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What Is Credit Monitoring and How Does It Work?

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Credit monitoring is a service that keeps an eye on your credit reports and alerts you when there are changes. For instance, your credit monitoring service will notify you if new credit is opened in your name or a hard inquiry occurs.

According to the 2019 Identity Fraud Study, there were 14.4 million victims of identity theft in 2018. Research shows that the biggest financial impact of identity theft happens when a new account goes undetected for six months or longer. Credit monitoring helps you stay on top of your reports to spot fraudulent activity and errors as soon as they occur. 

Is credit monitoring worth it? Consider this: your credit score largely impacts whether you can get approved for a loan, mortgage or credit card. Credit monitoring is an easy, convenient way to ensure your credit report is accurate and your credit score stays as high as possible.

What Does Credit Monitoring Do?

Credit monitoring keeps tabs on your credit reports and alerts you of any changes or suspicious activity. A credit monitoring service can watch for: 

  • Hard inquiries: When you apply for a loan or credit card, a hard inquiry occurs on your report. Whether it’s you or an imposter applying, you’re notified of a credit check being run. 
  • New accounts: This applies to any type of credit account opened under your name, including loans, mortgages and credit cards.
  • Changes to existing accounts: If you’re given a credit limit increase or your payment history is updated, it’ll appear on your credit report as a change.
  • New public records like bankruptcies: If a civil court judgment or bankruptcy occurs under your name, you’ll receive an alert.
  • Address changes: When your address changes on any account or credit card, it shows up on your credit report. A thief can try to change your address without you knowing.
  • Credit score changes: As your credit score fluctuates, your credit monitoring service lets you know when your score goes up or down.
items credit monitoring services watch

Who Provides Credit Monitoring?

There are several types of companies that offer credit monitoring services, although the costs and services vary from company to company.

  • Banks: From local banks to national brands, a bank may offer to monitor your credit score and credit reports.
  • Credit unions: Credit unions may provide a free credit monitoring service with your account or charge a fee.
  • Personal finance apps: Many budgeting apps and personal finance websites offer credit monitoring services.
  • Credit repair firms: A firm that works to repair your credit may also keep an eye on your credit.
  • Credit bureaus: The three major credit bureaus (Experian®, Equifax® and TransUnion®) offer credit monitoring packages.
  • Security companies: Companies specializing in security may also include identity protection and credit monitoring.

Depending on the company, notifications will come to you in different ways and at different intervals. Some send you a push notification within 24 hours of a hard inquiry or change on your report. As you consider different services, make sure you look at how and when they will notify you of any changes. The sooner you’re aware of an incident on your account, the quicker you can take action and prevent harm to your credit report and finances.

How Can I Choose the Best Credit Monitoring Service?

Double-check with your financial institutions to see if they provide credit monitoring. You may already have credit monitoring services available to you. 

In many cases, banks and credit unions offer the service for free if you’re a member, but sometimes you’ll have to pay a fee. Like we said earlier, companies offer different services and levels of monitoring at different price points. Compare what each service offers to see what’s best for you.

Here are the main things to consider when choosing a credit monitoring service:

  • Services provided: Some companies offer basic monitoring of your credit reports, while others offer social security number monitoring, identity theft protection and lost-wallet protection.
  • Your needs: Determine the level of protection you want and need. If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you may want a higher level of service. If you haven’t had any problems and are vigilant about staying on top of your credit report, you may not want to pay for extra services.
  • Time saved: Having a service watch your credit can give you time to do other things. Keeping tabs on your credit report takes effort and can cost money (beyond the free credit reports you get each year).
  • Cost: There are various price ranges for each service and company. Compare costs to see what fits into your budget.

Do I Need to Use These Services to Stay Safe?

You aren’t required to use a service to monitor your credit. You can access and do everything a credit monitoring service can do. That being said, a credit monitoring service can save you time and money, and help alert you to fraudulent activity much faster. 

credit monitoring informs you about suspicious activity, but doesn't stop incidents from happening

Immediate alerts from credit monitoring can help you act fast and prevent financial damage. For example, if you’re notified that someone applied for credit under your name, you can dispute it right away. 

Even if you use credit monitoring services, you shouldn’t solely rely on the services to keep your information safe. Credit monitoring can’t stop incidents from happening, such as someone applying for a loan in your name. Imposters can open credit cards or rent an apartment when they have access to your personal information.

To prevent identity theft, be safe when sharing any personal information, like your social security number. You also want to regularly look at your credit reports to make sure there’s no suspicious activity or errors.

How Can I Take Advantage of Everything Credit Monitoring Offers?

Credit monitoring can do a lot of great things for your credit report and financial wellbeing if you know how to maximize its features.

Take full advantage of your credit monitoring service by:

  • Tailoring your notification preferences
  • Understanding how credit freezes work
  • Reading each alert thoroughly
  • Knowing what to do when suspicious activity occurs
  • Learning how to dispute an error on your report 
  • Reviewing your service plan annually to see if you want to make changes

What Should I Do When I’m Alerted of Suspicious Activity?

Suspicious activity can be caused by many different reasons, including a negligent clerical error or intentional identity theft. You won’t know until you investigate the item.

Once you determine that there’s a mistake, contact the credit bureaus and financial institutions involved. You might even want to contact the police if you verify suspicious activity on your credit report.

Lexington Law offers a comprehensive credit monitoring service that focuses on tracking your credit, protecting your identity and helping you fix issues. Additional benefits of our program include identity theft insurance and a personal finance manager. If you’re interested in learning more about how our credit monitoring program can benefit you, check out Lex OnTrack.

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How minimum monthly credit card payments affect your credit

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Many people don’t hesitate to pay just the minimum payment on their credit card. This is especially true if the total balance is high or the cardholder is confused about the credit card lending terms and doesn’t understand the impact of paying the minimum balance. But, making just the minimum payment can have a greater impact on your credit score than most people realize.

Learn how lenders calculate the minimum payment, what it means for your debt and how making a minimum payment affects your credit.

What are credit card minimum payments?

Your credit card minimum payment is the least amount of money your lender will accept toward your credit card balance each month. You need to pay the minimum payment by its due date to avoid late penalties and other fees and to keep a consistent payment history. The minimum payment amount is displayed on your credit card bill and often ranges from one to three percent of your total credit card bill. 

How is a minimum payment calculated?

Your lender calculates the minimum payment based on your total balance and any outstanding interest charges. 

Each credit card lender has a different method for calculating its minimum monthly payment. The two primary methods are formula and percentage.

Formula

Many of the major credit card lenders use a formula to calculate your minimum payment. The formula picks an amount and adds one to two percent of your monthly balance. For example, let’s say your lender picked $35 as the minimum payment amount, plus two percent interest, and you spent $500 in new charges for the month. In this scenario, your minimum payment would be $35 plus $10 ($500 x 2%) for a total of $45.

If your total balance is less than the minimum payment, then your whole balance is due. Following the previous example, if your lender charges $35 plus two percent interest but your credit card balance is $20, you will owe $20 for that month, plus any fees and interest from the previous month.

Percentage

Other lenders—typically credit unions and financial institutions—use a simpler, percentage formula to calculate the minimum monthly payment. This method is most common for high-risk borrowers with poor credit. The percentage can range from four to six percent.

For example, if you had a $1,000 credit card balance with a lender that charges six percent, you would owe a minimum payment of $60 plus any additional fees ($1,000 x 6%). 

Some lenders will include any past-due fees in the minimum payment. 

What happens if you make only the minimum payment on your credit card?

Making the minimum payment on your credit card is better than paying nothing at all. As long as you always make the minimum payment, you should not receive negative items on your credit report, as it relates to your payment history. 

However, making only the minimum payment means you may see greater charges for interest, resulting in you paying more over time.

Take a look at this example: Let’s say you have $5,000 in credit card debt and your lender offers an 18 percent interest rate with a minimum payment of two percent of the balance. In this scenario, your minimum payment is $100 per month, which can look very tempting. But, it will take you almost eight years to pay off your balance and you will pay a total of $4,311 in interest—almost doubling what you originally owed. 

Your minimum payment is generally a small portion of your total debt, and most of that payment goes to interest. As a result, you are slowly progressing toward paying off your principal amount, and you could end up paying minimum payments for many years.

Additionally, your credit card utilization may be high if you make only minimum payments. Credit utilization is the amount of credit extended to you by the lender versus the amount you owe. If you maintain a high credit card balance while only paying the minimum payment, you are at risk of having high credit utilization month after month. 

Several factors determine your credit score, but credit utilization accounts for 30 percent of your overall score. So, maintaining a high utilization ratio can negatively impact your credit score. 

Finally, when you maintain a high credit card balance and a routine of only paying the minimum payment, you may fall behind on payments. When you make late payments or miss the payment entirely, having a negative payment history can also lower your overall credit score. 

What should you do if you can’t afford to pay in full?

If you can’t pay your credit card in full, don’t panic. Approximately 47 percent of Americans have credit card debt, so it’s quite common—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay off credit card debt. Follow the steps below to tackle your debt efficiently and in a way that works for you. 

Pay as much as you can

As mentioned before, it’s essential to always make at least the minimum payment on time. This will help you avoid negative items on your credit report for late or missed payments. However, whenever possible, try to make more than the minimum payment. This will help you pay down your principal debt faster and pay less interest over time. 

Come up with a repayment strategy

If you have multiple credit cards with debt or various types of debt, it’s crucial to have a repayment strategy. 

There are two popular debt repayment strategies: the avalanche and the snowball. The snowball method recommends you pay off your debt from smallest to largest (like a growing snowball). This method is meant to give people positive reinforcement because they feel motivated as they knock out several of their small debts quickly before moving on to the larger debts. 

The avalanche method is a more systematic approach—you list all your debts and their interest rates and pay the one with the highest interest rate first. This method aims to save you money in the long run by getting of higher-interest debt first. 

Decide which approach fits your style. Both of these methods are highly effective in their own way. 

Budget

A budget is the first step to taking control of your financial health. Without a budget, you may not know where your money is going or where you can save. Often, a budget can highlight unnecessary spending. There are plenty of free apps, such as Mint, that allow you to have an automated look at all your spending and build a budget. 

Talk to your credit card issuer

You can reach out to your credit card issuer if you’re going through financial hardship to see what they can do for you. Some credit lenders will offer to lower your interest rates, which will help you tackle your principal debt much faster. Some financial hardships can include the loss of a job, an injury or a medical incident. Ultimately it will be your lender that decides if your situation merits help. 

Consider a balance transfer

There are a lot of credit card options out there. If your credit card has a high-interest rate, you may consider a balance transfer. Some credit card lenders offer a low-interest promotional rate when you transfer a credit balance to them. During this time, you can make a significant dent in your debt. However, you should know that some balance transfers come with a one-time fee, so make sure to consider this as well. 

Care for your credit

Your credit is your door to many financial opportunities. A healthy credit score can help your chances for approval for auto leases, mortgages, personal loans and more. It can also help you get a much lower interest rate and better borrowing terms when you receive financial products.

Improving your credit takes work. While focusing on your credit card’s impact on your credit score, make sure your overall credit profile is accurate. Errors and inaccuracies can greatly hurt your credit score and put a dent in your debt-relief goals. Professional credit repair companies can help you navigate the challenges of credit reporting inaccuracies.

The first step toward establishing a healthy credit history is making sure all items are listed fairly and accurately—professional credit repair is an easy, effective way to get your credit score back on track.


Reviewed by Shana Dawson Fish, Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Shana Dawson Fish is an Arizona native whose family migrated from Guyana. Shana graduated from Arizona State University in 2008 with her Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice & Criminology, and in 2012 she graduated from Arizona Summit Law School earning her Juris Doctor. During law school, Shana was a Judicial Intern at the United States District Court for the District of Arizona and the Maricopa County Superior Court. In 2016, Shana was awarded a legal defense contract and represented clients as a Trial Attorney in juvenile proceedings. Shana has experience in litigating numerous trials and diligently pursuing the rights of her clients. As a Trial Attorney, Shana identified the needs of her clients and also represented debtors in bankruptcy proceedings. Shana is licensed to practice in Arizona and is an Associate Attorney in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

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What is an escalated information request?

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

When you discover an error on one of your credit reports, such as an inaccurate address or a record of a late payment that you know you paid on time, you can begin the credit dispute process to hopefully correct the error. This is one of your rights as a consumer, according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

But what happens if your credit dispute or challenge fails? If you are like many consumers, the process may not initially yield favorable results. This is where an escalated information request comes in. Read on to learn what your options are following a dispute rejection.

What are the steps involved in the credit dispute process?

There are four main steps in the credit dispute process.

First, you send your dispute letter to whichever of the three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—shows the error on your credit report. In your letter, identify the information that you want to dispute, explain why you’re disputing it and provide any relevant evidence that supports your case. Ask that they remove or correct the information in question. (You can use this sample letter from the FTC if you’re not sure where to start.)

Second, you may reach out to the data furnisher that provided the inaccurate information to the credit bureaus, such as a creditor or another financial institution.  Data furnishers should conduct a reasonable investigation to verify the accuracy of the information they’re reporting to the bureaus if someone submits a dispute, and this could help you as well.

Third, wait for the credit bureaus and data furnishers to respond to your dispute. They typically have 30 to 60 days to investigate your claim. However, there is the possibility that they might deem it “frivolous,” which might happen if your dispute is inaccurate or if you repeat the same claims without adding new evidence.

Once you get a response, review the results of the investigation. If your dispute is accepted and the information is confirmed to be inaccurate, your report should be updated accordingly. If your dispute is rejected because it’s considered frivolous or the information on your report is seemingly verified, you have a couple of options—you can either let the issue drop, or attempt to escalate your dispute.

What do I do if my dispute is rejected?

Denial isn’t the end of the line. When a credit dispute is rejected, it is up to you to continue your efforts to ensure you have a fair and accurate report. Before resigning yourself to defeat, you may follow the steps below to escalate your information request.

1. Send additional letters

Draft another set of letters to the credit bureaus and a new one for the creditor in question. Outline the following:

  • Your disappointment with the initial credit dispute decision
  • Information about the account and the nature of your dispute
  • Detailed information about the dispute (include supporting documents)
  • And, for the bureaus, a list of the incorrect items on your credit report and how they should be corrected

At the end of your letters, you may document your intention to escalate your claim to the appropriate authorities if needed. Then you may mail your letters and supporting documents to the credit bureaus and relevant creditors with a return receipt requested.

2. Wait for responses

It may take up to 60 days to receive responses. Keep copies of your letters, emails and any phone calls between yourself and the credit bureaus and creditors. Be sure to write down dates, times, names of representatives and a summary of your discussions. In the case that you need this documentation, you will be very glad you kept a record of the events.

3. Review the final decision

If, upon reviewing the final decision you are still not satisfied with the outcome, you may send copies of your escalated information requests and supporting documents to the appropriate authorities, such as the Federal Trade Commission and your state’s Attorney General.

However, you should strongly consider speaking with an attorney to discuss your situation to determine what are your best options. In each of these endeavors, make sure you have enough evidence to prove your case and discredit your claim’s denial.

Protect your rights

Facilitating escalated information requests can be a long and arduous process, especially following an initial credit dispute. However, you have a right to fair and accurate credit reports, and the long-term benefits of accurate credit can make the dispute process worth your time and effort.

Make sure to regularly review your credit reports for errors, and if you find any, take action as soon as you can. You can initiate the credit dispute process yourself, but if you don’t have the time to dedicate to it or if you would rather work with a professional, there are credit repair companies who can help. Contact Lexington Law today to learn more about how we can help you as consumer advocates.

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The COVID-19 real estate paradox: Time to buy or sell?

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

According to a September 2020 study by Yelp, the U.S. has witnessed small businesses closing at a rate of 800 per day. The U.S. has seen some of the highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression. And yet the real estate market is booming.

Home sales continue to rise as the new work-from-home economy makes moving to the big city or tiny village of your dreams more feasible than ever. Mortgage applications jumped 26 percent in 2020. How can that be, you might ask, and how does that affect me as a homebuyer, home seller or homeowner?

Let’s take a look at some of the forces at work in the real estate market right now and find out.

Money is cheap for homebuyers

If you listen to the radio or have a friend in the real estate business, you’ve probably heard by now that it’s a great time to buy a house because mortgage interest rates have dipped to record lows. The second part of that statement is objectively true. In the early 1980s, the average interest rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage topped 18 percent. Compare that to June of 2020, when Freddie Mac reported an average rate of just 3.61 percent.

And that’s just the average. Borrowers with excellent credit were able to secure even better mortgage rates. If you’re thinking of buying a home, bear in mind that even a quarter-point drop in interest can save you many thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your loan. That means, among other things, that you may be able to afford more home now than you could last year.

But not so fast.

The second side of the story

As interest rates have plummeted, the demand for homes has climbed sharply. In many parts of the country, there’s a shortage of houses on the market. And that has sent home prices soaring, too. Comparing December 2020 to December 2019, home prices jumped nationally by over 10 percent.

The trend is most pronounced where you might not expect it to be: in small- to medium-sized Midwestern cities. Historically, the price of real estate in large cities drives national averages up. While predictions of a COVID-driven mass exodus from urban centers were never born out, in a few cities, including San Francisco and New York City, more people are seeking to move out than to move in.

Home prices are declining. If you’ve been hankering for a high-rise on the Hudson, now might be a good time to make a move.

But as recent experience confirms, real estate markets are fluid. What comes up might come down. The point is, no matter where you’re moving, your living expenses will ultimately be influenced by multiple factors. And it’s important not to get swept up in the moment. Keep your long-term income outlook and your personal goals in mind as you consider buying a home.

And if you’re thinking of selling your home to take advantage of rising home prices in your neighborhood, remember that you’re going to have to move somewhere.

The chapter everyone has to read

Sure, some of us are lucky enough to be able to pay cash when buying a home. But many of us need a mortgage to purchase a home. And that’s why having a strong credit profile is essential.

Keeping track of your credit score is an important habit to get into. If you’ve never paid much attention to it before, you’re not alone. It’s not something most parents teach their kids to do—many parents don’t talk to their kids about money at all.

A recent survey found that more than 35 percent of U.S. adults don’t know what their credit score is. And at least as many people don’t know how high a score they’ll need before lenders will give them a mortgage or car loan, for example.

Are you on top of your credit score? Before you even begin hunting for a house, it’s time to get a clear picture of where you stand. You can start by downloading a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Transunion, Equifax and Experian. Your credit score is the highlight, of course. But it’s important not to fixate on a single number. When it comes to credit, the devil is in the details.

How credit scores are determined

The single most important factor credit bureaus consider when assigning you a score is your payment history. Missed credit card or loan payments take the biggest bite out of your score, and if there’s one piece of advice you remember after reading this article, let it be this: keep on top of your bill due dates and make them on time—religiously.

If you want to improve your credit score before you apply for a mortgage, one of the best things you can do is bring all your accounts up to date. But guess what? Creditors make mistakes. If you discover late payment notations on your credit report, be sure to reconcile them with your own payment records. Having credit reporting mistakes corrected can bring your score up considerably.

Next, review all of the accounts listed on your report. Having too many open accounts can drag your score down. Just make sure you’re considering how closing a particular account will affect your overall credit age and total available credit—you don’t want to close cards that are actually helping you.

Credit bureaus also take your credit utilization ratio into account when determining your credit score: that is, how much of the credit available to you are you actually using? Experts say that 30 percent is the absolute high-water mark and you’ll do much better in the credit market if yours is much lower.

One way to reduce your credit utilization ratio is simply to request an increase in your credit limit on one or more of the credit cards you have in your wallet. Pick one with a low or zero balance to increase your chances of getting approved for a higher limit. Then avoid using the card. You don’t want more debt, just more available credit.

Is it time to call in the experts?

It’s easy to get into credit trouble and, sadly, during the economic crisis precipitated by COVID-19, more and more Americans did. But getting out of trouble is more difficult. It takes time and patience, and there’s a fair amount of drudgery involved.

Some people who are struggling with bad credit enlist the services of a credit repair professional. Many credit repair companies use a combination of human expertise and artificial intelligence to develop and execute a comprehensive credit repair plan for their clients.

They’re trained to detect errors, as well as credit card fraud, which is on the rise and can be devastating to your credit. Some companies offer ongoing credit monitoring along with credit repair. Remember how we said monitoring your credit is a good habit to get into? You can also farm out the job.

Increase the odds of getting a great mortgage rate

While technically not a factor in your credit score, mortgage lenders will take your debt-to-income ratio into account when deciding whether to offer you a loan and at what rate. Most lenders require a DTI ratio of 36 percent or lower. Your credit report will list all your debts, and you already know your income.

You can use a DTI calculator to crunch the numbers. If your ratio is higher than 36 percent, you may want to take some time to pay off your existing debt before applying for a mortgage. With mortgage rates so low right now, why wait? Because buying a home is a life-altering decision on many accounts. Your home may be the single largest purchase you ever make. And at the outset, your mortgage may be your greatest financial liability.

But over time, your home may become your greatest financial asset—if you make well-considered decisions, like securing the best mortgage deal you possibly can. Getting your financial affairs in order before you buy a homeis an investment in time that’s likely to pay off in real dollars down the road.


This article was contributed by Money.com, an online editorial that provides up-to-date news, educational resources, and tools to help everyday people create meaningful investments and lasting returns.

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