Managing your credit report

The three nationwide consumer reporting agencies–Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian–will provide one free credit report every 12 months if you request it. As a result of a 2019 settlement, all U.S. consumers may also request up to six free copies of their Equifax credit report during any twelve-month period through December 31, 2026. These free copies will be provided to you in addition to any free reports to which you are entitled under federal law.

If you run into difficulty getting your free Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian annual credit report(s) from AnnualCreditReport.com or its toll-free phone number, try contacting the respective institution(s) directly for help:

  • Equifax, (866) 349-5191 (Option 3)
  • TransUnion, (800) 680-7289 (Option 1)
  • Experian, (888) 397-3742 (Option 2 followed by Option1)

Freeze your report

Each of these companies offers you the option to freeze your report with them if you request it. By law each must freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free if you request it. You also can get a free freeze for your children who are under 16. If you are someone’s guardian, conservator or have a valid power of attorney, you can get a free freeze for that person, too.

Free Credit Monitoring for Military

Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian provide free credit monitoring services to active duty service members and to National Guard members, by visiting the active military web pages of each company.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they or their families have requested their credit report(s) recently.  If so, what was their experience?
  • Ask the students to make a list of circumstances that will lead them to freeze their credit reports.  When should they consider unfreezing reports?

Discussion Questions

  1. When might it be necessary to freeze or unfreeze credit reports for children who are under 16 years of age?
  2. Should federal government require nation’s credit reporting agencies to provide free credit reports to consumers?   Explain your answer.

Warning Signs of Identity Theft

What Do Thieves Do With Your Information?

 Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief can file a tax refund in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.

Here are clues that someone has stolen your information:

  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
  • You don’t get your bills or other mail.
  • Merchants refuse your checks.
  • Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
  • You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
  • Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
  • A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
  • The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
  • You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their family members or friends have been victims of an identity theft. What was their experience and how did they resolve the problem?
  • Ask students if they mail bills from their home mail box, especially if it is out by the street. What might be some dangers of this method of mailing bills?

Discussion Questions

  1. Should you put your Social Security and driver’s license numbers on your checks?   Why or why not?
  2. Why is it important to check your credit report each year? Should you consider credit monitoring, identity monitoring service, or identity theft insurance?  Why or why not?

Better Credit by “Piggybacking”?

Is it possible for a person with bad credit to inflate his/her own credit score and get the money-saving benefits of better credit by “piggybacking” on the credit of a stranger? That’s how a Denver-based business pitched its services to cash-strapped consumers. But the Federal Trade Commission says the defendants couldn’t back up their score improvement claims and engaged in several illegal practices that violated the FTC Act, the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA), and the Telemarketing Sales Rule.

BoostMyScore and CEO William O. Airy claimed to offer consumers “the amazing benefit” of having another person’s credit “‘copied and pasted’ on to your credit report,” giving the buyer “the biggest possible FICO® score boost in less than 60 days; and it’s guaranteed!” Here’s how the defendants described their services, for which they charged consumers between $325 to $4,000 – or even more:

Online and in radio ads, the defendants promised consumers concrete benefits – for example, qualifying for a mortgage. According to one promotional piece, “ . . . many of our customers realize a jump of about 120 points in as little as two weeks. What would a credit score increase of that size mean for you? If you are like most people, that could be the difference between having your mortgage application approved or not.”

The settlement prohibits the defendants from marketing credit repair services that attempt to add an authorized user to anyone’s credit unless that person has actual access. In addition to other provisions to protect consumers in the future, the proposed order prohibits misrepresentations about the legality of credit piggybacking. Most of the proposed $6.6 million judgment would be suspended due to the defendants’ financial condition.

For More Information click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if it is possible to boost their own credit scores by someone else’s good credit.
  • Ask students if they know what information creditors use in determining whether a loan will be approved or denied.

Discussion Questions

  1. What can be done to prevent companies such as Boost My Score, to stop deceiving already financially-strapped consumers?
  2. How effective are the cease-and-desist orders and fines by the Federal Trade Commission, if the defendants don’t have to pay due to their financial condition?
  3. What are the true and tried methods of improving your credit scores?

Fake Credit Repair: Good Teton Professionals, LLC

In June 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged that two defendants, Douglas Filter and Marcio G. Andrade, using such trade names as Deletion Experts, Inquiry Busters, and Top Tradelines, used deceptive websites, unsolicited emails, and text messages to target consumers with false promises of substantially improving consumers’ credit scores by claiming to remove all negative items and hard inquiries from consumers’ credit reports.

The defendants also falsely claimed to substantially improve consumers’ credit scores by promising to add consumers as “authorized users” to other individuals’ credit accounts.  In most instances, however, the defendants were not able to substantially improve consumers’ credit scores.  The complaint also alleges that the defendants charged illegal upfront fees and failed to provide consumers with required disclosures about their credit repair services.

The defendants often used illegal remotely created checks to pay for the credit repair services they offered through telemarketing, according the FTC’s complaint.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to prepare a list of federal laws that protect consumers from operators of fake credit repair schemes.
  • What is the best advice before you sign with such companies as, Grand Teton Professionals, LLC; to repair your poor credit?

Discussion Questions

  1. What is a household to do if it is experiencing problems in paying bills, thus resulting in poor credit scores?
  2. What are your options, if you are having problems paying your bills and need help?
  3. Discuss the statement, “Only time and a conscientious effort to pay your debt in a timely manner will lead to the success of improving your credit report.”

Weighed down by debt? How to ease the load

If you’re overwhelmed by debt, it’s crucial to find a solution.

FDIC Consumer News offers a few tips.

  • Contact your lender immediately if you think you won’t be able to make a loan payment.
  • Reputable credit counseling organizations can help you develop a personalized plan to solve a variety of money problems. 
  • Be very careful of “debt settlement” companies that claim they can reduce what you owe for a fee.
  • Avoid scams.
  • Remember that you have rights when it comes to debt collection.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they know anyone who has had financial difficulties and how they resolved their problem.
  • Ask students to review the main provisions of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and how the law protects consumers from unfair debt collectors.

 Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it critical to contact your mortgage lender immediately if you think you can’t make a loan payment on time?
  2. In what ways reputable credit counseling organizations can help you develop a personalized plan to solve financial problems?
  3. What are the warning signs of possible fraud by a debt settlement company or credit counselor?

Free Credit Freezes

Security freezes, also known as credit freezes, restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. Starting September 21, 2018, you can freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free. You also can get a free freeze for your children who are under 16. And if you are someone’s guardian, conservator or have a valid power of attorney, you can get a free freeze for that person, too.

How will these freezes work? Contact all three of the nationwide credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you request a freeze online or by phone, the agency must place the freeze within one business day. If you request a lift of the freeze, the agency must lift it within one hour. If you make your request by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days after it gets your request. You also can lift the freeze temporarily without a fee.

Don’t confuse freezes with locks. They work in a similar way, but locks may have monthly fees. If you want a free freeze guaranteed by federal law, then opt for a freeze, not a lock.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if anyone has already placed a credit freeze or a fraud alert. If so, what has been their experience?
  • Encourage students to place a credit freeze since it is now free to freeze or unfreeze their credit file.

Discussion Questions

  1. What might be the advantages or disadvantages of placing a credit freeze?
  2. What can you do if a credit reporting agency is not placing a credit freeze or fraud alert properly?

Equifax isn’t calling

Ring, ring. “This is Equifax calling to verify your account information.” Stop. Don’t tell them anything. They’re not from Equifax. It’s a scam. Equifax will not call you out of the blue.

That’s just one scam you might see after Equifax’s recent data breach. Other calls might try to trick you into giving your personal information. Here are some tips for recognizing and preventing phone scams and imposter scams:

  • Don’t give personal information. Don’t provide any personal or financial information unless you’ve initiated the call and it’s to a phone number you know is correct.
  • Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers can spoof their numbers so it looks like they are calling from a particular company, even when they’re not.
  • If you get a robocall, hang up. Don’t press 1 to speak to a live operator or any other key to take your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robocalls.

For more information about the Equifax breach, go to Equifax’s website.

 Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they know someone who has received such a call. If so, how the victim responded to the imposter?
  • What advice can you provide to a victim of a scam?

Discussion Questions

  1. What should you do, if you have already received a call that you think is fake?
  2. What must you do if you gave personal information to an imposter?
  3. What can you do to protect yourself from such scams?

The Credit Repair Organizations Act

The Credit Repair Organization Act (CROA) makes it illegal for credit repair companies to lie about what they can do for you, and to charge you before they’ve performed their services.  The CROA is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and requires credit repair companies to explain:

  • your legal rights in a written contract that also details the services they’ll perform,
  • your three day right to cancel without with any charge,
  • how long will it take to get results,
  • the total cost you will pay, and
  • any guarantees.

What if a credit repair company you hired doesn’t live up to its promises?  You have some options.  You can:

  • sue them in federal court for your actual losses or for what you paid them, whichever is more,
  • seek punitive damages—money to punish the company for violating the law,
  • join other people in a class action lawsuit against the company, and if you win, the company has to pay your attorney’s fees.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to make a list of major provisions of the Credit Repair Organization Act.
  • Ask students if there is a time limit on reporting negative information about criminal convictions.

Discussion Questions

  1. Where and how can you report credit repair frauds?
  2. Can the FTC resolve individual credit disputes? If not, why should you file the complaint with the FTC?

6 Ways Men and Women Differ When It Comes to Money

“The differences between men and women have taken on increased importance in today’s conversations about American culture . . .”

Based on information from the Census Bureau, financial institutions, and a credit score company, this article by describes the following six ways that men and women differ when it comes to money.

  1. Men make more for the same work.
  2. Women are better at managing personal debt.
  3. Men pay off their student debt faster.
  4. Men save more in their “rainy day” funds.
  5. Women use sounder strategies, but with less confidence.
  6. Men save more for retirement.

More information about each of the above statements including statistics is provided in the article.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to

  • Discuss the specific differences cited in this article in more detail.
  • Create examples of how men and women can use this information to improve their long-term financial security.

Discussion Questions

  1. Based on U.S. census data, women make about 79 percent of what men do for the same work. If you were a woman in this situation, what could you do to increase your salary?
  2. According to this article, women are better at managing personal debt than men. How can the decision to pay off personal debt impact a person’s ability to establish a financial plan, buy a home, or invest?
  3. Pick one of the areas where men are weaker and one of the areas where women are weaker. Describe how you would improve on this factor for a man or a woman.

Establishing or Rebuilding Credit Scores

Your credit scores are prepared by FICO and other companies and are mainly based on your history of managing debts, such as whether you tend to make payments on time.  Your scores play a significant role in your everyday life because the next time you apply for a loan or credit card—or perhaps a new apartment or insurance—your scores could affect the final decision, including your costs.

For many consumers with damaged credit scores and those with no credit record, here are some ways to improve your credit scores.

  1. Consider consulting with a reputable credit counseling service.
  2. Understand what information is most likely to influence your credit scores.
  3. Obtain and review a copy of your free credit report.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they know how to obtain their free credit reports from credit bureaus. If they already have received their credit report(s), did they find any errors?
  • What can you do if your credit report contains erroneous data or records of someone with a name similar to yours?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why it is important to review your credit files every year even if you are not planning to apply for a big loan?
  2. What are your legal remedies if a credit reporting agency engages in unfair reporting practices?