in. The five-year option allows you to complete the request online. To opt out, go to optoutprescreen.com. This will also eliminate waste since you will not receive offers you are not interested in. Next time you are in the market for a new credit card, visit Credit.com’s Credit Card Marketplace to review top offers instead. It is a much easier way to compare various credit card offers.
Freeze your credit if you have been a victim of identity theft. Freezing your credit report makes it harder for a data thief to open an account in your name. You can place a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
If you have been a victim of the Equifax data breach, or any other data breach, there are things you can to do to help prevent identity theft. Monitoring your credit report and credit scores are a very important part of preventing identity theft.
Make sure to review your personal data (bank accounts and other sensitive info), credit report and credit scores from the credit bureaus on a regular basis to help prevent identity theft. Consumers are entitled to a free credit every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also sign up with Credit.com to view your credit score. With Credit.com you get two credit scores every 14 days and a credit report card for free.
The record number of data breaches in 2017 (1,579 publicly-reported breaches to be exact) and the sensitivity of the data stolen (especially social security numbers and passwords) have led many to wonder how to protect themselves. Since I work in the identity protection industry, my friends and family have asked what recommendations they should follow to secure their personal data. In this write-up, I’ll share some basic information, options, and suggestions for what to do in the wake of a data breach.
Credit Card vs. Identity Theft, Understanding the Difference
First, let’s distinguish credit card theft from identity theft. My credit card number is stolen reliably about once per year. It’s a nuisance, but that is all. The bank eats all losses related to the theft and I simply get a new credit card number. But if a thief gets a hold of my SNAPD info (SSN, Name, Address, Phone number, and Date of birth) and applies for a credit card in my name—that is identity theft, and it is more difficult to remedy. I may not even realize it has happened until I try to buy a car and my loan application is denied because my credit has been ruined (after, for instance, a thief opened a credit card account with my information, racked up charges, and never paid the bill). I can’t easily change my SNAPD info like I can a credit card number, so I must begin a long, painful process of trying to restore my good credit. Because my information is spread out across so many companies, it’s on me as the victim to clean it up everywhere, and I may not be able to buy anything on credit until that’s done.
I just watched a documentary on the dark web, and I will never feel safe using my credit card again!
Luckily I don’t have to worry about that. I have ExtraCredit, so I get $1,000,000 ID protection and dark web scans.
I need that peace of mind in my life. What else do you get with ExtraCredit?
It’s basically everything my credit needs. I get 28 FICO® scores, rent and utility reporting, cash rewards and even a discount to one of the leaders in credit repair.
It’s settled; I’m getting ExtraCredit tonight. Totally unrelated, but any suggestions for my new fear of sharks? I watched that documentary too.
…we live in Oklahoma.
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How do you prevent identity theft from happening? Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. Think of protecting your identity health like protecting your body health. To be healthy, you pursue a combination of diet, exercise, physical checkups, etc. The same is true with identity health. You must follow preventative steps to keep your information safe.
While the biggest breaches are months old, we aren’t out of the woods yet. Perhaps we’ll see better protections and systems put in place over time. But for now, your SNAPD info remains a bit like a credit password you cannot reset, putting you in a horrible position if it gets stolen.
There are many articles recommending consumers freeze their credit. This involves getting a pin number you can use to turn your credit off and on with the primary credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion (Innovis, the fourth largest, is also sometimes included). While your credit report is turned off (frozen), any applications for credit (including those by thieves) will be denied. When you apply for something that requires a credit check (mortgage, car loan, cell phone account, etc.), you must unfreeze your credit before you apply and then turn it off again once the credit decision is made. You will pay a fee ($10 or so per bureau, depending where you live) each time you activate and deactivate the freeze, which state attorneys general are now successfully pressuring the bureaus to waive. Freezing your credit certainly seems like a good idea now that the most sensitive information for half of all Americans is known to be in the wrong hands. It is up to each person to decide whether the hassle and cost is worth it.
It is important to understand that even after freezing your credit at the primary bureaus (remember, no silver bullet), you may still be vulnerable to identity theft. There are other smaller and less frequently used credit bureaus. Also, freezing your credit will not protect against transactions that don’t go through a credit bureau, which can include payday lending, tax filing, health care transactions, etc. That being said, don’t let the presence of scary diseases stop you from taking basic health precautions that are within your control.
Credit and Identity Monitoring
Another option to consider is credit or identity monitoring services. Credit monitoring services, including some offered for free after a breach, will alert you when you have credit activity at the major bureaus. Identity monitoring services usually include credit monitoring, plus identity monitoring features such as monitoring the dark web for your information or alerting you to other important events that do not traverse the bureaus. Some identity monitoring services will also help you to resolve issues if you are exposed to identity fraud, and/or insure you against financial losses that may result from identity theft. It can be somewhat confusing because many offerings have the name “identity” or “ID” in them, including those that only provide credit monitoring. Make sure you read the full service offering and understand everything you are being provided. Full disclosure: I am an employee of ID Analytics, a Symantec company and receive a free subscription to LifeLock, an identity theft protection service, as an employee benefit.
To summarize: When considering ways to protect your personal data, good options to consider are freezing your credit, signing up for a credit or identity monitoring service, or both. If you choose either of these options, do not take the approach of just doing something for a few months until the current breach news dies down. It may take time for the stolen data to be sold and distributed, and the bad guys are aware that everyone is on guard when breaches are top headlines. There is a good likelihood that at least some fraudsters will wait until the news cycle moves on and people let their guard down, to increase the chances of their fraud going undetected. It is common to see a burst of fraud activity a year after a breach.
Digital safety also includes protecting your passwords and being aware of phishing/social engineering techniques.
You have likely heard a lot of advice about passwords that you are not following because it’s not practical. For instance, we’re told to use different passwords for every website, but now that we all have dozens (or hundreds) of logins, remembering separate passwords simply isn’t possible. About half of consumers reuse passwords across sites and billions of passwords have been exposed in breaches.
In my opinion, the best way to solve for passwords is to use a password manager, such as LastPass, Dashlane, 1password, or Norton Identity Safe (compare features to pick the best one for you). With a password manager, you create one master password that unlocks access to all your other passwords, which it will auto-fill into web site forms for you or allow you to copy/paste whenever needed. I let the password manager generate and manage a different 16-digit complex password for each site (you must change your existing site passwords to get this benefit). It also stores other secret information for me, such as credit card numbers, family member SSNs, etc., making it a full-featured secure digital wallet. It allows me the convenience to copy/paste these values whenever needed across all my devices, along with the security of strong encryption.
At a minimum, take the time to create two reasonably complex passwords, one that you use for less secure sites (cat toy shopping sites, knitting discussion boards, etc.), and a second that you use for sites that must be secure (banks, retirement accounts, etc.). If thieves steal username and password combinations from less secure sites, they will try them at bank, investment, and email sites too. By separating those two categories of sites, you add some protection. A reasonably complex password should be 8-20 characters and include uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and special characters.
Phishing / Social Engineering
Phishing and social engineering fraud involves fraudsters trying to trick you into giving them your information willingly (under false pretenses). It may be a phone call where they ask for personal info or passwords, it may be an email with a link or attachment, or it may be a browser window that pops up from a web site you visit. The best general defense against this is to educate yourself. Consider taking an online mini-course to become familiar with the types of emails, pop-ups, and web addresses that are considered suspicious. If you’re a novice, try AntiPhishing Phil. It’s dated, but it’s the best game I could find to teach some basics. Below are two other scenarios to be mindful of, which I have seen friends and neighbors fall victim to.
Do not click on or follow the instructions of any warnings saying your computer has been hacked, encrypted, is in danger, or instructing you to call a number for protection or more information. In my experience, 99% of the time, these are browser pop-ups trying to trick you into clicking something. Just turn off your computer and avoid that website. If you don’t have a quality antivirus & security package installed, this is another important piece of protection.
Do not give any personal information or passwords over the phone (or in person). Good guys will never ask you for your password (though my cell phone company now asks me for a passcode I had to set up for service calls…sigh) and should not ask you for sensitive information like full SSN. I have had legitimate folks ask me for my SSN to look me up in their system, I simply ask them to look me up another way. Be very mindful of whether you initiated an email or phone call or if the other party did (other party = more risk). If the caller claims to be from an institution you do business with, but you doubt the legitimacy of the call, hang up and call the main number for the business to verify that they were in fact trying to contact you.
When it comes to digital safety, the good news is that I believe over time, more and more solutions will be created that move the burden of security away from individuals. New technologies show a lot of promise that trust can be built into the technology architecture itself. In the meantime, I hope this primer has been helpful.
If you’re concerned your credit has been impacted by identity theft, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get a free credit score updated every 14 days.
Matt Lewis is Director of TechOps for ID Analytics, with more than 20 years of experience in software and technology operations. In this role, he leads the 30-person TechOps department whose philosophy for operational excellence is to build automation that runs the environment, continuously working to eliminate manual steps wherever possible.
Lewis has championed products which use analytics to protect companies from identity and credit card fraud, previously holding positions at HNC Software and FICO. Lewis holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Your credit score can have a huge impact on your life—for better or worse. In many ways, the three major credit bureaus are the keepers of your credit score. They’re responsible for maintaining credit reports, which means you may need to contact them about the information included on yours. While this may seem daunting, it’s really not complicated.
Read on to learn about when to contact a credit bureau and how to do it. Contact information and tips have been provided for each of the three credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—to make it as simple as possible.
Anytime you notice inaccuracies on your credit report, you should immediately contact the credit bureau. This can include misspelled names, incorrect address information, unreported salary changes or erroneous employment information.
Here are some other reasons why you might need to contact a credit bureau:
There are credit cards, collections missed payments or anything else on your report that you don’t recognize.
You’re in credit disputes with your credit card issuer or financial institution. You can address this with the credit bureaus, which are required to investigate.
For help talking to the credit bureaus and starting a credit repair plan, you can work with a professional credit repair agency. They offer credit monitoring, credit repair services and text alerts so you don’t miss a thing.
Information to Gather before You Call
You want to have the right information on hand when you call a credit bureau. Prepare yourself by collecting the following information in advance, just in case:
Your name, address, Social Security number and date of birth
A copy of your annual credit report
Evidence of the inaccuracies or errors, if relevant
Personal financial information, such as your mortgage information, depending on the reported issue
Any other supporting documentation
Credit Bureau Contact Information
Because there are so many potential reasons to contact a credit bureau—general inquiries, disputes and credit freezes, for example—there are many different phone numbers and online contact forms to wade through. If you call the wrong number, you may simply be told they cannot help you and directed to call a different number, wasting precious time and energy.
To help you avoid that frustration, we’ve gathered several ways you can contact the credit bureaus for common inquiries here.
Equifax Phone Numbers
If you don’t like talking on the phone, Equifax also offers live chat support. You can chat with a member of their customer support team between 8 a.m. and midnight (ET), Monday through Friday.
TransUnion Phone Numbers
Experian Phone Numbers
Alternatives to Calling Credit Bureaus
Not all experts think calling a credit bureau is the best approach. Don Petersen, an attorney at Howard Lewis & Peterson, PC, in Utah, recommends calling a bureau for only basic administrative questions—such as updating an address or asking if a recent data breach has affected you.
For most other issues, Petersen advises his clients to write to credit bureaus or submit disputes online. This provides you with an official record of your request.
If you do prefer to call a credit bureau, take notes during the call and follow up in writing after the telephone conversation. In your follow-up letter, you should include the name of the representative you spoke with as well as details of what transpired in your conversation.
Send important requests—especially disputes—through certified mail. This allows you to track the letter and ensure that the credit bureau responds in a timely manner. Never send original copies of documents, as the bureaus may not return anything you send.
Equifax Mailing Addresses
Reason for Contact
Equifax Information Services LLC P.O. Box 740256 Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
Request a copy of your credit report
Equifax Disclosure Department P.O. Box 740241 Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Equifax Information Services LLC P.O. Box 105069 Atlanta, GA 30348-5069
Equifax Information Services LLC P.O. Box 105788 Atlanta, GA 30348-5788
TransUnion Mailing Addresses
Reason to Contact
TransUnion P.O. Box 160 Woodlyn, PA 19094
TransUnion Consumer Solutions P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19016-2000
TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19016
Request credit report
TransUnion LLC Consumer Disclosure Center P.O. Box 1000 Chester, PA 19016
Experian Mailing Addresses
Reason to Contact
Experian Dispute Department P.O. Box 4500 Allen, TX 75013
Chief Privacy Officer Compliance Department Experian 475 Anton Blvd. Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Report a relative’s death
Experian P.O. Box 9701 Allen, TX 75013
Track Your Credit
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to obtain a free copy of all three reports once each year. These free reports can be accessed on the government-mandated site operated by the big three credit bureaus, AnnualCreditReport.com.
You can also sign up for the free credit report card offered by Credit.com, which provides a snapshot of your credit as well as the ability to dig deeper into the elements that affect your credit score. When you sign up, you’ll also get regular emails with tips and tricks for keeping your credit healthy.
Your credit score has a huge impact on your overall financial well-being. A good credit score will help you to buy a new car, purchase your first home, or just take a relaxing vacation overseas. However, without a good credit score, you will be saddled with high interest rates or unable to obtain any credit at all.
What’s worse, your poor credit may not even be your fault. A recent FTC study of the credit reporting industry indicated shocking results. Five percent of consumers had errors on at least one credit report that was so severe it could lead to paying higher rates on loans and higher premiums for insurance.
This may seem like a low number, but consider this: around 20 percent of consumers who identified errors on one of their three major credit reports increased their credit scores so much that they moved into a lower risk tier. That means they were able to qualify for lower rates.
How many consumers haven’t checked their reports to identify errors? And how much more could they be saving if they did? Thankfully there are legal, ethical ways to improve your credit history and credit score which will let you secure the best rates possible.
Step 1: Get a Free Credit Report from TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian
The first step towards improving all three of your credit scores is to order a copy of each report and review it for errors. A free credit report is available on a yearly basis to every citizen of the US.
You can order from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. You can get an additional credit report for free in some states. If you’ve been denied credit or employment due to your credit file, you can also receive one for free even if you’ve already gotten a free report this year.
Step 2: Check Your Credit Score
In order to improve your credit score, you need to know what it is first. You can order your FICO score directly from MyFICO for a fee. You can also get it for free if you have any of the credit cards that offer free FICO scores.
Step 3: Check for Accuracy
Once you have your credit report, read through it and make sure all of the listed information is correct. With nearly 60 million Americans affected by identity theft and credit report errors being so common, it’s essential to make sure your credit history is accurate.
Eliminating just one bit of wrong or negative information can cause your credit score to dramatically improve and increase your chances of qualifying for credit. Alternatively, you might find some missing positive information that could help raise your credit score, like a lower loan balance. Updating or adding the correct information could easily improve your credit score.
Your Credit Report Accuracy Checklist
Incorrect amounts owed: If the amount owed is listed incorrectly, your credit report won’t accurately reflect your utilization or the amount of credit used. High utilization can negatively impact your credit scores.
Accounts that belong to someone else: If you have no recollection of a debt, it may not even be yours. Any unknown debt should be disputed.
Incorrect delinquencies: Items may list as being paid late, even if they were paid on time. Late payments damage your credit score and should be disputed.
Inaccurate reporting of collections accounts: Collection companies are notorious for putting information on a credit report simply to extort money from unwary consumers. If the information is incorrect, it should be disputed.
Duplicated collections accounts: An account or debt should only be listed once. If it is listed multiple times by the same organization or by competing organizations, all but one listing should be removed.
Incorrect judgment information: If a judgment has been incorrectly listed, it should be disputed; judgments can hurt a credit score or impact your ability to secure a loan. Any inaccurate information about the judgment can be disputed, even if “most” of the information is correct.
You may also want to consider using a credit monitoring service to stay on top of your credit on a monthly basis.
Step 4: Disputing Inaccuracies
Once errors have been identified, they will need to be successfully disputed. As long as a negative item remains on your credit report, it will drag down your credit score. Therefore, the quickest way to improve your credit scores is to remove as many of these errors as possible. You can do this by disputing incorrect negative information with the credit bureaus.
When a consumer seeks to dispute an item on their credit report, the business or entity who listed the item is required to prove that it is accurate. For collection accounts, a collection agency will have to provide validation or proof of the debt within 30 days of the request or remove the item. For best results, validation requests should be sent in writing, with proof of delivery.
If the company is unable to prove the debt, they are required to remove it. If they do not, the debt should be disputed with the credit reporting agency. A dispute can be sent in the form of a letter or online and requires the reporting agency to confirm the debt or remove it. Once negative information is removed, your credit scores should see an increase.
Step 5: Pay Your Bills on Time
Having a positive payment history on your credit report affects 35% of your credit score, making it the largest contributing factor. So if you want to get your credit back on track, you need to keep up with your monthly bills. Not all creditors report your timely payments, although credit card companies and mortgage lenders typically do.
If your account becomes 30 days delinquent or more, just about all creditors can report the late payment to one or more credit bureaus. That will dock your credit score significantly, and it just gets worse every 30 days.
Late payments can also lead to charge offs and collections, meaning your outstanding debt is sold to a collection agency. That doesn’t do any favors for your credit score, and can actually cause an enormous drop.
Set yourself up for success by enrolling in an automatic bill pay for your recurring monthly payments. You can either go through your bank or do it at each of your creditors’ sites. As long as you have money in your account, you can benefit from the peace of mind that all of your bills are taken care of on time. Then you can sit back and watch as you increase your credit score month after month.
Step 6: Pay Off Your Debt
The next most important part of your credit score is how much debt you have. There are a couple of different ways of tackling this section. The first issue is having installment debt versus revolving debt.
The difference is that installment debt has a set term with regular monthly payments. If you have an auto loan, mortgage, or student loan, then you already have installment debt. This is looked on more favorably than the other type, revolving debt. That’s associated with credit cards.
There’s no set monthly payment, and you can pay off and take out more debt as you want to. It doesn’t look as good on your credit report because there’s no asset (like a car or house) tied to it. Improve your credit score by focusing on revolving credit card debt first.
Take a look at how much of your available credit line is used on each card. If a card is maxed out, your credit score is going to take a hit. It’s better to spread out your credit card balances among several different cards (assuming the interest rates are comparable) rather than putting everything on one card.
Most experts recommend charging no more than 30% of your available credit. This is called your credit utilization ratio. If yours is higher than 30%, you’ll definitely want to work on getting that debt paid off as soon as possible.
For credit cards, avoid maxing out any one account. The same amount of debt spread out over multiple cards is weighted better than having a maxed-out balance on one and no balance on the others. Shoot for keeping each account under 30% utilization. Assuming the rates and fees are all comparable, using that baseline can help you prioritize how you pay off your debt.
Step 7: Use Credit Responsibly
Once you have your debt under control, particularly your revolving debt, make sure you continue to use your credit in a responsible fashion. Using your credit card isn’t bad at all. In fact, since most credit card companies report on-time payments, it’s a great way to build credit.
Even if you don’t need to use your credit card (which is great), consider charging just one or two bills on it each month and making that payment before the due date. You’ll quickly rack up that payment history for your credit score.
Step 8: Keep Positive Accounts Open
Your credit score is also influenced by how long your credit accounts have been open, particularly the positive ones. Even if you don’t use a particular credit card and there’s no outstanding balance, consider keeping it open if you’ve had it for several years. Your credit score takes into account the average age of your credit cards because it indicates you’ve had a longer track record of payments.
There are instances where you might not want to keep a credit card open just for the account age. That’s if you pay an annual fee for the luxury of using the card. If you get reward points that vastly surpass the cost of the fee, that’s fine. But if you’re paying $100 a year for a card you don’t use, it’s probably not worth having in your wallet.
If you’re new to having credit cards, there’s a way to get around this area. You can become an authorized user on someone else’s account. Then the entire history should show up on your credit report. So, if the credit card has been open for eight years, you’ll have that reflected on your own credit report.
On the flip side, if that person has made late or missed payments, it could damage your credit score. Plus, they’ll need to trust you that you won’t charge exorbitant purchases on the card and that you’ll pay off anything you owe. Or you could just not take a copy of the card so there’s no temptation.
Step 9: Minimize Credit Inquiries
A final way to improve your credit score is to hold off on frequent credit checks. This comes from applying for a number of credit cards and loans. Each time you apply for credit from a separate creditor or lender, a hard inquiry is noted on your credit report. Each one adds up to a few points deducted from your credit score for a year. The inquiry itself will be listed there for two years.
However, if you are looking for the same type of credit within a several week period, then that’s counted as a single inquiry. Lenders appreciate that you want to find the best deal. But if you’re applying for a new credit card every single month, they’re bound to raise an eyebrow or two. So it’s wise to apply for credit only when you need it, and think about it in a strategic manner.
Step 10. Open a Secured Credit Card
A secured credit card is a type of credit card that is backed by a cash security deposit. The security deposit serves as collateral if you default on your payments.
Secured credit cards are generally used by people who have no credit or bad credit that are trying to establish a positive credit history.
With a secured card, your credit limit is usually the same amount as the deposit you make. For example, if you open a checking account and put $500 in it, you get a credit card with a $500 credit limit. You get that money back from the credit card issuer when you close your card or upgrade to a traditional one.
Step 11. Ask for a Credit Limit Increase
By increasing your credit limit, it will lower your credit utilization ratio which can really help raise your credit score. You want to keep your credit utilization ratio at 30% or below. Your debt-to-credit ratio is one of the most important factors that affect your credit score.
Another Option: Reputable Credit Repair Services
Repairing your credit and improving your FICO score can be a lengthy process, but credit repair companies do most of the work.
In many instances, the only thing you’ll need to do is order a copy of your credit reports, and make a note of any inaccuracies that you want to have disputed. They keep up with validation letters, dispute notices, and all the deadlines involved.
The money you spend on credit repair is an investment in your financial future and well-being.