There are a handful of agencies that probably know more about your finances than you do. It’s good to be reminded who has the power to do what and what your rights and responsibilities are.
The credit bureaus
Experian, TransUnion and Equifax -- this trio holds the keys to the credit kingdom. They have the good, the bad and the ugly regarding your use of credit. They keep account of late payments, how much outstanding debt you have, pretty much everything about your credit life. Not only can you get your credit report from them, but also your credit score. Go to www.experian.com, www.transunion.com, and www.equifax.com for more information.
Once a year you can get a free credit report. One place to do so is www.annualcreditreport.com. You want to know what’s being said about you. Find out if there are any inaccuracies, or worse, suspicious activity, like accounts in your name that you know nothing about. You want to know your credit score, those three digits can determine whether you get a job, an apartment, the interest rate you’ll pay, or if you’ll even be extended credit. Do realize however, that your free report will not include your credit score.
You may not be aware of ChexSystems, but they know you. They do business with banks and other financial institutions. ChexSystems collects data from financial institutions about closed savings and checking accounts. That information helps their clients determine whether you are deemed too risky to open a new account, based on your previous banking track record.
Some shady characters have been pretending to be from ChexSystems, asking people to pony up cash in order to have information removed from their file, to have information investigated, or to obtain a copy of their consumer disclosure report. Beware.
ChexSystems points out on its website, www.chexsystems.com, that it will never contact anyone as part of an effort to collect debt and that it doesn’t call folks. It also won’t require payment from you in order to investigate the accuracy of your information, nor will it ask for money to remove inaccurate information. You have the right to request your report and to challenge any facts you think are incorrect.
Early Warning Services (EWS)
You need no reminders about how big a problem identity theft is. Early Warning Services, www.earlywarning.com, helps banks and other financial institutions authenticate their customer’s identities. They are a watchdog of sorts, using technology and consumer reporting to look for signs of all manner of mischief such as fraud and forgery. Financial institutions depend on EWS to have the intel on who's been naughty or nice. If you have a penchant for writing rubber checks and have lied about your income or other financial info, EWS could be the one to rat you out. Like the other agencies, you most definitely want to know what they are saying about you. No worries, you can get a copy of your consumer report for free. You have the right to dispute what you see, if you believe it incomplete or off base.
This is a big kahuna when it comes to merged and specialized credit reports. They have access to one of the world’s largest consumer and business databases. They are beloved by mortgage and auto lenders, among others. They get the skinny on your housing stats, like previous homeownership and mortgage info, how timely you were with your rental, among other things. You can also get a free annual report from them. For more information, go to www.credco.com.
Is your information safe?
These are just a few of the agencies minding your money. If the thought of your financial information being so available at a time with cyber security is a continuing concern, you are not alone. This week another agency concerned about your finances, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, www.consumerfinance.gov, announced it is launching an inquiry into the challenges people face in accessing, using, and securely sharing their financial records. They’re asking the public for information about how much choice they are being given about the use of their records, how secure it is for them to share their records, and to what extent consumers have control over their records.
“Consumers should be able to use their financial records and account information and securely share access in an electronic format,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in a prepared statement.
Fact is, every financial transaction you make is recorded. That info is maintained by account providers, and companies you give permission to delve into your files. But those companies have their “partners” who are privy to your information. The CFPB says people who allow access to their financial records need to feel confident that the info won’t fall into the wrong hands. According to the CFPB, however, it has heard concerns from some financial institutions that providing third-party companies with access to records may compromise consumer privacy or put consumers’ funds and account relationships at risk.