*FREE ANNUAL CREDIT REPORTS AND CREDIT REPAIR*
Tami Torres or Nina Banister
Your credit record can determine a lot about your financial future, from how much credit you get to whether you are offered a job. That's why Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher is urging Floridians to take advantage of a new law starting June 1 that lets consumers get free annual credit reports.
"Floridians should carefully check their credit reports for errors and incomplete information," stated CFO Gallagher, who is spearheading efforts to promote financial literacy among Floridians of all ages and economic levels. "Identity theft can be stopped early by a thorough examination of the details in a credit report. Good credit is an asset worth protecting."
Take advantage of the free annual credit reports now available to Florida consumers that can be requested from each of the three major credit reporting services under the federal Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act. Once each year Floridians get to review their credit reports at no charge due to this change in the law that goes into effect today.
Credit reports contain numerous types of information -- details about debt such as mortgages, consumer loans, credit cards and bankruptcies. Requesting a report will give the consumer the opportunity to find any inaccuracies and correct them. Mortgage lenders and credit card issuers rely on credit reports to make credit decisions and to assign interest rates. Now insurance companies and potential employers are using the reports to decide whether to issue insurance or make job offers.
Make it a habit to check your credit reports on a frequent basis and address any discrepancies or errors that may exist. Reviewing and managing your credit is important for two reasons. First, if someone has stolen your identity you will know because you will see inquiries and new debt on the report that you didn't initiate. Second, because many creditors use credit reports to rate your creditworthiness and establish an interest rate, if yours is correct you may save money on loans and other types of credit.
If you find discrepancies in your report, keep these tips in mind when trying to correct information in your credit report:
• It is common to receive mail, telemarketing pitches and e-mail from credit repair businesses offering to help upgrade credit ratings, remove bad credit or even acquire a new Social Security number. These promises are aimed at getting more money from those of us who can least afford it — people already in financial trouble.
• Be cautious of companies that want you to pay for credit repair services in advance or that recommend against contacting a credit bureau directly.
• Be wary of a company that suggests you try to invent a "new" credit report by applying for an employer identification number to use instead of your Social Security number.
• Understand that there are possible crimes related to credit repair. For example, you can be charged and prosecuted for mail or wire fraud if you use the mail or telephone to apply for credit and provide false information. It is a federal crime to make false statements on a loan or credit application, to misrepresent your Social Security number or to obtain an employer identification number from the Internal Revenue Service under false pretenses.
• No one can legally remove accurate and timely negative information from a credit report.
Starting June 1, Floridians can get free reports online at www.annualcreditreport.com or can download the form to mail in. Call toll-free 1-877-322-8228 to obtain free reports by mail. You may also purchase your credit score for a fee of $6.95 when you request your free annual credit report.