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Free credit reports have been extended; here’s why it’s important to check yours regularly

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Checking your credit could save you from identity theft. (iStock)

Typically, you’d be able to check your credit report — at least for free — just once annually through each of the three major credit reporting agencies. But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, credit reports are now more accessible than ever.

Credit reporting companies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are all offering  free credit reports weekly through April 20, 2022.

The move means better insight into your financial health during what, for most, is an economically challenging time. According to experts, it might also be a time that’s ripe for at-risk personal information and identity theft, too — even more reason consumers should be checking their credit on the regular.

HOW OFTEN DOES YOUR CREDIT SCORE CHANGE?

Have you checked your annual credit lately? If not, here’s what you need to know about these free nationwide credit reports and how to get them. If you’re not sure where you fit on the credit score spectrum, you may want to start using a credit monitoring service to track changes to your credit score. Credible can get you set up with a free service today.

Free credit reports for all?

The nation’s three credit bureaus initially started offering free weekly credit reporting last year, just after the pandemic began. In early March, they announced they’d extended the offer for another year, this time through April 20, 2022.

To request your free credit reports and access copies, you can go to AnnualCreditReport.com and provide some basic information to verify your identity (things like your date of birth, Social Security Number, and address).

Once your report is ready, you should see a detailed list of all open and closed accounts in your name, your payment history, recent credit activity and more.

5 BENEFITS OF HAVING A GOOD CREDIT SCORE

Protect yourself from identity theft

There are many reasons why checking your credit activity is important, but chief among them? That’d be the prevalence of data breaches in today’s world — not to mention the risk of identity theft they come with.

“In the past, it was perfectly acceptable for people to check their credit history once a year, but now with security breaches happening on a regular basis, consumers should be monitoring their credit more closely than ever,” said Clint Lotz, president and founder of TrackStar.ai, a predictive credit technology firm.

Lotz said the Equifax breach — which exposed over 147 million Americans’ personal information in mid-July 2017 — is the perfect example of why watching your credit report is important as far as identity theft protection goes. The pandemic, he said, adds an extra layer of risk to things.

“It took them [Equifax] months before they even realized they had been hacked, and considering that they hold files on hundreds of millions of Americans, it’s fair to say that many identities were stolen by the time they caught up to it,” Lotz said. “With many of us worrying about very serious issues not related to our credit, it’s a prime time for that stolen data to be put to work by bad actors in slow, methodical ways and in the hopes that nobody notices it.”

More reasons to check your credit

Checking your credit health often isn’t just good for detecting fraud alerts and to protect your identity, though. You can also monitor your report for errors — things like inaccurately reported late payments, for example — and then dispute those with the credit bureau.

If the error gets corrected, it could improve your credit score and make a jump from bad credit to a FICO score that’s more favorable. Not sure of your credit score? Head to Credible to check your score without negatively impacting it.

WHAT IS CREDIT MONITORING, AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

You can also use your credit reports and scores to monitor your financial habits — like the timeliness of your payments or how much debt you have left to pay off. Both of these factors can play a big role in your score, as well as how likely you are to get approved for loans, credit cards and other items.

“If you’re taking out a loan, getting insurance or even applying for a new job, checking your credit will allow you to see an overview of what would be seen by others looking at your credit,” said Leslie Tayne, a debt relief attorney with the Tayne Law Group. “Staying up-to-date on your credit reports and information allows you to know exactly where you need to improve.”

Want to be sure your credit is stellar before applying for a loan or insurance policy? Consider Credible’s partner product Experian Boost, which lets you use positive payment history on utilities, streaming and other bills to improve your credit score.

Set up a monitoring service, too

Though checking your credit reports manually is smart, you should also consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. These consumer financial services check your credit information and score regularly and alert you of any changes.

IS IT WORTH PAYING FOR CREDIT MONITORING?

If you’re interested in monitoring your credit or improving your score, head to Credible and learn more about how Experian can help. You can also use Experian Boost to get credit for on-time bill payments.

Have a finance-related question, but don’t know who to ask? Email The Credible Money Expert at [email protected] and your question might be answered by Credible in our Money Expert column.

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‘There is no new normal’: Worcester small business owner pivoted during COVID-19 and expects only more change after pandemic

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It took about eight minutes for the bank to reject Natalie Rodriguez’s application for a loan through the Small Business Administration.

Rodriguez opened Nuestra, a Puerto Rican inspired restaurant in Worcester, in January of 2020. When COVID-19 arrived months later she discovered Nuestra wasn’t eligible for the federal or state funding that thousands of other establishments received.

To qualify, restaurants were required to show payroll and salary for years before 2020. Those figures didn’t exist for a restaurant that weren’t open in 2019.

“[I was] determined and knew that ‘no’ is not an OK answer,” Rodriguez said. “A door may close but you may need to kick down another door.”

Rodriguez then applied for conventional loans only to be led to more closed doors. Less than 10 minutes after applying for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, she received notice that her poor credit score resulted in her application being denied.

Rodriguez used the dead end with the SBA to create a new path for herself and Nuestra.

She not only learned how to improve her credit but wanted to ensure others didn’t have to follow her journey as an entrepreneur.

Rodriguez extended the “Nuestra” brand to include financial advising. She started Nuestra Financial in April of 2020.

“Now I’m helping others. I’ve been able to restore my credit,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve been able to help others restore their credit and be able to help them make a business themselves if they so choose. I’ve been able to survive.”

Without grants and other funding, Rodriguez managed to keep her restaurant open through funds generated from Nuestra Financial.

“I was very quiet about it in the beginning. I didn’t want people to be like, ‘Oh look at this girl, she just opened a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic,’ and talk smack,” Rodriguez said. “About a month or two later, a light bulb hit and I was like, nobody pays my bills but me. I needed to mind my own business and not worry about what other people thought.”

In creating Nuestra Financial, Rodriguez said she’s helped Worcester residents restore their credit and purchase new vehicles and homes.

Rodriguez said financial literacy is rarely taught to children in school and wasn’t something she learned. When a situation arises like a rejection notice for an economic disaster loan, many don’t know how to respond or where to find answers.

Rodriguez said she’s helped young and old people, along with those who have bad credit or no credit.

“We lack the confidence, including myself, because we weren’t taught,” Rodriguez said. “So if you don’t know something, you weren’t taught, you’re not going to be confident about it.”

Coming out of the pandemic, Rodriguez remains confident about both her businesses. Nuestra, the restaurant, while closed for daily service continues to provide catering services. Rodriguez is still preparing what the future holds for the restaurant but plans to announce an update soon.

As masks start to become less a part of daily routines, Rodriguez, as a small business owner, doesn’t envision many differences from this year to last.

So many aspects of life remain uncertain from rising food costs to a potential third booster for vaccines and whether the country will ever reach herd immunity for COVID-19.

The pandemic arrived with Rodriguez immediately pivoting. As it approaches its potential end, Rodriguez will continue to do what helped her to navigate it.

“I feel like there is no new normal just yet,” Rodriguez said. “I think we’re all just trying to adjust and pivot at the same time and getting creative. I think it’s where we all are.”

Related Content:

Owner of Worcester’s Nuestra restaurant, closing due to COVID impact, has something she’d like to say to Gov. Baker

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Columbus Mattress Wholesale moves to newer, larger Gahanna store

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More than four years back, Cathryn Clark’s boyfriend, Christopher Robbins, was on the hunt for a new mattress. He just couldn’t find one at an affordable  price. 

Clark, 29, and Robbins, 34, who are now engaged, were living in Franklinton, where they still live today.

They had no experience owning or operating a small business; Robbins worked as a retail assistant for SAS Retail Services while Clark worked as the communications director for two Methodist churches. 

But in 2017, Robbins, with Clark at his side, took the leap and opened Columbus Mattress Wholesale on the West Side, with the goal of  helping low-income consumers secure mattresses and other bedtime products.  

“We really wanted to bring a store to people that, you know, they weren’t paying an arm and leg, but they still could get a good night’s sleep,” Clark said.

Customers at Columbus Mattress Wholesale can pay cash or credit, for example, but the business also works with financing companies that serve people without credit scores, with bad credit or who are lower income. 

Last month, the business made a big move. It expanded from its original location on Harrisburg Pike to a store double the size at 435 Agler Road in Gahanna.

Clark said she and Robbins saw a need in the broader area, with many of their customers coming from outside the Hilltop, such as Linden.

Nestled between Dollar Tree and the Ohio BMV in Gahanna, the new storefront opened Memorial Day weekend and sells mattresses, bed bases, bed frames and pillows. Mattress prices range from under $100 to more than $1,000, depending on the size and brand, which includes some well-known names such as Serta, Beautyrest and Casper.

Clark said while she and Robbins originally sold solely Ohio-based brands, they’ve branched out to national brands as business has grown.

Columbus Mattress Wholesale also offers free same-day delivery on most orders from customers living in Columbus. 

Clark does a little bit of everything for the business, from running communications, to working on the sales floor, to managing the sales team, to ordering what they sell. 

She said a big mission for herself and Robbins, beyond doing business, is aiding the community.

“We’ve seen a lot of people struggle,” Clark said.

Clark said she and Robbins work to mentor other people who are hoping to open or currently own a small business. She added that the store starts employees at $17 per hour.

She and Robbins haven’t decided yet what they will do with the original location — which is currently closed — but said they might shift it into an accessory store.

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@SarahEDon

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A Guide to Getting Mobile Deals with Bad Credit History

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You’re interested in a new mobile deal but there’s only one thing that’s stopping; you’ve got a bad credit history. Does that mean that your hopes of getting a new phone contract are crushed? Well, not exactly. In this article, you will learn how to get a mobile phone with no credit check required and how you can navigate the issue to get a great deal even with bad credit history.

Why is a bad credit history a big deal?

When taking a new phone contract, it means you’re entering into a financial agreement that requires you to make payments in monthly installments. As such, many providers of the service will want to ensure that they’re entering into an agreement with someone who will pay the agreed amount without violating the terms.

The best way for them to have that assurance is by looking into the credit history of the client. But does it necessarily mean that if you’ve got a bad credit history you can’t honor your side of the bargain in a phone contract? Of course not; which is why this article gives you the options you can pursue to end up landing a pretty impressive deal.

Although you might not find a deal that includes the latest devices in the market, you’ll not lack a relatively cheaper but functional option. For instance, if you’re a great fan of the iPhone, you might end up landing the iPhone XR instead of the latest release of iPhone 12. When the deal is cheaper, you stand higher chances of success as opposed to one that just dropped in the market and so it’s in high demand.

Another alternative is to find a contract that comes with a used handset as such tend to be less strict in terms of credit history requirements. That means you’re likely to pass the test of a contract with an already used gadget as opposed to that of a brand new phone.

Another alternative could be to go for SIM only deals especially if you already have an alternative source for a handset. Most of the providers won’t require you to sign any contract and so they’ll not look into your previous credit history. SIM only deals tend to be intensive on minutes, texts and data offers.

Networks that favor people with bad credit

There are networks that are more lenient to people with bad credit history than others. Major networks including Vodafone, O2 and EE usually come with strict requirements that might only frustrate you. The following are the alternatives you could consider looking into:

Smarty:The company offers SIM only plans that don’t require you to sign any contract. If you have an alternative handset, this could be a great alternative to consider as they won’t do a credit check on you. Their services and offers run on a monthly rolling basis which means you can walk away at any time in case you’re dissatisfied with the quality of service you’re getting. Their deals start at 2GB of data and unlimited texts and calls at a cost of £5 to unlimited calls, texts and data for £16.

Giffgaff:You won’t be subjected to a credit test here as well during sign up for one of the packages that the network offers. You’ll be required to sign up for a monthly bundle of your choice that’s inclusive of calls, data and texts. You can proceed with the same plan or switch to a new one after the month is gone. Most of their deals start at £8 a month.

VOXI:The network has numerous offers that operate on a 30-day rolling basis. They also won’t bother performing a credit check on you as it has no use in the first place. A bonus with this network is that they won’t include the social sites you frequent in their data charges.

Mobile phone to go with a SIM only deal

The SIM only deals we’ve highlighted above means that you’ll need to have a separate handset. In case you don’t have one already, you can take a separate mobile phone contract to go with your preferred SIM only deal. The other alternative is to buy one outright. But in case you don’t have money to make the purchase, you can always save up and buy when you’ve accumulated enough.

Some great smartphones that are classic and yet won’t put a huge wall in your pocket. Coveted brands such as iPhone and Samsung have great devices such as the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G that goes for £349 and the iPhone SE valued at £399. As you can see, with some savings, you should be able to get your hands on these gadgets and many others out there. And if you feel that these cost on the higher side, you can opt for refurbished phones. Refurbished phones refer to those handsets that have been used but have undergone intensive testing to ensure they still have got higher functionality.

When do credit checks apply?

Credit history is required by providers that have a mobile phone that requires a payment plan spanning several months or years. In most cases, the major network providers including EE, O2 and Vodafone will do a background check on your credit check before allowing you to sign up for their deals. Some factors that might make you have a poor credit rating is when you’ve missed several months’ payments, made late payments or placed too many credit applications concurrently.

Want to improve your credit rating?

The following are several steps you could consider to help you improve your credit rating. Most of these revolve around efficient management of your money, bills and other forms of payments.

  • Have a proper and functional bank account
  • Pay all your outgoing bills on or before the due dates
  • Ensure you’re registered on the electoral roll
  • Don’t share your account with a person with poor credit rating

That’s how you can work out things to get mobile deals even if your credit history isn’t a good one. But going forward, the best action plan would be to work towards improving your credit rating so that you can take advantage of the opportunities that come up in future.

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