Sunday, August 17, 2008

Managing Your Credit with Equifax Products

I have experienced a tax lien and judgement on my credit reports in recent years. That all changed when I filed for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in the summer of 2004. With all that now behind me, I want to make sure that I never fall into that pattern of mishandling my credit. I was also under the false impression that if something did not show up on your credit report it was not an issue.

That is how a joint credit account with my first husband showed up fifteen years later threatening to take my bank account and access to my children's Social Security funds. They had a judgement against me, even though my legal name was not state, plus they did not try to contact me for years, I still felt the only recourse I had was to file for Bankruptcy.

The tax lien was a result of a dispute over unemployment funds through the State of New Jersey. After having a child I was called back to work at a temporary agency. This occurred during snow blizzards where I could not get there due to travel conditions and no childcare. The end result was they fought the unemployment and wanted it paid back. I was moving to California and could not stick around to fight this out.

These two issues that ultimately led to my filing a bankruptcy can happen to anyone, no matter what class you are. To help me prepare for my bankruptcy I utilized a book by Nolo Press. Now I keep track of my FICO score with software by Suze Orman. I regularly check my bank statement online plus my credit card statements and balances. But is that enough? Luckily I had the opportunity to try out the Credit Watch Gold 3-in-1 membership with Equifax.

This monitoring system through Equifax has several components to it. The three sections of this site are manage your credit, protect your identity and prepare for a purchase. When you purchase the Credit Watch Gold 3-in1 product you are given unlimited access to your Equifax credit report for the one-year membership.

There is a security feature when you first arrive at the site to make your selections. The four steps are registration, verify your identity, order summary and then member center. The verification process asks two questions only you would know. I was not expecting this to state made up information and was caught off guard and quite upset at the prospect of my credit report having a mortgage on it from February 2006. I am a renter and was anxious to read my report. Then I realized these two questions were bogus to prevent someone else from accessing my data. A bit unnerving – one question was to select which mortgage company with the second the amount of the monthly payments. I selected none both times.

Even though I used a promo code when making this purchase there is an option to include your credit card if you want to continue with the service once the free trial has expired. They will charge $1.00 for verification purposes on said card. I did not check that box. During the enrollment process there is a privacy opt-out notice for non-affiliated third parties.

You will also need to give your Social Security number, date of birth and phone number along with address and email address. There is a secret question to choose from when creating your user name and password.

The actual cost of this Equifax Credit Watch Gold with 3-in-1 monitoring is $12.95 per month.

Your recently ordered reports are available at an archive in the member center of their site, www.equifax.com. To get a revised report you need to order another one. With each order you receive a confirmation number. When you file a dispute you will need the actual confirmation number to start the process. It is advised after going through the steps online to contact them at a toll-free number. While waiting on hold I was hearing recordings on how to go to www.investigate.equifax.com for more information.

Once you have registered at the site and made your purchase you sign in using your created username and password. The options are numerous at the site and at times overwhelming in making your choice or determining which step to take next. You can save your credit card for future purchases by checking a box.

There is a newsletter to sign up and read the archives, a family program, a rewards program and credit education program that is located at www.mycrediteducation.com. There are options like score power, credit rankings, wireless alerts, a toolbar and a rate tracker. I tested out the rate tracker. I had to insert my FICO score and choose what I was interested in. I checked an auto loan, which produced a few options for me with lending companies and the rates. This was very accurate as I had received an offer in the mail earlier in the week from Capitol One Auto Finance, and this was listed as the lowest rate. I will be attempting to download the toolbar and see how it can help me manage my finances.

The alert preferences can be set for card activity, balance changes and percentage increases. I have not explored this in much depth yet as I go online almost daily to view my credit card accounts.

I was not pleased with having to make a phone call after following the steps online to file a dispute. Once on the phone with the information center I gave my confirmation number and then had to verify with more information – date of birth, SSI#, complete name and address. When asked for your complete name I believe that means your middle, yet the service personnel stated that was not necessary, as it was not listed on the report. So what exactly is a complete name?

I was asked what my dispute was and at the end told it wold be 21-30 days for paperwork to arrive in the mail. I was given another confirmation number. These are always nine digits. I need to keep them all organized as I found it confusing to have so many of these.

The numbers are as follows:

Disputes – 1-866-471-1991
To get a copy of your report – 1800-685-1111
To get your score mailed or faxed to you – 1-800-437-4619

The price range for products consist of:

3-in-1 report for Equifax - $19.95, add credit rankings for another 8.95
Score power - $15.50, with credit rankings total is $26.85
Score watch – 7.95 per month (3 month min)
Credit watch silver - $4.95 per month – listed as best deal

There are gift options available with each purchase and product.
The customer care is available twenty-four hours a day. There are discounts on other products and add-ons. Then there is the $2,500 Identity Fraud Expense Coverage with $250 deductible (certain limitations and exclusions apply) at no additional charge to you

Pros – lots of choices and membership options

Cons – many phone numbers and confirmation numbers to keep track of, site is overwhelming

My experience was that I ordered the Equifax report, received the confirmation number and email. Went back to the member center after signing in to read this report. This section of the site is nicely organized where you can choose which portion of the report you want to read and then print.

Next I ordered the 3-in-1 report from all reporting agencies. This can be done once for the membership period. This is also in archive for your products ordered and is unlike the option where you can order daily the Equifax report. These do not update, you need to order them continually to get the revised editions.

Here is where I noticed the discrepancy with my Equifax report. The 3-in-1 has Equifax in pink, Experian is blue with TransUnion in green shade. This is a side by side chart showing pages of your data. I noticed that Gateway was listed as being open and just reported in September of 2006 for Equifax. This was part of my Bankruptcy and noted as such in the other two reports.

It looks like I have to wait for the information in the mail on this dispute, although the site does have information on tracking your disputes. After utilizing http://www.equifax.com for a few weeks now I feel this site has a lot to offer consumer. It will help manage your finances, prepare you for major purchases by learning the FICO score, checking rates and being alerted to activity on their accounts through the monitoring system and the identity theft coverage. This helps to make sure your insurance payment was received on time and not reported to the credit bureaus. More insurance companies are now checking into your credit report before issuing you a policy.

I would probably start with the Silver watch and the score watch. The silver watch has weekly monitoring through wireless and email alerts with one report. Equifax Score Watch

1 comment:

nor | www.hrmbusiness.com said...

Hmmm... this is worth a try. Thanks for the info Bonnie.
Cheers!