How to Get Your Credit Reports

You are entitled to a free credit file disclosure (credit report) once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.  We recommend you monitor your credit by pulling one of the three reports every four months.

You may request your free credit reports online at You will be asked questions to authenticate your identity such as creditor names, loan payment amounts, employers and addresses. Please work through the screens, then view and print out all three credit reports. You’ll need lots of paper and ink.

Other Internet sites advertising “free” credit reports are not free. If you have to give a credit card number or sign up for a monthly credit monitoring service, you are on the wrong website.

If you cannot obtain your free credit reports online, you may request your report by phone or request your report through the mail. Free credit reports requested by phone or mail will be processed within 15 days of receiving your request.

To request your credit report by phone, call 1-877-322-8228. You will go through a simple verification process over the phone. Your reports will be mailed to you within 15 days.

To request you credit report by mail, download the request form, print and complete the form, mail the completed form to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

When you file bankruptcy through our firm, you should bring any credit reports you have with you to your appointment with our attorneys. With your written permission, we will run your credit reports through our vendor, which downloads the data from Experian and Transunion to our software.  The charge for the download is $26 for one person or $45 for a married couple.

Free credit reports do not contain your credit scores.  You can estimate your credit score for free, instantly and anonymously, by using a web tool, Credit Score Compass, on the website.

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by Casey Serin

Why the Focus on Credit Score?

Here is an excellent post on credit scoring by my blogging colleague, Gene Melchionne of Connecticut, on Money Heath Central.

What’s your credit score?

How many times have you heard, “What is your credit score?”  Or someone talking about how to keep your credit score up?  Or keep it from going down?  Or read an article about what makes up your score?

Why do we care?

Americans like to reduce concepts to numbers. We do it in sports; number of games unbeaten; batting averages, etc.  We do it in the economy; stocks increasing on the Dow Jones , the unemployment rate.  We do it in cars, miles per gallon or horsepower.  We do it in health; blood pressure, body mass index.  It is easy to compare on number to another and decide which is better.

Somewhere, somehow, we were sold on the idea that a good credit score is important.  And then the idea was sold to others so employers think a good credit score is an indication of a good employee and insurance comanies think a good credit score is also somehow a good insurance risk.  Like somehow paying the minimum payments on your credit cards everymonth somehow makes you a good driver.

Now the credit score is taking on the important task of measuring self-worth.  If you don;t have enough debt and enough monthly payments to worry about, then you just aren’t a success.

The real truth is that you are better off without debt.  If you can pay off your bills, then you can’t get into financial trouble.  If you live within your means, you will have the means to live.  If you want something, pay cash and if you can’t pay cash then save up to buy the thing you want so bad.  It will feel even better when you do get it because you earned it.  That will feed your self-worht more than anything. If an employer can’t see your worth as an employee based on your character, then you don’t need them.  While you need insurance for some things, you can shop around.  There are many companies who will take your business.  Don’t be a number, be you first and don’t focus on your credit score as measure of your life.

February 16, 2011 By Gene Melchionne
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Retired, Broke, Bankrupt

The over-55 crowd is the mostly likely age group to declare bankruptcy, the AARP says.  This group is carrying mortgages, home equity loans and credit card balances.

According to an AARP study, over half of this group spends most of their income paying down debt.  A quarter of these folks pay over 75% of their income reducing debt.

What You Can Do to Avoid Problems with Credit After Bankruptcy

What You Can Do to Avoid Problems with Credit After Bankruptcy

* If you don’t want it, don’t get it.  If you have doubts about whether you really need the loan or service, or whether you can afford it, don’t let yourself get talked into it by a salesperson using high-pressure tactics.  You can always walk away from a bad deal, even at the last minute.

* Shop around.  You may qualify for a loan with normal rates from a reputable bank or credit union.  Don’t forget that high-cost lenders are counting on your belief that you cannot get credit on better terms elsewhere.  Do not let feelings of embarrassment about your past problems stop you from shopping around for the best credit terms.

* Compare credit terms.  Do not consider just the monthly payment.  Compare the interest rate by looking at the “annual percentage rate,” as this takes into account other fees and finance charges added on the loan.  Make sure you know exactly what fees are being charged for credit and why.

* Read before you sign.  If you have questions, get help from a qualified professional to review the paperwork.  A lender that will not let you get outside help should not be trusted.

* If you give a lender a mortgage in a refinancing deal, remember your cancellation rights.  In home mortgage refinancings, federal law gives you a right to cancel for three days after you sign the papers.  Exercise these rights if you feel you signed loan papers and got a bad deal.  Don’t let the lender talk you out of cancelling.

* Get help early.  If you begin to have financial problems, or you are thinking of consolidating unmanageable debts, get help first from a local non-profit housing or debt counseling agency.

Source: Using Credit Wisely After Bankruptcy Pamphlet, National Consumer Law Center, Boston, MA,

Beware of Rent-to-Own

Beware of Credit Offers Aimed at Recent Bankruptcy Filers


By renting a TV, furniture or appliance from a rent-to-own company, you will often pay three or four times more than what it would cost to buy.  The company may make even more profit on you because the item you are buying may be previously used and returned.  And if you miss a payment, the company may repossess the item leaving with you no credit for the payments you made.

Source: Using Credit Wisely After Bankruptcy Pamphlet, National Consumer Law Center, Boston, MA,

Beware of Payday Loans, Auto Title Loans

Beware of Credit Offers Aimed at Recent Bankruptcy Filers

Small Loans

It is always best to save some money to cover unexpected expenses so you can avoid borrowing.  But if you are in need of a small loan, avoid the following high cost loans:

Payday loans

Some “check cashers” and finance companies offer to take a personal check from you and hold it without cashing it for one or two weeks.  In return, they will give you an amount of cash that is less than the amount of your check.  The difference between the amount of your check and the cash you get back in return is interest that the lender is charging you.  These payday loans are very costly.  For example, if you write a $256 check and the lender gives you $200 back as a loan for two weeks, the $56 you pay equals a 728-percent interest rate!  [Read more…]

Beware of "Bad Credit, No Problem"

Beware of Credit Offers Aimed at Recent Bankruptcy Filers

Be wary of auto dealers, mortgage brokers and lenders who advertise: “Bankruptcy? Bad Credit? No Credit? No Problem!”  They may give you a loan after bankruptcy, but at a very high cost.  The extra costs and fees on these loans can make it impossible for you to keep up the loan payments.  Getting this kind of loan can ruin your chances to rebuild your credit.

Mortgage Loans

If you own your home, some home improvement contractors, loan brokers and mortgage lenders may offer to give you a home equity loan despite your credit history.  These loans can be very costly and can lead to serious financial problems and even the loss of your home.  Avoid mortgage lenders that: [Read more…]

Beware of High Cost Predatory Lenders

Beware of Credit Offers Aimed at Recent Bankruptcy Filers

Avoid High Cost Predatory Lenders

Don’t assume that because you filed bankruptcy you will have to get credit on the worst terms.  If you can’t get credit on decent terms right after bankruptcy, it may be better to wait.  Most lenders will not hold the bankruptcy against you if after a few years you can show that you have avoided problems and can manage your debts.

Source: Using Credit Wisely After Bankruptcy Pamphlet, National Consumer Law Center, Boston, MA,

Beware of Credit Repair Companies

Beware of Credit Offers Aimed at Recent Bankruptcy Filers

Credit Repair Companies

Beware of companies that claim:  “We can erase bad credit.”  These companies rarely offer valuable services for what they charge, and are often an outright scam.  The truth is that no one can erase bad credit information from your report if it is accurate.  And if there is old or inaccurate information on your credit report, you can correct it yourself for free.

Source: Using Credit Wisely After Bankruptcy Pamphlet, National Consumer Law Center, Boston, MA,

Beware of "Secured" Credit Card Offers

Beware of  Credit Offers Aimed at Recent Bankruptcy Filers

“Secured” Credit Card

Another type of credit marketed to recent bankruptcy filers as a good way to reestablish credit involves “secured” credit cards.  These are cards where the balances are secured by a bank deposit.  The card allows you a credit limit up to the amount you have on deposit in a particular bank account.  If you can’t make the payments, you lose the money in the account.  They may be useful to establish that you can make regular monthly payments on a credit card after you have had trouble in the past.  But since almost everyone now gets unsecured credit card offers even after previous financial problems, there is less reason to consider allowing a creditor to use your bank deposits as collateral.  It is preferable not to tie up your bank account.

Source: Using Credit Wisely After Bankruptcy Pamphlet, National Consumer Law Center, Boston, MA,

Beware of “Disguised” Reaffirmation Agreement

Beware of Credit Offers Aimed at Recent Bankruptcy Filers

“Disguised” Reaffirmation Agreement

Carefully read any credit card or other credit offer from a company that claims to represent a lender you listed in your bankruptcy or own a debt you discharged.  This may be from a debt collection company that is trying to trick you into reaffirming a debt.  The fine print of the credit offer or agreement will likely say that you will get new credit, but only if some or all of the balance from the discharged debt is added to the new account.

Source: Using Credit Wisely After Bankruptcy Pamphlet, National Consumer Law Center, Boston, MA,

Free Credit Reports Aren't Really Free

The frequently advertised free credit report websites aren’t really free–there is a catch.  But there is a place you can get free credit reports once a year without any traps.

Yes, you get a free report on the advertised website, but you have to enter a credit card number and sign up for a monthly credit monitoring service.  That’s free, too, for 30 days, but if you forget to cancel the service after the first month, you automatically get charged for each month thereafter.

Go to

On this site you truly can get your own credit reports once per year from each of the three credit reporting agencies. Consumer advocates suggest you pull one of the three reports every four months so you can monitor your own credit at no cost to you.

Beware of Tax Refund Loans

Tax refund anticipation loans

Some tax return preparers offer to provide an “instant” tax refund by arranging for loans based on the expected refund.  The loan is for a very short period of time between when the return is filed and when you would expect to get your refund.  Like other short-term loans, the fees may seem small but amount to an annual interest rate of 200 percent or more.  It is best to patient and wait for the refund.

Source: Using Credit Wisely After Bankruptcy Pamphlet, National Consumer Law Center, Boston, MA,

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