Sometimes, it seems like you can scarcely turn on your television or radio or web browser without seeing someone offering you a great solution to your credit woes or proper protection against credit worries. Pretty much anything involving the word “credit” is a hot commodity.
There are thousands of businesses out there who want to help you fix your credit – some more reputable than others. Beyond that, there are quite a few nonprofits and government agencies offering assistance to people who want to fix their credit or keep it in tip-top shape.
It’s also pretty easy to understand why so many companies are out there wanting to help you. It’s because there are a lot of people struggling to maintain good credit and there are also a lot of people who want to maintain the good credit they have.
Like it or not, our credit pops up over and over again in our lives. It doesn’t just affect whether or not we’re eligible for credit cards or car loans or mortgages. It affects our insurance rates. It affects our ability to rent an apartment. It affects our ability to secure employment. Many, many businesses and agencies use our credit report and credit score as a quick and dirty way to gauge our personal reputability.
In other words, it makes a lot of sense to keep tabs on our credit. If your credit card company doesn’t help, the trick is navigating through the sea of businesses and offers available to help us do just that. Be sure to check through the benefits and offerings from your card, however, as many of them do offer this feature.
When it comes to my own credit, I’m extremely picky about who I trust. There are two big reasons for that.
First, I worry about identity theft. I’m not saying that businesses are actively out there trying to steal my identity – though some shady outfits certainly are. I’m more concerned about having my information in lots of places, because all it takes is one slip-up for my data to be stolen from a reputable business, and the more businesses that have my information, the more likely a slip-up is going to adversely affect me.
Second, some products are blatantly overpriced. There are sites that will quite happily charge you (or make you sign up for a contract) in order to get things that are free elsewhere. In fact, many companies act as credit “middlemen,” hopping in the middle between you and a report you can get for free just so they can make a buck. They aren’t really criminals that will steal your identity, just opportunists.
Given that, when it comes to my credit, there are really only four online sources that I turn to. Luckily, I’ve only needed to look at two of them over the past several years, as the last two are best used if the first two reveal actual credit problems. Let’s take a look at them.
What does it provide? The federal government legally provides each person with one free credit report each year from each of the three credit bureaus. Their mandated site for providing those reports is AnnualCreditReport.com. Virtually every other site that provides credit reports is essentially just acting as a middleman for the service already provided by free from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Why do I trust it? When you go to the FTC’s website at ftc.gov and look for how to acquire the free credit reports you’re guaranteed by law, the page you find makes it extremely clear that the only place you should go to is AnnualCreditReport.com.
MSN Credit Score Estimator
What does it provide? Once you have your credit report in hand, you’ll probably also want your credit score (or a rough estimate of it). Your credit score is simply a number that summarizes your credit trustworthiness and, although there are several different flavors of credit scores, the most common kind is the FICO score, which is a trademark of Fair Isaac. You can pay various companies to calculate your score for you, but if you use a good credit score estimator tool along with the information in your actual report, you can get a pretty accurate estimate of your score.
Why do I trust it? Since I’m not too keen on sharing personal information, I’ve tried out a bunch of different free credit score estimators that do not require you to share any truly personal information. I think this one does the best job of the bunch. You don’t have to provide any personally identifying data and it provides a result that seems rather accurate.
FTC Guide to Credit Repair
What does it provide? If you find that your credit report is messy and your credit score is lower than you’d like, you’ll probably want to work on repairing it. Again, there are a lot of tools out there that can show you how to fix your credit score, but there are also a lot of reputable free guides out there. This is a very good and very reliable one.
Why do I trust it? It’s a government publication that has no interest whatsoever in pushing you to buy a product or make any other financial move. Their incentive isn’t profit. It’s providing help.
Justice Department Approved Credit Counseling Agencies
What does it provide? If you’re truly in a credit crunch and you can’t figure out how to fix things with the tools above, you may want someone to come in and help. Unfortunately, there are both reputable and disreputable credit counseling services out there. This site provides a list of services that are approved by the Justice Department.
Why do I trust it? Bankruptcy cases point to this list of credit counselors as the ones that are accepted by the court system. The list is provided by the Justice Department. In my eyes, you’re not going to find a more trustworthy list of credit counseling services.
Regardless of whether your credit is strong or you’re in a debt crisis, one (or more) of the tools on this page should be of help to you.