Time Heals Credit

Time heals all wounds – even bad debt.  Credit reports are important but beware the “credit score.”

Although it is debatable that time, does in fact, heal all wounds.  It is certain that time heals bad debt wounds in your credit history.  Debt hiccups happen to even the most financially responsible people and are NOT a reflection of who we are.  For example, I was sitting in Bankruptcy Court several years ago and the Judge took the bench after returning from a month-long trip.  Upon returning and checking the mail, the Judge found a late payment notice from the mortgage company that was obviously inaccurate.  Upon further review, the Judge realized that the stamped envelope with the mortgage payment had been accidently shoved under a magazine and not mailed out.  The Judge really was 30 days late.  These simple mistakes happen and that “30 day late” notation no doubt appeared on the Judge’s credit report.  But how long will it stay there?

How long does negative data stay on a credit report?

Negative information stays on a credit report for seven years from the delinquency date.  A late payment, a collection account, a charge off – all will be there seven years from the date that you first failed to pay on time.  Although a collection account may have a more recent “open date” (because the collection agency was hired at some point after the original creditor gave up), they are required to retain the original delinquency date.  This can cause confusion and should be reviewed carefully to make sure that the information has not become too old for reporting.  If it has, you should dispute the information.

A bankruptcy filing can stay on the credit report for 7 to 10 years – depending on which type of bankruptcy is filed.  A Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which itself takes 3 to 5 years to complete, stays on the credit for seven years from when it is filed (meaning for many people it will completely disappear two years after it ends.)  A Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is more common and takes about 90 days to complete, can be on the credit for ten years.  Knowing when a negative event appeared on a credit report allows you to predict when it will fall off the credit report and thus helps you plan for future improvements and large purchases.  

How can I get a copy of my credit report?

Federal law, specifically the Fair Credit Reporting Act, allows you to obtain a copy of your credit report, at no cost, once a year.  The Federal Trade Commission is the federal agency that supervises this program and regulates the top three credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.  It is the Federal Trade Commission that administers this free credit report process and there are three ways you can obtain your free credit report:

  1. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com
  2. Call 1-877-322-8228 (report will arrive in the mail in about 15 days)
  3. Fill out this Form and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281 (report will arrive in the mail in about 15 days)

You are NOT required to receive all three credit reports at the same time.  If you request one from each agency approximately four months apart you can keep a closer eye, for free, on your credit history.  

What is the online process to get a copy of my annual credit report?

In order to obtain a copy of your annual credit report, you will be required to submit your name, address, social security number and date of birth.  If you have moved in the previous two years you will be required to provide additional address information.  Once you have selected one of the credit reports, you will visit a page for that specific agency (but still on the annualcreditreport.com site) and will be asked for your email and phone number.  If you do not wish to provide this information, then use one of the other ways to obtain your annual credit report.  The system will then pull some data from your credit file and ask you to verify which information is correct – this is an identity theft protection measure but can be frustrating if you aren’t familiar with your credit history and answer incorrectly.  Some people don’t make it through this step and have to obtain their annual credit report by phone or mail.

Helpful Hints once you have your Annual Credit Report

  1. Save a copy of the report to PDF or print it out.  
  2. Notice that each report has a unique “File Number” and “Date of Creation” – this is important if you need to dispute something as inaccurate
  3. “Regular Inquiries” identify potential lenders that accessed your credit report within the past two years, at your request to consider a lending application.  This information is visible to anyone who accesses your credit report file and each inquiry has a negative impact on your credit score.
  4. “Account Review Inquiries” identify your current lenders who have accessed your credit report within the past two years for their own purposes.  These inquiries are visible to you only and do NOT have a negative impact on your credit score.
  5. Do NOT request to know your “credit score” unless you are considering a large purchase.

Beware “Credit Score”

The credit reporting industry has done a masterful job of marketing “credit score” as highly pertinent information that all of us must know.  What started out as an easier way for potential lenders to make decisions based on equality and science as opposed to individual character and personal impression, has turned into a massive money-making industry.  You have a right to your credit report and to know your credit score but the credit score is NOT FREE.  Since the credit score (and there are several different score models designed to predict the risk of a credit default) is a formula owned by a specific company and NOT the federal government, that company can charge for its use.  We have been told for years that “past performance does not predict future results” and yet that is exactly what the credit scores try to do.  They are an unfortunate reality of our economy today but I urge you to not let yourself be defined by a number.

The concept of credit scoring started in 1956 with the Fair, Isaac and Company, but its proprietary “FICO” Score did not have widespread use until about 1989.  The small data company that started as “Fair, Isaac and Company” is now “FICO” – a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange with a market cap of about $12 billion (as of 9/30/2020).   This is BIG BUSINESS people and has become a recurring subscription model from FICO that varies between $19.95 per month to $39.95 per month!  To maintain their role as the “credit score king”, FICO keeps changing the formula.  The most recent version, “FICO Score 10” is being pushed by FICO with the promise that its use could reduce the number of defaults by 10% among new bankcard issues, 9% for new auto loans and 17% for new home mortgage loans.  Follow the dollar and you will find the motivation.  This is not about you and your creditworthiness, this is about making money (don’t get me wrong, that is not a bad thing, but you need to understand the motivations in order to make educated choices.)

BEWARE “freecreditreport.com”

This website was established by Experian, one of the three major credit reporting agencies and you have likely seen their commercials with catchy jingles.  Yes, the credit report is free BUT you will be invited to submit a credit card to purchase credit monitoring services for a “free trial period” of seven days that, if you fail to cancel, will be automatically billed thereafter.  You are also consenting to be targeted for sale of other products and are agreeing to an arbitrate any dispute (on terms very costly to you and favorable to Experian).

Tidbit of Knowledge

Time Heals All Wounds.  If you research this phrase it appears that Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (mother of President John F. Kennedy) gets the most modern credit.  However, the earliest appearance seems to date from about 170 BC in Latin as Diem adimere aegritudinem hominibus – or “Time removes distress” from a play written by Terence of Rome.

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