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FICO Credit Score

The importance of your FICO score doesn't end there. It's also used in determining your interest rate, the amount of your down payment and the variety of mortgage types available to you if you're buying a house, your ability to get a car loan, the premium on your auto or homeowners insurance, and even your ability to get a job.

If your FICO score is on the low side, you'll pay a higher interest rate on loans
To get the best interest rates, your score should be 720 or above.

What Is the Range of Possible FICO Scores and What Do They Mean?
FICO scores range between 300 and 850. Ratings are as follows:

  • Excellent: Over 750
  • Very Good: 720 or more
  • Acceptable: 660 to 720
  • Uncertain: 620 to 660
  • Risky: less than 620

How Is My FICO Score Calculated?
The formula used to calculate your FICO score includes information based on several factors:

  • 35% on your payment history
  • 30% on the amount you currently owe lenders
  • 15% on the length of your credit history
  • 10% on the number of new credit accounts you've opened or applied for (fewer is better)
  • 10% on the mix of credit accounts you have (mortgages, credit cards, installment loans, etc.)

How Can I Improve My Credit Score?
The best way to improve your credit score is to pay your bills on time and manage your credit wisely. The most important item is your mortgage. Make sure you pay it on time every month. Installment loans, where you borrow a set amount to buy new furniture or appliances, for example, are given more weight than credit cards.

Keep your borrowing well below your credit limits, because your FICO score will be lower if you are maxed out on your credit cards. Don't have more than two or three credit cards because a large number of credit cards also lowers your FICO score. Don't apply for several credit cards at one time; it makes lenders nervous and will lower your FICO score. Other factors also affect your score, such as home ownership, which raises it, and moving frequently, which lowers it.

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Identity Theft

This information is not intended as legal advice. It is only a brief guide to your legal rights in these areas. You should seek competent legal counsel if you choose to explore these important legal issues further.

Rights and Remedies for victims of Identity Theft
Dealing With I.D. Theft

ARTICLES:
Consumer Reports "CR Investigates ID theft" October 2003
Star Tribune "You better watch out; identity theft on the rise, officials say" by Peg Meier
St. Paul Pioneer Press "Identity Theft thrives during holidays" by Kathy Kristof
LRP Publications "Ford Credit warns 13,000 consumers of information security breach"
Lawyers Weekly "Lawsuits Over Credit Report Errors Booming" by James L. Dam
Business Week Online "Privacy Matters" by Jane Black
Wells Fargo Computer Thefts:November, 2003 - David Lazarus http://www.SFGate.com,
March, 2004 - http://www.identitytheft911.com,
January, 2005 - Fred Miller, Montana Kaimin http://www.kaimin.org

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Fair Credit Reporting Act

Mismerged credit? Inaccurate information? The Fair Credit Reporting Act is designed to protect consumers.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act -15 U.S.C. §1681, et seq. ("FCRA"), is a federal statute which provides consumers with rights to accurate credit reporting by creditors and credit bureaus. If you have been turned down for credit you have a right to examine your credit report for free by writing to the credit bureaus and requesting a copy of your credit report/file. The FCRA provides for a sixty (60) day procedure in which you can dispute inaccurate information appearing on your credit report/file and demand the credit bureaus contact the entity reporting inaccurate information to verify the authenticity. If the entity verifies the inaccurate information as correct, and the credit bureau continues to report the information you may have a right to money damages under the FCRA.

Common violations of the FCRA are:

(1) Mismerged Credit - This occurs when two persons have similar identifying information or characteristics. For example when a father and some or mother and daughter share the same name and are Jr./Sr. I t occurs with persons you do not know or are not related to. For example, when someone else shares a social security number that is different by only one or two digits. In the aforementioned examples, someone else's information may get merged into your credit report, thus causing you to be denied credit.

(2) Inaccurate Information - Most common mistake made by credit reporting agencies is where there is a "trade line" (description of credit obligation owed by you (example mortgage or car payment)) that not accurate. For example, your Ford Motor Credit (car loan) is showing that you have been late four (4) times or that your account is in repossession status. These reports hurt you credit score when you attempted to obtain credit from another entity. If any trade line is being reported inaccurately it is necessary for you to dispute the inaccuracy with the credit bureaus. If they refuse to update or correct the trade line within sixty (60) days of receiving your written dispute you may be entitled to money damages under the FCRA.

Attorneys fees and costs of litigation are also recoverable under this statute.

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Fixing Your Inaccurate Credit Report

This information is not intended as legal advice. It is only a brief guide to your legal rights in these areas. You should seek competent legal counsel if you choose to explore these important legal issues further.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA")
If you've ever applied for a charge account, a personal loan, insurance, or a job, someone is probably keeping a file on you. This file might contain information on how you pay your bills, or whether you've been sued, arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy. Debt collectors often use the effects of negative credit reports to motivate consumers into paying debts. If a debt collector falsely reports information on your credit report, you have a right to bring a lawsuit against them.

Companies that gather and sell this information are called "Consumer Reporting Agencies" or "Credit Bureaus." There are four major Consumer Reporting Agencies or credit bureaus: Trans Union, Experian, CSC and Equifax. Each credit bureau operates independently from all the others, with the exception of CSC and Equifax, which are affiliated. The information sold by Consumer Reporting Agencies to creditors, employers, insurers, and other businesses is called a "consumer report." Consumer reports generally contain information about where you work and live and about your bill-paying habits. In 1970, Congress created a law that gives consumers specific rights in dealing with Consumer Reporting Agencies. The Fair Credit Reporting Act protects you by requiring that Consumer Reporting Agencies furnish correct and complete information to businesses for use in evaluating your application for credit, insurance, or a job.

Answers to Some Common Questions About Your Credit Report
Was I denied credit because of a "bad credit report"?
If you applied for and were denied credit, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act requires the creditor who denied you credit to tell you the specific reasons for your denial. For example, the creditor must tell you whether the denial was because you have "no credit file" with a Consumer Reporting Agency or because the Consumer Reporting Agency says you have "delinquent obligations." This law also requires that creditors consider, upon your request, additional information you might supply about your credit history.

How do I locate the Consumer Reporting Agency that has my file?
If your application was denied because of information supplied by a Consumer Reporting Agency, the company that denied your application must provide you with the name, address and telephone numbers of the Consumer Reporting Agency. Otherwise, you can find the Consumer Reporting Agency that has your file by calling those listed in the Yellow Pages under "credit" or "credit rating and reporting." Since more than one Consumer Reporting Agency may have a file about you, call each one listed until you locate all agencies maintaining your file.

Do I have the right to know what the report says?
Yes, if you request it. The Consumer Reporting Agency is required to give you all the information in your report and, in most cases, the sources of that information. However, the Consumer Reporting Agency is not required to reveal any credit rating or risk evaluation. You also have the right to be told upon request the name of anyone who received a report on you in the past 12 months, and you may also request the address and phone number of each such person. (If your inquiry concerns a job application, you can get the names of those who received a report during the past two years.) The Consumer Reporting Agency will also provide you with a written summary of your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Is this information free?
Yes, in certain circumstances. If your application was denied because of information furnished by the Consumer Reporting Agency, and if you request a copy of your report within 60 days of receiving the denial notice you are entitled to the information without charge. You are also entitled to one free report once in any 12 month period, if you certify in writing that you:

  • Are unemployed and intend to apply for a job in the next 60 days;
  • Are receiving public welfare assistance; or
  • Believe that your report is wrong due to fraud
  • Beginning March 2005, you may obtain one free Credit Report per year

If you don't meet one of these requirements, the Consumer Reporting Agency may charge a reasonable fee, $3.00 in Minnesota and usually about $8.00 in other states.

When are Free Annual Credit Reports available in my State?
Eligibility for an annual free credit report is determined by your state of residence based on the rollout schedule set by federal law. Look below to see when a free credit report becomes available in your state through this website.

Click here for info on how to Contact the Credit Reporting Agency

What can I do if the information is inaccurate or incomplete?
Notify the Consumer Reporting Agency. The agency probably has a toll-free telephone number. Be as specific as possible. The agency is required to delete or reinvestigate the items in question. If the new investigation reveals an error, a corrected consumer report will be sent to you, and upon your request, to anyone who received your report in the past six months (Job applicants can have corrected reports sent to anyone who received a copy during the past two years.). If you dispute the accuracy of the information in your file and the Consumer Reporting Agency deletes it, the agency can not put the disputed information back into your file without notifying you in writing. If you contact a consumer-reporting agency to dispute the accuracy or completeness of information in your file, the reporting agency may forward your dispute to the creditor or other person who furnished the information to the agency. But you also should still contact that source of information directly. Many creditors have a special address for this purpose, and have a duty to avoid reporting inaccurate information. Also, if you tell anyone that you dispute the accuracy of information, then that person must note that the information is disputed whenever it is provided to a consumer-reporting agency.

What can I do if the Consumer Reporting Agency won't modify the report?
The new investigation may not resolve your dispute with the Consumer Reporting Agency. If this happens, have the Consumer Reporting Agency include your version of the disputed information in your file and in future reports. You may submit a written statement of any length to be included in your file, although if the Consumer Reporting Agency helps consumers write a clear summary of the dispute, the statement may be limited to 100 words. At your request, the Consumer Reporting Agency will also show your version or a summary of your version to anyone who recently received a copy of the old report. There is no charge for this service if it's requested within 30 days after you receive notice of your application denial. After that, there may be a reasonable charge.

Do I have to go in person to get the information?
No, you may also request information over the phone. But before the Consumer Reporting Agency will provide any information, you may have to establish your identity by completing forms they will send you. If you do wish to visit in person, you'll need to make an appointment.

Are reports prepared on insurance and job applicants different?
If a report is prepared on you in response to an insurance or job application, it may be an Investigative Consumer Report. These are much more detailed than regular consumer reports. They often involve interviews with acquaintances about your lifestyle, character, and reputation. Unlike regular consumer reports, you'll be notified in writing when a company orders an investigative report about you. This notice will also explain your right to ask for additional information about the report from the company you applied to, or you may prefer to obtain a complete disclosure by contacting the Consumer Reporting Agency. Note that the Consumer Reporting Agency does not have to reveal the sources of the investigative information.

If an employer intends to take any adverse action against you based on a consumer report, whether or not it is an investigative consumer report, the employer must first give you a copy of your report and a summary of your rights under the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.

How long can Consumer Reporting Agencies report unfavorable information?
Generally seven years. Adverse information can't be reported after that, with certain exceptions:

  • Bankruptcy information can be reported for 10 years;
  • Information reported because of an application for a job with a salary of more than $75,000 has no time limitations;
  • Information reported because of an application for more than $150,000 worth of credit or life insurance has no time limitation;
  • Information concerning a lawsuit or judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer.

Can anyone get a copy of the report?
No, it’s given only to those with certain specified permissible purposes. If someone has obtained your credit report without your permission or knowledge, contact our office immediately.

Do I have to be told before someone sees my credit report?
No, a person may request a consumer report without telling you so long as it is for a permissible purpose like financing a car or buying a house. However, a Consumer Reporting Agency may not provide a consumer report to an employer unless the employer has your written permission. Also, your written permission is needed before medical information may be reported by a Consumer Reporting Agency for credit, insurance, or employment purposes.

What if I think a Credit Bureau has violated my rights under the law?
A Consumer Reporting Agency or other person who has been found to violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act must pay your actual damages, statutory damages and your attorney's fee. If the problems persist you may want to contact our office.

Six Easy Steps: A Guide To Fixing Your Own Credit Reports
Fixing a credit report can be a difficult and painful process, but it doesn't have to be. An entire fee-based industry has been developed to help consumers repair their credit reports. In truth, if information can be corrected, then a consumer has a right to get it corrected on his or her own--without paying anyone for the privilege. Our firm does not offer any credit repair services, but we do want to help educate consumers about how they can take control of their credit, correct mistakes within their credit reports, and enforce their federal rights when appropriate corrections have not been made.

Fixing a mistake on one credit report does not mean the mistake is gone forever. It may later reappear on a credit report or get reported to another credit bureau. In truth, all of the credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian, CSC, and Equifax) genuinely want to ensure the maximum possible accuracy of your credit report because they are required by law to do so. If they do not, you have a right to sue them under the Fair Credit Reporting Act("FCRA"). Many of these credit bureaus offer useful advice, tips, guidance and services for helping you get your credit reports right.

Even so, the power of the pen is mighty and what follows is our firm's best advice for getting to the root of any credit report error and getting it fixed, once and for all. At the end of this process, you'll be a better-informed consumer and your credit report will hopefully fixed to your satisfaction.

If on the other hand your credit reports are still showing errors after you have followed these steps, or an unauthorized person has accessed one of your credit reports, then you will want to contact our law firm to find out what your rights are.

Step 1: Get Copies of Your Credit Reports

  • Cut, paste and customize this letter with your information and then send it out to all of the major credit reporting agencies. (Adobe PDF file format.)
  • Remember, the additional reports will cost you $3.00 each in the state of Minnesota (around $8.00 in most other states) unless you attach a copy of a credit denial letter you have received in the past 60 days which was based upon the information that that credit bureau provided.
  • Save any and all of credit denial letters you receive, including the envelopes.
  • Save clean, original copies of each of the credit reports you have receive after you send your requests out.
  • Save a a good clean copy of what you send to the credit bureaus requesting the reports.
  • Online Users Beware: You may be tempted to get your credit reports on-line either directly from the credit bureaus or through a "consolidated" credit reporting service. We don't recommend online reports for several important reasons: 1) Online service has been "hit or miss" with some of the credit bureaus; 2) consolidated reports are harder to link directly back to the particular source of the incorrect information; 3) the print outs are often harder to read than original reports.
  • Our Advice: Take the time and send the manual letters.

Step 2: Examine All Credit Entries

  • Once you get all four of your consumer credit reports back, sit down and thoroughly review every account and company name on your reports.
  • Make sure that all of the information on the account; including late payment history, high credit, and monthly payments is accurate for every account.
  • Make accurate notes of any errors because you will use this information to create a second letter to request that your report be corrected.

Step 3: Examine All Credit Inquiries

  • Thoroughly examine and review every person and company listed who has obtained your credit report.
  • If there are inquiries on your credit reports, which you don't recognize, try to investigate them thoroughly and eliminate any possibility that the access of your credit report was permissible.
  • Your current creditors, insurance underwriters, debt collectors who are collecting from you, and people who expect to loan you money have a right to access your credit report.
  • Inquires made for promotional purposes are legal as well and are usually indicated with a special code such as "PRM" for promotional or other specific language on the credit report.

Step 4: Send A Correction Request Letter

  • Customize this letter with your information and then send it out to all of the affected credit reporting agencies that are showing the inaccurate information.
  • You are not required to, but you may also choose to use the correction form provided by the credit bureau along with your new credit report. Sometimes these form have too little space or not enough room to explain the problem you have.
  • Save a copy of what you send to the credit bureaus requesting the corrections.

Step 5: Review Your Updated Credit Reports

  • Within 30 days or so, after you have sent your Request Letter in Step 4, you can expect a copy of any updated credit report showing what corrections have been made, what has been deleted, and what remains unchanged.
  • If you still dispute inaccurate information that is on your credit reports, then it's time Step 6.

Step 6: Contact Our Office

  • If you have followed all of these Steps in writing, and 1) your credit information is still inaccurate, or 2) the creditor refuses to correct it, or 3) someone has accessed your credit report illegally, please contact our office.
  • We will consult with you and advise you of the best course of legal action to vindicate your rights.
  • Your claims under the FCRA must be brought within two years or they will be forever barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Consult a competent attorney immediately if you have inaccurate information on your credit report that the credit bureaus will not remove.

* Acknowledgment: This consumer guide was developed based in part upon information provided by the Federal Trade Commission web site, an excellent source for accurate and up-to-date consumer information.

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Abused by Bill Collectors

Q: ABUSED BY BILL COLLECTORS?
A: KNOW YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS!

In the past year, have any of these things happened to you?

  • Called by a collection agency at home before 8:00 AM or after 9:00 PM?
  • Called by a collection agency at work after telling them not to call you there?
  • Collection agency called your neighbors, friends, or employer?
  • Received abusive phone messages from bill collectors?
  • Sworn at or insulted by collection agents in person or on the phone?
  • Threatened with jail for not paying your bills?
  • Received collection letters after your Bankruptcy was filed?

Five Important Steps You Can Take To Help Yourself

  1. Save copies of all letters and notices from collection agencies
  2. Save all phone messages and voice mails - this is very important!
  3. Make note of your conservation's with these bill collectors
  4. Notify your attorney right away of these problems
  5. Call the attorney below to help you recover your damages

If you have suffered from any of these abusive bill collection practices, you may be entitled to CASH or other compensation.

Call 1.800.477.6910 immediately ask to speak with Thomas Lyons, an attorney who cares and may be able to help you.

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