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Protect Your Credit
by Greg Souther

How important is the accuracy of your credit report? Most people don't think about their reports or the companies maintaining them until they are denied credit, employment, services or required to pay a deposit. Because many creditors are using credit-scoring models, to rank your likelihood of paying, you could even be turned down for credit with a perfect payment history! Here are five tips that will help improve your credit file and protect your credit:

1) Get a copy of all three of your credit reports.
Reason:
There are three national credit reporting agencies (CRAs) and the information from each one is probably not the same.
Benefit: You will see the information that's being reported and know who is obtaining your credit report. You can correct any errors reported on your file. Note: If you live in Georgia, you are entitled to two free credit reports per year from each CRA.

2) Review your reports and close all credit card accounts that you aren't using.
Reason:
If you're like most Americans, you have credit cards you haven't used in years; it makes no sense to keep them open.
Benefit: By reducing the number of credit cards with "available credit," you'll improve your point score and increase your chances of getting credit. Note: Almost all creditors use a credit-scoring system to rate your credit worthiness. Many items are analyzed on a credit report to render a numeric pint score, such as payment histories, delinquencies, bankruptcies, judgments, inquiries, and available credit.

3) If you have any adverse information on your file that you believe to be inaccurate, dispute that information by phone, mail, or fax.
Reason:
New Federal laws put tougher burdens on creditors and the CRAs regarding the accuracy of the information and the consumer dispute process.
Benefit:
Creditors and CRAs have dramatically improved their consumer response time. Note: CRAs have to verify or delete disputed information within 30 days. Keep a record of the items you dispute and the corrected copies that are sent back to you.

4) Buyer beware! Don't give anyone your personal identification information unless you plan on doing business with them.
Reason:
You don't have to sign anything for a company to obtain your credit report. An excessive number of inquiries on your file is a "Red Flag" to creditors worried about fraud or bankruptcy.
Benefit: Fewer inquiries will improve your credit point score. Note: Here's an exception-anyone obtaining your credit report for employment reasons must have signed permission from you before obtaining your credit file.

5) Guard your identification information as you do your assets.
Reason: Credit fraud is increasing. Credit criminals are looking for your personal information.
Benefit:
You don't end up as a credit fraud victim. Note: Protect your Social Security number, credit cards and their numbers, your mother's maiden name, personal and company checks. Do not print your social security number and birth date on your checks.

Since credit reports have sensitive personal information, keep all copies in a safe secure place. Some states, including Georgia, have even stronger laws. Contact your state's attorney general or the Federal Trade Commission on their web site at http://www.ftc.gov Since credit reports have sensitive personal information, keep all copies in a safe secure place. Some states, including Georgia, have even stronger laws. Contact your state's attorney general or the Federal Trade Commission on their web site at . or at the Bureau of Consumer Protection-FCRA, Washington, DC 20580, (202)326-3761 for your state's law.

The National Credit Reporting Agencies

Georgia law entitles you to get two free credit reports each year from the national credit reporting agencies. Call or write the companies below for more information.
Equifax
PO Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
1-800-685-1111

Experian
PO Box 2106
Allen, TX 75103-2106
888-397-3742

Trans Union
PO Box 403
Springfield, PA 19064-0403
1-800-916-8800

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