The Sun News

Get free information, advice on your credit scores

I get a lot of calls about credit reports and credit scores, so please share this article with family, friends and neighbors. During the recent recession, a lot of people had experiences that hurt their credit. The No. 1 cause of low credit scores during this time frame was medical expenses. This problem is so widespread that credit scoring systems have changed how they look at these expenses, giving them a lower weight compared to other types of debt. Credit scoring systems are also trying to include payments other than debt payments, such as rent, to give lenders a better picture of a person's financial health.

We all need to check our credit reports every year to make sure they accurately represent the facts. The only website you should use to do this is www.annualcreditreport.com. There are three credit bureaus, so you will need to get your report from each agency. Before the internet, these bureaus used to be regional. For example, a Georgia company would use Equifax, which is based in Atlanta. Today, everything is electronic, so a Georgia company will report to all three bureaus. In Georgia, you can get reports from all three credit bureaus from this site, free of charge, twice a year. Go to the site using a secure internet connection as you will be entering personal information, such as your name, address and Social Security number.

The credit score that is used for 90 percent of lending decisions is FICO, or Fair Isaac Corp. It created the first credit score in the 1980s, and is used predominately by banks and mortgage lenders. Last year, it started partnering with major credit card companies to offer free reports to card holders. This must have been effective, because this week Discover announced they have created a free website to allow people to get their FICO credit score free of charge. The website is www.creditscorecard.com, and it is easy to use. You will enter an email address and create a password, then enter your personal information and answer some security questions that verify your identity. Within minutes, you will see your credit score and an explanation of how it was calculated. You will also get advice on how to improve your score. When you finish, you will see an ad for a Discover credit card, which they hope you will consider. Remember, this is only for your credit score, not your credit reports.

If you are struggling with credit and debt problems, you need to know that we have a great resource to help you, right here in Middle Georgia. The nonprofit agency is called GreenPath, formerly known as Consumer Credit Counseling Service. Its website is www.greenpath.com, and its phone number is 800-550-1961. You can call and schedule a free session that can take place on the phone, or in person, at no charge. It also offers debt management plans and pre-bankruptcy counseling.

Sherri Goss is vice president of Rosenberg Financial Group, Inc., with offices in Macon and Warner Robins. You can reach her by calling 922-8100, or via email at sherri@rfmoney.com.

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