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Understanding Financial Credit:
Your FICO Score

You have a dream to by real estate on Martha's Vineyard, but you cannot pay for it 100% with cash, and will need a mortgage loan. You sit down with a lending agent at one of our local banks figure out exactly how much of a loan you qualify for. Your credit history may be the deciding factor in whether or not you get a loan, and the way a lender evaluates you is through your credit score.

Experian www.experian.com, Equifax www.equifax.com and TransUnion www.transunion.com are three of the major credit reporting agencies. Each uses a slightly different system to arrive at a score. However, the best known is called the FICO score, based on a model developed by Fair Isaac and Company and used by Experian. Equifax bases its score on a system called BEACON. TransUnion uses a system called EMPIRICA.

Each system considers a range of data available in your credit report:
Credit History How many years have you been issued credit?
Payment History Do you pay your bills on time?
Credit Card Balances Do you carry high balances and on how many accounts?
Credit Inquiries How many times have you applied for credit, had your credit checked and declined?

Each of these items as well as other items are factored in and are assigned a value weight. The results are added up and condensed into a rating number. FICO scores range from 300 to 800 --- the higher the number the better the score. Most home buyers should find their scores falling between 600 and 800. The higher the FICO score the better the credit risk; therefore, the more likely the buyer may qualify for a better mortgage rate.

There is not much you can do to change your FICO score because your credit history is just that, the history of your credit throughout your lifetime. However, credit history reports are not always accurate so it is every consumer's responsibility to check the data for accuracy. Go to www.myFICO.com to get your credit score and/or your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies. By the end of December 2005, credit reporting agencies in all states will allow consumers, even though they have not been declined credit, to receive one copy of their credit report per year free of charge. Massachusetts already mandates this service.

In the event that you discover outdated or incorrect information on your credit report. Since these errors can have a negative effect upon your chances of getting a mortgage or any other form of credit, here is what you can do if you find an error.

Contact the creditor or lender regarding the problem. Most large creditors have standard procedures for handling customer disputes. If you have proof that the item in question is incorrect, it should be resolved quickly. This is why it is paramount that you keep good records of everything you do. Take the names of customer service people you speak with and document the date and time of all conversations. Send all correspondence return receipt requested, and make copies of any letters or documents you send. Always follow up your phone calls with a letter. List each disputed item, and state how it is inaccurate, attaching copies of all relevant documents. Include your full name, account number, the dollar amount in question, and the reason you believe the item is wrong. Never send original documents.

If the creditor finds that the disputed information is indeed incorrect, the creditor is required under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (amended September 2012) to update its records, usually within 30 days, both internally and with the credit reporting agencies it deals with.

If you cannot reconcile the error with the lender, then you should contact the credit-reporting agency that is reporting the item in question. You will need to send them written documentation of the inaccuracy. The credit-reporting agency will review the disputed information and if further investigation is required, they will provide notification of your dispute, including the relevant information you submitted, to the lender that furnished the disputed credit information to them. Then the lender will review the information, conduct their own investigation, and report back to the credit-reporting agency. The credit-reporting agency will then make all appropriate changes to your credit file based on the investigation, and notify you that the correction has been made.

Just because you have corrected an inaccuracy with one credit-reporting agency does not mean it will be corrected promptly or automatically with the other credit-reporting agencies. Therefore, you may want to get your credit report from the other two agencies to see if their reports contain the same error. If the error exists on their reports it is best to contact each of the three agencies yourself:

Equifax: 800-685-1111
Experian: 888-397-3742
Trans Union: 800-916-8800

The credit reporting agency should notify you within about 30 days of your inquiry as to the results of their investigation and provide you with a revised credit report free of charge. Examine it carefully to ensure that the inaccuracies have been fixed or removed.

If the error has been fixed, you can ask the credit reporting agency send the revised report to anyone who received the inaccurate report in the past six months (two years in the case of employers).

If, on the other hand, you cannot resolve the item in dispute, you have the right to attach a 100-word statement to your credit report explaining the nature of your disagreement. Your statement will become part of your credit file, and will be included each time someone accesses your credit file. There is no charge for inserting the explanation addendum to your credit report.

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