Your credit report contains information about your past and present credit transactions. It’s used primarily by potential lenders to evaluate your creditworthiness. So, if you’re about to apply for credit, especially for something significant like a mortgage, you’ll want to get and review a copy of your credit report.
Getting A Copy Of Your Credit Report
Every consumer is entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus: Experian,TransUnion, and Equifax. Besides the annual report, you are also entitled to a free report under the following circumstances:
Visit www.annualcreditreport.com for more information.
What’s It All About?
Your credit report usually starts off with your personal information: your name, address, Social Security number, telephone number, employer, past address and past employer, and (if applicable) your spouse’s name. Check this information for accuracy; if any of it is wrong, correct it with the credit bureau that issued the report.
The bulk of the information in your credit report is account information. For each creditor, you will find the lender’s name, account number, and type of account; the opening date, high balance, present balance, loan terms, and your payment history; and the current status of the account. You will also see status indicators that provide information about your payment performance over the past 12 to 24 months. They will show whether the account is or has been past due, and if past due, they will show how far (e.g., 30 days, 60 days). They will also indicate charge-offs or repossessions. Because credit bureaus collect information from courthouse and registry records, you may find notations of bankruptcies, tax liens, judgments, or even criminal proceedings in your file.
At the end of your credit report, you will find notations on who has requested your information in the past 24 months. When you apply for credit, the lender requests your credit report–that will show up as an inquiry. Other inquiries indicate that your name has been included in a creditor’s prescreen program. If so, you will probably get a credit card offer in the mail.
You may be surprised at how many accounts show up on your report. If you find inactive accounts (e.g., a retailer you no longer do business with), you should contact the credit card company, close the account, and ask for a letter confirming that the account was closed at the customer’s request.
Basing The Future On The Past
What all this information means in terms of your creditworthiness depends on the lender’s criteria. Generally speaking, a lender feels safer assuming that you can be trusted to make timely monthly payments against your debts in the future if you have always done so in the past. A history of late payments or bad debts will hurt you. Based on your track record, a new lender is likely to turn you down for credit or extend it to you at a higher interest rate if your credit report indicates that you are a poor risk.
Too many inquiries on your credit report in a short time can also make lenders suspicious. Loan officers may assume that you are being turned down repeatedly for credit or that you are up to something–going on a shopping spree, financing a bad habit, or borrowing to pay off other debts. Either way, the lenders may not want to take a chance on you.
Your credit report may also indicate that you have good credit, but not enough of it. For instance, if you are applying for a car loan, the lender may be reviewing your credit report to determine if you’re capable of handling monthly payments over a period of years. The lender sees that you have always paid your charge cards on time, but your total balances due and monthly payments have been small. Because the lender cannot predict from this information whether you’ll be able to handle a regular car payment, your loan is approved only on the condition that you supply an acceptable cosigner.
Correcting Errors On Your Credit Report
Under federal and some state laws, you have a right to dispute incorrect or misleading information on your credit report. Typically, you will receive with your report either a form to complete or a telephone number to call about the information that you wish to dispute. Once the credit bureau receives your request, it generally has 30 days to complete a reinvestigation by checking any item you dispute with the party that submitted it. One of four things should then happen:
You should be provided with a report on the reinvestigation within five days of its conclusion. If the reinvestigation resulted in a change to your credit report, you should also get an updated copy.
You have the right to add to your credit report a statement of 100 words or less that explains your side of the story with respect to any disputed but unchanged information. A summary of your statement will go out with every copy of your credit report in the future, and you can have the statement sent to anyone who has gotten your credit report in the past six months. Unfortunately, though, this may not help you much–creditors often ignore or dismiss these statements.
In case you missed it, check out “Connecting the Dots to Your Financial Future (Part 1)” where we talk about why good credit is so important, how your credit score determined, and other tips.
Prepared by Broadridge Advisor Solutions. Copyright 2021. Edited by BFSG, LLC.
Disclosure: BFSG does not make any representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information prepared by any unaffiliated third party, whether linked to BFSG’s web site or blog or incorporated herein and takes no responsibility for any such content. All such information is provided solely for convenience purposes only and all users thereof should be guided accordingly. Please see important disclosure information here.
There’s no doubt about it — going through a divorce can be an emotionally trying time. Ironing out a divorce settlement, attending various court hearings, and dealing with competing attorneys can all weigh heavily on the parties involved.
In addition to the emotional impact a divorce can have, it’s important to be aware of how your financial position will be impacted. Now, more than ever, you need to make sure that your finances are on the right track. You will then be able to put the past behind you and set in place the building blocks that can be the foundation for your new financial future.
Assess your current financial situation
Following a divorce, you’ll need to get a handle on your finances and assess your current financial situation, taking into account the likely loss of your former spouse’s income. In addition, you may now be responsible for paying for expenses that you were once able to share with your former spouse, such as housing, utilities, and car loans. Ultimately, you may come to the realization that you’re no longer able to live the lifestyle you were accustomed to before your divorce.
Establish a budget
A good place to start is to establish a budget that reflects your current monthly income and expenses. In addition to your regular salary and wages, be sure to include other types of income, such as dividends and interest. If you will be receiving alimony and/or child support, you’ll want to include those payments as well.
As for expenses, you’ll want to focus on dividing them into two categories: fixed and discretionary. Fixed expenses include things like housing, food, and transportation. Discretionary expenses include things like entertainment, vacations, etc. Keep in mind that you may need to cut back on some of your discretionary expenses until you adjust to living on less income. However, it’s important not to deprive yourself entirely of any enjoyment. You’ll want to build the occasional reward (for example, yoga class, dinner with friends) into your budget.
Reevaluate/reprioritize your financial goals
Your next step should be to reevaluate your financial goals. While you were married, you may have set certain financial goals with your spouse. Now that you are on your own, these goals may have changed. Start out by making a list of the things that you now would like to achieve. Do you need to put more money towards retirement? Are you interested in going back to school? Would you like to save for a new home?
You’ll want to be sure to reprioritize your financial goals as well. You and your spouse may have planned on buying a vacation home at the beach. After your divorce, however, you may find that other goals may become more important (for example, making sure your cash reserve is adequately funded).
Take control of your debt
While you’re adjusting to your new budget, be sure that you take control of your debt and credit. You should try to avoid the temptation to rely on credit cards to provide extras. And if you do have debt, try to put a plan in place to pay it off as quickly as possible. The following are some tips to help you pay off your debt:
Watch our “Connecting the Dots to Your Financial Future (Part 1)” webinar for some strategies to pay off your debt.
Since divorce can have a negative impact on your credit rating, consider taking steps to try to protect your credit record and/or establish credit in your own name. A positive credit history is important since it will allow you to obtain credit when you need it, and at a lower interest rate. Good credit is even sometimes viewed by employers as a prerequisite for employment.
Review your credit report and check it for any inaccuracies. Are there joint accounts that have been closed or refinanced? Are there any names on the report that need to be changed? You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. You can go to annualcreditreport.com for more information.
To establish a good track record with creditors, be sure to make your monthly bill payments on time and try to avoid having too many credit inquiries on your report. Such inquiries are made every time you apply for new credit cards.
Review your insurance needs
Typically, insurance coverage for one or both spouses is negotiated as part of a divorce settlement. However, you may have additional insurance needs that go beyond that which you were able to obtain through your divorce settlement.
When it comes to health insurance, make having adequate coverage a priority. Unless your divorce settlement requires your spouse to provide you with health coverage, one option is to obtain temporary health insurance coverage (up to 36 months) through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). You can also look into purchasing individual coverage or, if you’re employed, coverage through your employer.
Now that you’re on your own, you’ll also want to make sure that your disability income and life insurance coverage matches your current needs. This is especially true if you are reentering the workforce or if you’re the custodial parent of your children.
Finally, make sure that your property insurance coverage is updated. Any applicable property insurance policies may need to be modified or rewritten in order to reflect property ownership changes that may have resulted from your divorce.
Change your beneficiary designations
After a divorce, you’ll want to change the beneficiary designations on any life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and bank or credit union accounts you may have in place. Keep in mind that a divorce settlement may require you to keep a former spouse as a beneficiary on a policy, in which case you cannot change the beneficiary designation.
This is also a good time to make a will or update your existing one to reflect your new status. Make sure that your former spouse isn’t still named as a personal representative, successor trustee, beneficiary, or holder of a power of attorney in any of your estate planning documents.
Consider tax implications
You’ll also need to consider the tax implications of your divorce. Your sources of income, filing status, and the credits and/or deductions for which you qualify may all be affected.
Your filing status is determined as of the last day of the tax year (December 31). This means that even if you were divorced on December 31, you would, for tax purposes, be considered divorced for that entire year.
Finally, if you have children, and depending on whether you are the custodial parent, you may be eligible to claim certain credits and deductions. These could include the child tax credit, and the credit for child and dependent care expenses, along with college-related tax credits and deductions. Ask a tax professional for information on your individual situation.
Consult a financial professional
Although it can certainly be done on your own, you may want to consider consulting a financial professional to assist you in adjusting to your new financial life. In addition to helping you assess your needs, a financial professional can work with you to develop a plan designed to help you address your financial goals, make recommendations about specific products and services, and monitor and adjust your plan as needed.
Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2020