There are three numbers that have more control and influence over our lives than most people would want to admit -- and they all have names; Equifax, Experian, and Transunion (remember change agents, to name a thing is to control it)
These services are in the business of trying to figure out how much of a credit risk you represent -- and subsequently make money by selling that information to anyone who can claim a legitimate interest in having the information -- including you. If you don't know what's in your credit history files, you absolutely deserve to pay whatever rate your next creditor wants to offer you. Sound harsh? Read on.
The credit bureaus (don't you love the word 'bureau' ? it has that vaguely official sounding quality to it, somewhere between like a finely crafted mahogany desk and a government agency -- as in the 'B' in FBI) -- hoover up as much information about you as possible -- from as many sources, public and private.
In 2003 I took an active interest in my files when I bought my first house -- I always thought I had pretty good credit -- but my loan officer (officer, another dubious title) mentioned that I had a few dings that were impacting my overall score that meant I was going to have to pay a higher interest rate. I felt a little helpless. It turns out that there was a cell phone I'd never owned in a part of the country I'd never lived in on MY record and was evidently past due! When I got a copy of my report I was floored to see that Equifax had 3 different SSN's attached to my account, and Experian thought my middle initial (V) meant that I was David Duccini the 5th (can you imagine a megalomanic family producing a long line of sons with the same name? -- if you're the III son, stop the madness -- name your son Dweezil, or just call him Revision D), and TransUnion had addresses and also-known as (AKA) names for me that were wholly wrong.
The point is, that while the credit agencies are required by law to maintain lawful and accurate information about you, that implies that someone would know which bits were true or not. Turns out that someone is YOU. You are responsible for reviewing your credit files and absolutely have the ability to challenge, remove, or make personal statements in your file.
Getting stuff off your file takes no more effort than either filing online with each bureau (most of them now offer online dispute management) -- or writing letters to their designated support address. They have about 30 days to investigate the dispute -- and if the company in question doesn't respond, it automatically has to get purged. Which if you think about the state of most companies accounting systems, its likely they won't even find a record on you.
In some cases you need to escalate -- writing a letter of complaint to the Attorney Generals office in each state where there is a reasonable evidence that the company in question was doing business is the 'nuclear option' -- first off, few businesses like to get under the attention of the AG. Second, all AG's want to be governor someday, and they want to be perceived as champions of the people. Plus if there are enough complaints about a company, they have the ability to levy fines, and sanctions, including shutting down the offending company. Or, what you REALLY want is to have whatever bogus information purged from your credit file. Case in point: MCI long distance.
I had MCI LD on a home phone that I tried to cancel, but for whatever reason I could not get it removed -- I needed PINS to be sent by snail mail that would be magically expired by the time the letter arrived etc. Even QWEST couldn't switch me to their plan. So, I ended up disconnecting the phone line and paying the last bill. No active phone line, no way LD should even be an issue. MCI sent the account to collections, I got a ping on my credit report, called the collections company, sent them faxes showing the cancelled check -- the collections company didn't care, they wanted me to pay again. So I called MCI, they said they couldn't do anything. In the end I sent "nasty-grams" to the AG's in Iowa (collection agency) -- Texas (the MCI call center), and California (where the payment had been mailed) -- I got a VERY APOLOGETIC phone call from MCI, California -- and a nice letter from the CA AG's office. -- Texas and Iowa were absolutely useless.
Why did I work so hard to have this information purged? First of all, on principle alone, the information was wrong. But the real motivation was that my credit score on Equifax took a 100 point nose dive because of this bogus 'collection' record in my credit file! Once fixed, it mostly recovered.
The other area in your files that are ripe for correction are old accounts that are showing that they are still open. The number of open accounts is a key factor in your score and an easy one to clean up. "Paid, Closed at Consumers Request" is a happy status.
Creditworthiness in general is a means by which we can determine levels of fiscal responsibility in the absence of any other information -- it's one of the reasons I highly advocate joining a credit union to establish a long-term relationship with your bankers. They tend to be long-lived in the smaller banks.
Since taking an active interest in monitoring my credit reports (and following some of Suze Orman's advice) -- I've learned to buy what I can afford to pay off when the bill comes due -- and anything else goes on a zero percent account and paid down during whatever grace period is offered. The whole thing has taught me discipline.
So why do I make my big purchases on the 12th of every month?
Thats the day after my statement closes, which starts the next months billing cycle. Purchases made on the 12th (in my case) mean I get nearly 60-days of interest free use of whatever it is I'm purchasing, and nearly 60 days until that payment is due -- 30 days until the next bill, and then about 30 days until the payment is due. Credit card companies hate me -- but since the feeling is usually mutual I thought it equitable - lol.
So, Today's Big Idea is this: Take an active interest in your credit. Control your score -- don't let it control you.
Over the long run, those higher percentages you pay (even 1/2 percent) really take a bite out of your long term wealth potential. When it comes to battle with the credit card companies, practice the "Ancient Art of More-Fair"
One last thing: Just pay the one time fee for getting your scores. The freecreditscore.com people, while they have catchy jingles, are trying to get you on for a monthly fee based service. You can obtain your report without your score for free once per year from each bureau. After all, you can't control the score they give you, but you can control what information they base their score on.