Should you sign up for credit monitoring?

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Thousands of frugal and safety-conscious Americans sign up for credit monitoring every year, which is supposed to prevent against identity theft and other problems that can result in one’s credit report. The three credit bureaus – Transunion, Equifax and Experian – each offer credit monitoring for a little less than $10.00 per month, and they are sucking in even more business by offering a free credit report when you sign up for credit monitoring services.
But should you sign up for credit monitoring?

First of all, identity theft can occur in numerous ways, not all of which can be prevented by any known service. Credit monitoring alerts the subscribed consumer any time their credit is checked by a lender. Most of the time, the alert comes by e-mail, though some credit monitoring services also provide alerts by phone. This allows the consumer a heads-up if there isn’t any reason for their credit report to have been pulled, thereby catching identity theft before it occurs.

Obviously, this can be a valuable service for anyone who might be a potential identity theft victim, and since you can’t possibly know when such tragedy might strike your life, credit monitoring might seem like a sensible proactive solution. However, there are problems with it.

credit score treeFirst, most credit monitoring services cost nearly $10 per month, which would amount to nearly $120 per year. That might not seem like a very large amount, but you must remember that the cost only covers one credit bureau. For example, let’s say that you sign up for Experian’s credit monitoring service. Then an identity thief applies for credit in your name, but the creditor runs the information through Equifax. You would not be alerted because Experian did not receive the request for your credit report, and the credit monitoring system didn’t do you any good.

Knowing this, you might want to sign up for credit monitoring services with all three credit bureaus, which would catch any fraudulent activity. The down side is that the $120 you were spending every year on credit monitoring has suddenly risen to $360 in annual costs. Paying more than three-hundred dollars every year for something that might or might not be beneficial is simply not in the cards for the average American.

Further, there are other ways in which identity theft can be accomplished; a scam artist doesn’t have to apply for credit in your name in order to defraud you. If your current credit card number is stolen, you could just as easily become a victim and credit monitoring will be of no use whatsoever.

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Before you decide to sign up for credit monitoring services, consider these factors:

1. Are you a likely candidate for identity theft? The people who are at the most risk for identity theft are those with high credit scores and clean credit reports. If you have had credit problems in the past, you won’t be attractive to scam artists.

2. Can you afford temporary damage to your credit report? Even if you are the victim of identity theft, the problems can be taken care of over time. Once you’ve filed an official dispute with the credit bureau, it is only a matter of time (usually several months) before the matter is investigated and expunged from your credit report. If you won’t be applying for a mortgage or other loan in the near future, it shouldn’t be a concern.

3. Are you doing it for the right reasons? Never sign up for credit monitoring just because you want the free credit report. By law, you are entitled to a free annual report, which should be sufficient to keep everything in line. Further, you can always order a credit report through myfico.com for a nominal fee just to check up on things during the year.

Myth No. 5:

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Checking your credit report too often can hurt your score

$$$Even though people generally don’t know this, but ordering your own credit report or score has absolutely no negative effects on your FICO score. What cause the harm are excessive credit applications, like home loans, car financing or new credit cards.

How it can cause more damage:

Unless you check your credit report periodically, there’s no way you can check for discrepancies. To maintain your score at its highest point, it is essential that you check your report periodically and make sure that all accounts and their information are correct. With identity theft on the rise, it is even more important in these times than ever.

Myth No. 4:

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Cancelling the card or paying off the balance will rid you of bad history

Your payment history makes up 35 percent of your FICO score and closing the accounts with less than perfect histories will not make the harmful information go away. While paying off the balance is a good thing and can boost other areas affecting your score, it will still not remove the dark marks highlighting your payment history.

How it can cause more damage:

Cancelling the account does not remove the late payments associated with it. What it does is, it affects your debt-to-credit ratio (unless you make payments on your other debt to make up as well) and it can also affect the length of your credit history, especially if it’s an old account.

If the adverse information is not correct, be sure to contest it. But if it has been reported correctly, the best thing to do is to pay the credit cards on time, even if it is the minimum payment. Use the card to start building a good solid history of making timely payments and eventually, it will have a positive affect on your score.

Myth No. 3:

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Closing old account that you don’t use anymore will boost your score

It is true that having too many accounts can put a dent in your credit score, but by the time you realize that, it’s too late. The problem lies in opening too many accounts in a very short time span. And closing them will not help your score. Especially not with the older accounts. In fact, it could result in more harm.

How it can cause more damage:
Closing your oldest accounts will result in making your credit history seem shorter than it actually is. And when it comes to credit histories, size does matter. FICO looks at the age of the oldest account, the latest account and the average age of all your accounts when deciding on a length of your credit history. The history is 15 percent of your total score. Besides, closing these accounts would mean shutting the door on the untapped credit potential you have, which in turn makes your current debt appear larger. This is reflected in the debt-to-credit ratio.

Keep your old accounts, but make sure they don’t have any annual fees or costs associated with them. Also, hide the cards somewhere you won’t use them. If you still wish to close accounts for any other reason, close the latest one with the lowest credit limits.

Just be aware that it will not increase your score.

Myth No. 2:

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High credit limits or large amounts of unused credit will lower your score

As long as you don’t use that credit and add to your debt, having high credit limits on your cards is actually a good thing. Your debt-to-credit ratio, which makes up 30 percent of your FICO score, is the amount of revolving debt (i.e. the credit card balances) in relation to the amount of available credit (i.e. the credit limits). This calculation is used by Credit Bureaus to determine your ability to manage the credit you have. Ideally, you’d want this ratio to be under 30 percent.

For example, let’s assume that you have 3 open credit cards with limits of $5000, $7000 and $6000, equaling a total credit limit of $18000. Your balance on one card is $1700, on the second card it’s $1200, and on the third it is $2100; equaling a total balance of $5000. So basically you have used $5000 out of the $18000 available to you, resulting in a debt-to-credit ratio of 28 percent. This is to say, that only 28 percent of your available credit is being utilized at this time. The higher the percentage, the more likely you could be considered overextended which hurts your score.

How it can cause more damage:
If you are keeping your credit limits low on purpose, what you need to realize is that you are hurting your debt-to-credit ratio by making your collective balance appear to be a large chunk of your total available credit. Increment in the credit limit – or decline in balance – results in a more positive score for you.

So using the example given above, if one of your cards raised your limit by $1000, with your balances remaining the same, your debt to credit ratio will come down from 28 percent to 25 percent. On the other hand, if you were to cancel your card with the $7000 limit, without paying down on the other balances of $5000 to counteract the loss of credit limit, your new ratio will be 46 percent. Think about THAT!

Myth No. 1:

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Never using or not having any credit cards will improve your FICO score

It’s true that not having any credit cards might help control your spending, especially if the lure of too much available credit is too tempting to resist, but it will not help your score. What you need to keep in mind is that the FICO score of someone who has managed his credit responsibly is more likely to be higher than someone who has little or no credit history.

Buying everything with cash will surely save you from paying interest, but it is not an ideal thing to do in terms of building a good credit history.

How it can cause more damage:

Having too little credit history can lower your score, and if you don’t have any accounts that are older than 6 months, you might never get a score at all. They feel that the history is just not enough or too little to generate a score on. If you have a long history that is not so perfect and have made up your mind to get rid of all those cards, you are loosing on a chance to redeem yourself. FICO scores take into account the good and the bad, and if you generate more good, your score will improve.

Avoiding paying interest does not mean that you can’t build up a solid credit history. Use your credit cards in small amounts, and pay off the balance every month in full, and on time. This way, you succeed in building a favorable credit history and continue to enjoy a no-interest life.

5 Common Myths That Can Destroy Your Credit Score

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credit scoreContrary to the perception that Credit is only for credit cards, it plays a major part in our ability to borrow money. In fact, it is used in many other places that you probably don’t even think of. For example, some employers check the credit histories of potential candidates as a pre-requisite to hiring. Be it renting a home or shopping around for a better insurance rate, credit histories are checked to make sure that you aren’t too much of a risk to cater to.
Your credit score, commonly known as the FICO score, is a vital indication of your “credit health” and can make a huge difference in what you pay for borrowed money. Therefore, it’s in everyone best interest to keep their FICO score as fit as possible.

So have a look at these 5 popular credit score myths that could do more damage than good, if you followed them.