Data Facts Blog


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.

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Social Security Numbers and Mortgage Fraud

The social security card looks like an innocent little thing. However, its 9 digit number packs a powerful wallop during the mortgage process.  People who commit mortgage fraud often attempt to utilize other people’s socials to acquire mortgage loans.

According to Fannie Mae’s Fraud Finding Statistics , for the 2011 and 2012 mortgages where misrepresentations were discovered,   8% of the misrepresentations involved social security numbers. This, unfortunately, is an increase from 2010.

Mortgage fraud is a rampant practice in today’s real estate climate, with fake or stolen social security numbers often at the heart of the scams. Fraudsters have several ways of gaining access to a person’s social:

1: Purse or wallet snatching: a thief may utilize this very common practice to gain access to a consumer’s private information.

2: Phone scams: fraudsters call a person with a phony story. Examples of this are scammers telling the person he/she has won a great amount of money, or posing as the person’s bank or credit card companies. In these cases, thieves ask for identity verification in the form of a social security number.

3: Computer hacking: websites where private information is stored may be hacked in order to retrieve social security numbers.

Once fraudsters have secured a valid social security number, they can utilize it to open credit cards, get hired for jobs, AND obtain a mortgage.

Criminals who set their sites on mortgage fraud often set up complex networks and intricate scams to commit mortgage fraud. One person will steal the social security number, while another fraudulent person applies for the mortgage. A group working this way can rack up tens of thousands of dollars in cash without the consumer’s knowledge.

How can consumers protect themselves?

–          Leave it at home. Never carry your social security card in a purse or wallet. This practice will eliminate the possibility of a thief stealing it in a purse or wallet snatching incident.

–          Guard the number closely. Only give out the number on a call that you initiated.  Beware of anyone calling or emailing you asking for your social security number.

–          Report a theft immediately.  If you feel your social security number has been compromised, report it to the FTC, the 3 credit bureaus, and the Social Security Administration immediately. Doing damage control up front will save you big headaches down the road.

How can mortgage lenders protect themselves?

–          Closely check the credit report. Scour it thoroughly for any discrepancies in the applicant’s social security number.

–          Run a social security verification on every borrower. For added protection, this process makes certain the social matches the person trying to obtain the mortgage.

It’s a sad fact of life there are criminals out there who prey on honest people by fraudulently acquiring their social security number. However, by being vigilant (whether you are a consumer or a mortgage lender), these criminals can be thwarted and the incidences of mortgage fraud can be decreased.

~~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.

From Data Facts: A Quick Check of Your Compliance Standards

Red tape, bureaucracy, paperwork!  Whatever you want to call them, compliance rules and regulations can be time consuming and confusing.

However, complying is very important, and should be a top priority. The penalties for non-compliance are just too stiff to ignore.  Here are a few tips to help make sure you (as a mortgage lender) are in compliance with federal and state regulations. *

Befriend the FCRA:

The Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act regulates the operation of consumer reporting agencies, and also affects you as a user of information. It regulates how a consumer’s information may be used, and restricts who has access to this sensitive information.   In order to be in compliance, one needs to have a thorough understanding of the FCRA.

Store your paperwork:

The Federal Equal Opportunities Act states that a creditor must preserve all written or recorded information connected with an application for 60 months. In keeping with the ECOA, Data Facts, Inc. requires that you retain the credit application and, if applicable, a purchase agreement for a period of not less than 60 months.

 Properly dispose of sensitive information:

As part of the Fair Credit Transaction Act of 2003, if a consumer report is being used for a business purpose, it is subject to the Disposal Rule.   This rule calls for the proper disposal of information in consumer reports and records to protect against “unauthorized access to or use of the information.”

Guard your emails:

Email hacking is becoming more and more prevalent. Periodically review how your organization is using email to exchange information. Make sure sensitive information that is being sent via email is protected by using Winzip password protection, and by never sending social security numbers in the body of the email.

Have a plan for a breach: 

If you have not already done so, establish processes and procedures (in a written plan) for responding to and containing security violations, unusual or suspicious events and similar incidents. The goal should be to limit damage or unauthorized access to information assets and to permit identification and prosecution of violators.

 Know your state laws.

Certain states have passed restrictions in addition to the FCRA. Make sure to be familiar with any additional laws in your state, and follow these rules carefully to maintain full FCRA compliance.

 Maintaining compliant procedures and processes is an integral part of doing business in the mortgage industry.  By taking the time to become comfortable with the laws and regulations, you will be better able to protect yourself and your business from lawsuits, fines, and penalties.

*(This is not intended to provide legal advice. You should consult your own company’s Human Resource and Legal departments and/or obtain legal advice).

~~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.

April is Financial Literacy Month: Numbers and Websites You Should Know

In the spirit of Financial Literacy Month, Data Facts has compiled a list of very important numbers and websites for consumers.

Ta-Da!

To obtain a credit report:

www.annualcreditreport.com This site allows you to request a free credit report from all 3 bureaus once every 12 months. Call 1-877-322-8228 to order the report by phone.

To get on the Do Not Call List:

 Call 888-382-1222 from the phone you wish to register, or go to www.donotcall.gov . Due to the Do Not Call Improvement Act of 2007, phones that are registered will remain on the list permanently (previously it expired after 5 years).

To opt out of mail solicitation and pre-screened offers:

 Call 1–888–567–8688  or visit  www.optoutprescreen.com . You are able to opt out electronically for 5 years. To opt out permanently, you will need to print out the form and mail it in.

To contact the Credit Bureaus:

Equifax: Call 800-685-1111 or visit them online at www.equifax.com
Experian: Call 888-397-3742 or www.experian.com 
Transunion: You can reach them at 800-888-4213 or www.transunion.com  

To create a letter disputing errors on your credit report:

Under the FCRA, both the credit reporting company and the information provider  are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report. To take advantage of all your rights under this law, contact the credit reporting company and the information provider. Visit http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre21.shtm for a sample dispute letter.

Other important numbers to have on hand:

  • Your insurance agent
  • Your health insurer
  • Your bank’s main AND local branch
  • Your brokerage house
  • All of your credit card issuers

Utilize these websites and numbers to make sure you welcome the month of May prepared and in top financial condition!

~~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 Scores: Small Mistakes that Spell Big Trouble

Most people are aware of the big actions that can cause your credit score to take a tumble: filing bankruptcy, having an account sent to collections,or being foreclosed upon. However, these are not the only actions that can decrease your credit score. Here are some other mistakes a consumer can make with their credit. While not ‘major offenders’, these 5 missteps can still prohibit you from joining the credit elite.

Maxing out your credit card.

 The balance to limit ratio is almost as important as paying your bills on time, accounting for 30% of your credit score.  A good rule of thumb is to never charge over 30% of your credit limit. This means if you have a total of $10,000 as the limit on your credit cards, you should never have a balance greater than $3,000.

Consumers who think they are managing their finances wisely by only having one credit card, but are using over 30% of the limit are actually HURTING their credit score.

 Missing a payment

 Just one 30 day late payment can drop your credit score significantly. Payment history is the single most important factor in the calculation of your credit score, at 35%.

A consumer who has no late payments on their credit history is gaining lots of points for their positive usage! One late pay can change all that. It is possible for a good credit score to drop 80 points with just one 30 day late.

Whether you sign up for automatic payments through your bank, get an app that reminds you, or write the date your bills are due on your calendar, pay those bills on time!

 Not checking your credit report.

It is estimated that over a third of credit reports contain some sort of error. These bits of erroneous information can be accounts showing late that were actually not late, collections that should have never gone into collections, or accounts that are not even yours! 

By not checking your credit report, these errors linger on your credit history and can cause your score to take a dive. Be sure you are checking your credit report at least once a year.  Review all accounts, balances, and payment history.  Make certain to follow up on any information that looks erroneous, and get it removed from your report by filing a dispute.

 Co-signing a loan.

 Sure, you want to be a good friend, neighbor, cousin, brother, etc. and help obtain a line of credit your loved one cannot qualify for on their own.   However, becoming a co-signer on a loan for someone else is really asking for trouble.  If the borrower does not pay on time or at all, you are responsible for the loan.

The loan will also show up on your credit report and be factored into your credit score. If the borrower is paying late, all those late pays will show up on your credit report, affecting your credit score in a very negative fashion. And once that happens, there is nothing you can do about it.

The scariest part of all is that this can happen without your knowledge. Co-signers rarely receive a copy of the bill, so they would not be made aware of the issue until the account was in a default status.

The best advice on this one is: Just say NO!

 Closing an old credit card

 15% of a person’s credit score is their length of credit history.  Credit cards are factored in by the age of the oldest account, and the average age of all the accounts.

Look at this example. Say you have 4 credit cards. The oldest is one you opened in college, 22 years ago. The others you have had 15 years, 9 years, and one you just opened 2 years ago.  Currently, the oldest account is 22 years old, and the average age of the accounts is 12 years.  If you close the oldest account, that changes the oldest account to 15 years, and the average age of the accounts decreases to 8 years. This change in credit history can cause a decrease in your credit score.

The best idea would be to keep the old credit card, and use it a few times a year to make sure it is positively factored into your credit score.

 It’s obvious to guard against bankruptcy, foreclosures, and collections.  Also make it a top priority to put measures in place to make sure you don’t make any of these small credit mistakes either.  Your credit score will thank you for it!

~~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.

Increase Your Credit Score: High Tech and Low Tech Ways

Protect your credit score! Whether you are a high tech smartphone addict or barely use email, here are some everyday tips that you can put in place. These routine practices will boost your credit score to the top of the charts:
1: Make sure your credit report is accurate. If your credit score is being calculated from incorrect information, it may be suffering greatly. It’s estimated that 25% of credit reports contain some sort of error.
High tech way: You may request a copy of your credit report from http://www.annualcreditreport.com once every 12 months free of charge. This website is provided by the 3 main credit bureaus. Reviewing your credit report is a great way to catch any mistakes BEFORE they damage your credit.
Low tech way: You may request your credit report by phone or by mail. By phone:  call 1-877-322-8228 and you will go through a simple verification process. Your report will then be mailed to you within 2 -3 weeks. By mail:   download and complete the Request Form (available on the website) and mail it to

 Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Your report will be delivered in 2-3 weeks
2: Pay your bills on time. Payment history is 35% of your credit score, so paying your bills on time needs to be a top priority.
High tech way: Techies have many options of apps that can be used to track spending and bill pay. http://www.mint.com and http://www.pageonce.com are 2 of the many apps that can set up all of your bills in one place. These apps remind you when bills are due, track spending, etc.
Another way to make sure you don’t miss any payments is to set up automatic payments from your online banking to your mortgage, auto, and credit card providers. This will ensure that you don’t rack up any late pays, which can tank your credit score.
Low tech way: If you are still walking to the mailbox to get your bills, put this practice in place; pay your bills the day they arrive. This may sound a little hard core, however, paying them when you receive them has its benefits. The bill won’t get a chance to lose itself in the pile on your desk, AND you don’t have to think about it anymore.
Another low tech option is to have a desk calendar that has all of your monthly bills marked on the date they need to be mailed (not the date they are due). Put the calendar in a place where you can see it every day, so the due date doesn’t sneak by you.
3: Keep your credit card balance low: Behind paying bills on time, account balances are the most important factor in your credit score (30%). Running up those credit card balances close to the limit has a dramatically negative impact on your credit score. Don’t let this happen to you!
High tech way; as mentioned in #1, there are many apps that can help you track you spending and budget. By following a budget, you can see where your money goes, and plan for bigger expenses (new furniture, vacations, etc) without charging up your plastic.
Low tech way: get a pencil and paper and make a budget. Track you spending to make sure that you know where your money is going. Open all of your credit card statements the day they arrive, and try your best to pay off your balances every month.
High tech and Low tech tip: While using credit cards responsibly DOES help raise your score, it’s a good all-round financial practice to make sure you are not racking up useless debt.
If you do end up using your credit cards and can’t pay the balance off every month, MAKE SURE you do not charge up more than 30% of your limit (ex: on a credit card with a $10,000 limit, never charge more than $3,000). Keeping your balances low will go a long way toward boosting your credit score.
4: Don’t close, lose, or ignore those old credit cards. Length of credit history is 15% of your credit score. The optimum credit history is 30 years long! Work hard to make sure those old credit cards are doing their job to raise your score.
Remember, credit cards must be used once every 6 months to be included in your credit score.
High tech way: set up one of your bills to automatically charge to your oldest credit card. It does not matter how small the amount. Any new balance will update that credit card at the credit bureaus so that all that great long credit history is showing up on your credit report.
Low tech way: carry your oldest credit card in your wallet and be sure to use it once a month to buy either gas or groceries. This purchase will keep your card active and counting positively in your credit report. Pay it off at the end of the month so you are not hit with any finance charges.
Putting some or all of these tips into place can go a long way toward maximizing your credit score and ensuring the best rates on your mortgage, car, and credit card loans. And, whether we are high tech or low tech, this should sound good to all of us.

~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 22 year old Memphis-based company that provides mortgage product solutions to lenders nationwide.