August 27, 2010 by Leah
Due to all the recent excitement, I’m working on a) a cheat sheet of account login information to be hidden in hard copy somewhere in our house and b) ordering credit reports for myself. The first project is going about as well as can be expected – there’s a lot of trial and error. The second is unexpectedly frustrating.
Last fall, I decided to get my free annual credit reports – why, I can’t remember. Perhaps I was thinking about buying a condo due to the favorable tax environment. (Hmm, I thought I kept the darn things – I have a file folder labeled “2009 Credit Reports,” but no reports. I often err on the side of pitching things when I’m in a cleaning/purging phase like happened during our recent move. And by “pitching,” in this case I undoubtedly mean “shredding.” Ah well, no visual aid today.)
Upon receiving the first one, I was horrified to discover that my credit score was around 650. Not acceptable. Even when I had credit card debt, I always paid more than my minimums. I’ve only missed two credit card payments in my life, both due to sheer forgetfulness, and both forgiven by the credit card company when I called and groveled. (NB: groveling can be an effective financial tool.)
I looked at the first things on my Equifax credit report (after the scores and explanations), which were my open lines of credit. A few student loans and five or so credit cards, all owners of which reported me to be in excellent financial standing. Well, that wasn’t the problem. Flipping over a sheet, I discovered the section “Potentially Negative Information.” There was a closed collection account with an – apparently unpaid – amount somewhere in the range of $400. The account holder was a company in Pennsylvania (I think), and the timing of the account was such that I thought it might be related to a hospitalization I underwent in New York in the fall of 2003.
There were several things wrong with this picture, though. At the time of the incident, I was insured and I was fairly certain I had paid all related bills, like co-pays. (I was completely certain I’d paid all the bills I’d been made aware of, at any rate.) I’d checked my credit reports at least once between 2003 and 2009 and this black mark hadn’t been in evidence. When I started researching the account holder, I discovered that the address provided by the company was not a valid address according to the USPS. When I researched the company further, I found many consumer complaints about them and no valid contact information. At a loss, I sent a letter to Equifax stating that for the aforementioned reasons I believed the company reporting this account was not a valid company and adding a statement or two about how bizarre it was that a “closed” account could have a balance and that this matter wouldn’t have come to my attention at any point during the past six years.
I never heard back from the credit bureau directly, but after a few weeks, a new credit report appeared in my mailbox, the old account was magically gone, and my credit score was back up to 777. (I checked with the other two bureaus, too, and their data mirrored this.) (Also, Aaron would probably like everyone to know that his credit score is higher than mine. His GRE scores were also higher than mine. I kicked his butt on the SATs, though.)
Up until Sunday, when I discovered the fraudulent charges on my favorite credit card, I hadn’t given any more thought to credit reporting. When I discovered the black mark on my credit last fall, I got a paid membership to a credit monitoring website so I could see results for all three bureaus in real time. Once things were cleared up, I canceled that membership. It shouldn’t be a problem for me to request a credit report from one of the agencies at this point in time (my mother-in-law suggested a rolling schedule of requesting one from each agency every four months, which sounded pretty slick). Theoretically, anyway.
Today, I logged onto http://www.annualcreditreport.com (you can also get there from the websites of Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and attempted to request a report from Equifax (because theirs is the prettiest). Turns out, for unknown reasons (most probably due to the recent fraud investigation, possibly also because of name change or move), I couldn’t request the report online. That’s fine, I’ll power up my husband’s computer, ask him for the password, and wait for 25 minutes until it turns on so I can print a hard copy request form. Except, wait, I need documentation that I am who I say I am (copy of social security card, W-2, or similar) and documentation that I live where I say I do (utility bill, driver’s license, rental agreement). Those of you who read the previous post will remember that we (me, in particular) have address troubles. So, we have a rental agreement but it doesn’t really have an address on it, as such. (It refers to our house as “Building 89,” which can’t receive mail.) We don’t pay utilities (they’re included in our rent, which we also haven’t been paying – more on that in a later post), and we don’t have California driver’s licenses. (This is due to a number of factors I may or may not broach at a later date.) What to do, what to do? I’m so frustrated my first impulse is to move completely off the grid, but that’s just not practical. I think I’ll go marinate some pork loin instead.