Data Facts Blog


News Release: Senators Introduce Bill to Help Americans Struggling with Medical Debt

Medical Debt Responsibility Act helps consumers whose credit scores have been damaged by medical emergencies

WASHINGTON, DC – January 28: Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley introduced legislation to prohibit companies from using paid off or settled medical debt in assessing consumer credit scores. The Medical Debt Responsibility Act, which is cosponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), could help as many as 75 million Americans.

 

“Oregonians shouldn’t have to pay more on their mortgage or their credit card simply because they had the bad luck to need medical care,” said Merkley. “Unforeseen accident or illness can happen to any one of us. We can’t change that fact, but we can change the law so that responsible working families aren’t hit with unfair credit reports for years after medical debt has been paid off.”

 

“Ohioans shouldn’t be penalized on their credit scores because of medical debt that they have repaid,” Brown said. “No one chooses when they fall ill or get hurt and no one’s credit score should be permanently tarnished due to temporary health issues.”

 

“After a sudden illness or medical emergency and the skyrocketing cost of critical treatment, the last thing families should have to deal with is a plummeting credit score,” said Durbin.  “But all too often unresolved medical debt bills, including those stuck in insurance red tape through no fault of the consumer, are provided to credit reporting agencies with serious negative consequences for consumers.  This practice unfairly damages a consumer’s credit score for years after the debts have been paid in full.  Our legislation would restore fairness in the system by ensuring that medical billing problems don’t become part of a patient’s permanent credit record.”

 

“A good credit score is critical for Iowans that want to obtain a loan, a new credit card, or a mortgage—but medical debt, even when paid off, can leave an unfair mark on a credit report,” said Harkin. “Oftentimes consumers are billed incorrectly, and are unaware that they have been left with medical debt. The Medical Debt Responsibility Act would ensure that consumers are treated fairly and are not punished for unexpected medical emergencies.”

 

“The unpredictable expense of medical debt should not confine consumers to a lifetime of bad credit,” Senator Blumenthal said. “Penalizing consumers for repaid or settled medical debt is an unfair and unnecessary practice that must be stopped.”

 

Currently, medical debt collections can significantly damage a consumer’s credit score for years, even after the debt has been settled or paid off.  As a result, consumers can be denied credit or pay higher interest rates when buying a home, obtaining a credit card, or applying for a small business loan.

Medical bills differ in a number of ways from other bills. The bills are often submitted first to insurance, and it can take considerable time to determine the accurate amount actually owed by the consumer. Consumers must navigate a complex and confusing billing system and wait for decisions from one or more insurance companies to find out how much they owe. For this reason, consumers often do not learn that they are delinquent on a medical bill until they hear from a collection agency, by which time their credit score has already suffered.

In addition, medical debt is atypical because consumers have little choice over whether to incur medical expenses or how much debt they accrue. Due to this unique nature of medical debt, its predictive value on credit reports is low.

The Medical Debt Responsibility Act fixes this problem by prohibiting consumer credit agencies from using paid off or settled medical debt collections in assessing a consumer’s credit worthiness.  In addition, the bill will require the creditor or credit rating agency to expunge the medical debt from the consumer’s record within 45 days from the day it is paid off or settled.

The Medical Debt Responsibility Act was endorsed last Congress by the American Medical Association, Consumers Union, Mortgage Bankers of America, NAACP, and the National Home Builders Association.

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4 Tips for Reviewing Your Credit Report

You have probably read the advice everywhere:  CHECK YOUR CREDIT REPORT!  However, what does that really mean? What are you supposed to be checking?

While pulling your credit report at least once a year is very good advice, a person needs to know what to look for when reviewing their information. Start with these tips to make certain you are making the most out of the credit report:

1: Check out identifying information. Look over the names, addresses, and social security numbers appearing on the credit report. While slight misspellings are common, alarms should sound if an entirely different name or address is associated with your social security number, or if there are multiple social security numbers showing up on the report.

2: Examine the creditors. All tradelines of credit should be reviewed closely. Note any creditors that you are not familiar with. Also review the balances on each account, looking for discrepancies.

Another important piece of information that is in the creditor tradelines area is joint or individual account information. This tells you if you are the only one on the account, or if you share it with another person.

3: Note any late payments. Accounts showing late have the single biggest impact on your credit score. The date of the late payment should be reviewed to see if the account really was paid late, or if the late was reported in error.

4: Review all public records: Serious financial missteps such as bankruptcies, foreclosures, collections, and tax liens will show up in this section. Go over these closely to see if any of the items are reported in error.  If you have relevant public records in this section, make certain the dates are reported correctly.

The hope when assessing your credit report is that you will find no surprises.  That is not, however, always the case. Various reports have found that up to 25% of credit reports contain errors.

What should you do if you find errors on your credit report?

Contact the bureaus. Write all 3  bureaus (either on their website or by mail) and tell them about the error.  Send copies of any documentation that backs up your claim.

Notify the creditor. Send the creditor a letter saying that you dispute the item, along with copies of documents that give evidence to your claim.

Follow up. The credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate your dispute. They will then contact you to give you the outcome.

Implementing these tips can help you understand your report, catch any errors or mistakes, and assist you in staying on top of your reported credit history.  Pulling and reviewing your credit report once a year is an important aspect of maintaining a successful financial life.

~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 23 year old Memphis-based company.  Data Facts provides mortgage product and banking solutions to lenders nationwide. Check our our website for a complete explanation of our services.

7 Steps to Protect Your Finances During a Divorce

We all hope it never happens to us. The “D” word.  Divorce.

It’s a sad fact that lots of marriages end in divorce, and sometimes the relationship is contentious and hostile. If you are facing divorce, protect yourself and your finances with these simple tips:

1.  Keep detailed records.  The first step is to commit to making certain that all financial arrangements and obligations are well-documented.  If you end up having problems with a creditor for a debt that is not your responsibility, documentation can help clear the issue up faster and with less effort.

2. Dissolve every joint account.   This is one of the biggest mistakes that divorcing couples make. One person will keep a joint account, and the other person finds out months or years later that the account has been paid late or sent to collection. Be aware that divorce decrees do not supersede contracts. In other words, if you and your ex split certain debts in the divorce, but your name is still on the debt, YOU ARE STILL RESPONSIBLE FOR THE PAYMENT OF THAT DEBT.  This is a biggie, and can completely tank your credit score and ruin your finances.

Remove your spouse’s name on any accounts that you plan to keep (such as your car, etc). Move the utilities and any other bills into one name. If you share joint credit cards, divvy up the balance and open a credit card in just your name, and transfer the balance over to the new account. BE SURE all joint credit cards are closed.

3.  Sell the house if possible. The best idea is to sell the house and split any profits. It is imperative to not walk away from your house with your name still on the mortgage.  If selling the house is not an option, the person who ends up with the house needs to refinance it in his/her name alone as quickly as possible.

4.  Divide all assets. Split all cash, property, and any other assets during the divorce. Do not share assets with an ex.

5.  Be on guard online.  An ex can do some real damage when armed with passwords to bank and credit card accounts. The first action should be password protecting your computer and your cell phone (this will ensure your ex does not add a sneaky spyware).  Change ALL of your passwords on all of your accounts to something your soon to be ex would not know. Do not use birthdays, anniversaries, mother’s name, dog’s name, or anything else that your former beloved would be able to figure out.  Phrases like “bobpleasedie” or “lovereallystinks” probably aren’t good ideas, either.  A long password (10 characters or more) with letters in upper and lower case and numbers is the best option.

6.  Check your credit report. This is a good all-round rule for everyone. However, it’s especially important after going through a divorce.  Pull a credit report every 3-4 months, and scour it to make certain all joint accounts are closed and that there are no accounts you do not recognize. Follow up on any errors and get them cleared up immediately.

7.  Change your will and life insurance beneficiaries.  When moving on after a divorce, make certain to review all important documents, and implement changes where necessary. Remove the ex’s name from your will and any insurance policies in which he/she is named.

Divorce is never a fun endeavor. However, by being educated about the financial facts and following these simple tips, you can make it much easier to move forward and avoid the financial pitfalls that many people fall into when ending a marriage.

~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 23 year old Memphis-based company.  Data Facts provides mortgage product and banking solutions to lenders nationwide. Check our our website for a complete explanation of our services.

The Sticky Truth about Collection Accounts

Collection accounts can be a huge headache for consumers, and can wreak havoc on a credit score.

Debt collection in the United States is estimated to be a 12 billion dollar industry.  The way it works, in a nutshell, is when an account becomes overdue to the point the creditor does not think they will get their money, they sell the debt to collection agencies for pennies on the dollar.  The collection agency then attempts to recover what is owed.

Dealing with collections:

If a consumer has a debt sent to collections, he should receive a letter from the collection agency notifying him of the situation. If the collection is an error (reported incorrectly, or is not the consumer in question), he should contact the collection agency immediately to resolve the matter.

However, if it is a true collection, the consumer does have rights afforded to him under the Fair Debt Collection Act.

1: The collector cannot threaten you.

2: You can request the collector to not contact you, or only contact you by mail

3: A collector may not contact you before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night

3: The collector cannot tell you that you owe more than you really do

4: They may not publish the names of people who will not pay them

5: They are also not allowed to misrepresent themselves as credit reporting companies, attorneys, or government officials.

Once a person determines that the collection is valid, there are a couple of avenues to explore:

–          Pay the collection. A consumer may choose to negotiate with the collection agency and pay the balance of the collection. In this scenario, the consumer needs to MAKE CERTAIN that the collector sends all offers in writing.

–          Not pay the collection.  Deciding to not pay a collection may result in the collection agency suing the consumer. If the agency wins, the consumer’s wages may be garnished to repay the debt.

Unfortunately, either way negatively affects your credit score. Once a collection has been reported to the credit bureaus, it remains on the report for 7 years, whether or not the debt is paid off.

And, beware of paying old collections! Sometimes, consumers will mistakenly believe that paying off a collection account that is several years old will help to increase their credit score, and this is not the case. Paying off an old collection brings the date of last activity to the present, and the effect of the collection is felt all over again (which usually means the credit score drops).

A good rule of thumb is to try your very best to stay current on your payments. If you fall behind, strive to not let the account go into collections. If you do end up with collection accounts, be prepared to deal with collection agencies, and brace yourself for a credit score drop.  Once a collection hits your credit report, managing your other credit accounts wisely is the best way to rebuild your credit score.

(For more information on collection accounts and consumer’s rights, read the FTC’s Debt Collection FAQ’s).  

 ~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 23 year old Memphis-based company.  Data Facts provides mortgage product and banking solutions to lenders nationwide. Check our our website for a complete explanation of our services.

Credit Score Success from Scratch; a Simple Recipe

A high credit score is like a homemade meal; it takes time, patience, and cannot be whipped up instantly.  Let’s look at the recipe to build a great credit score from scratch:

First, you need to have the ingredient of credit. People who don’t have any credit are not showing the credit scoring model their financial management skills.  A credit card, home loan, or car note is a main ingredient in the credit score recipe.  Remember: you are not required to carry a credit card balance. Using a credit card will help build your credit even if you pay it in full every month.

Second, make sure you pay a lot of attention. Pay those credit obligations on time, because timely payment is the single most important aspect of building a good credit score.  You can gain lots of points by having a good history of on time payment, and, conversely, you can spoil your credit score with just a few missed or late payment patterns.

Third, keep those credit card balances low. Credit card balances are like salt, less is more.  The credit scoring model looks at your credit card balance in relation to your credit limit (this is called a credit utilization ratio). The lower the ratio, the more positively it affects your credit score. Make sure to never charge over 30% of your total credit limit, because you don’t want to get penalized.

Fourth, keep those old credit cards open and use them every now and then. You will get points for a long, lengthy credit history.

Fifth, don’t add too many ingredients all at once. If you don’t have any credit and are just starting out, don’t open too many credit cards too fast. One line of credit every year or so will work out great.

Sixth, remember to have more than one ingredient, if possible. The scoring model likes to see that a person can manage a mix of credit. Having installment loans (mortgage or car) and revolving loans (credit cards) will give a boost to your score.

Seventh, keep an eye on it. Check your credit report at least once a year and examine it carefully.  Make sure there aren’t any errors (such as creditors that you don’t recognize, late payments or collections reporting incorrectly, etc). This happens all the time, and the sooner you catch it, the better off you will be. Dispute any incorrect information to get it removed.

Attaining a great credit score takes a little time, self discipline, and attention. However, putting in the effort will assure that you can get the best deals on mortgage, auto, and credit card rates. Following the recipe we just laid out is a great start to help you cook up a great credit score!

~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 23 year old Memphis-based company.  Data Facts provides mortgage product and banking solutions to lenders nationwide. Check our our website for a complete explanation of our services.

FHA Changes Their Stance On Collection Accounts…..for now

FHA had decided to implement a new rule that would not provide home loans to applicants with collections of over $1000, unless those balances were paid off before closing.  

The rule (Mortgagee Letter 2012-3) was announced by the agency in March and set to take effect on April 1.  Affecting all potential home buyers who were showing an unpaid collection on their credit reports, this new stance was expected by housing analysts to have a negative impact on the housing market.  

FHA was going to require buyers to pay off collections of over $1000 before a mortgage loan would be extended.  The FHA attributed the change in policy to their ongoing effort of building a stronger portfolio.

The worry from mortgage experts was that this would be especially detrimental to young, first-time homebuyers.  These borrowers most likely would not go through the tedious process of paying off old collection accounts, due to the expense and the frustrating difficulty in dealing with creditors.

According to an article on Builderonline.com   “JPMorgan Chase analysts estimated the rule would cut demand for FHA loans by 10% to 20% in the next few months.”

The ruling has now been postponed to not take effect until July 1. This will give FHA time to seek additional input on this section and work to clarify guidance, as appropriate.

~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 23 year old Memphis-based company that provides mortgage product and banking solutions to lenders nationwide. Check our our website for a complete explanation of our services.