Are Credit Monitoring Systems a Reliable Score Measurement When Preparing to Buy a Home Using Your VA Home Loan Benefit?

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1 Are Credit Monitoring Systems a Reliable Score Measurement When Preparing to Buy a Home Using Your VA Home Loan Benefit? From the Book, What Every Veteran Needs to Know by Peter Van Brady If you are concerned about the safety and protection of your credit report and credit accounts you might have considered signing up for a credit monitoring service. However, for most people credit monitoring is misleading when it comes to measuring your credit risk scores in preparation for a home purchase using your VA benefit. Of course the idea behind credit monitoring is a good one, as simple and obvious as saying Lock your front door; safety can go a long way. You always want and need your credit report and credit cards to be free from errors and free from fraud. And, to be perfectly fair, rather than say There is absolutely no point in paying for a credit monitoring service, we will say that credit monitoring services may work for some people who want peace of mind. But you really don t need to pay a specialty service to track your credit scores and inform you of unusual activity. In fact, many banks stopped offering separate credit monitoring services several years ago because the banks themselves and credit card companies offer 24 hour a day credit monitoring. (Think about it: it s what a bank should do, and they would look unprofessional and criminally neglect if they weren t secure, right?). The way to best protect your credit is to educate yourself about credit basics then monitor your credit on your own. How well do you understand your credit score and credit report? Many people have only heard about credit scores from the colorful commercials that seemingly 1

2 always pound the airwaves. Free credit report dot com comes to mind (turns out it s an up-sell to sell you paid services) Often folks don t think about their own credit health until they need a credit card or loan. Your credit score doesn t automatically give someone an automatic green light to loan a certain dollar amount, but rather it is a gauge that suggests to lenders your creditworthiness your likely hood or ability of repaying a loan. Lenders are assessing the risk of default when they are loaning you money. Most Americans have at least heard the term FICO score, though many dismiss it out of mind if they aren t looking for a credit or a loan. Who wants to know of their creditworthiness until they absolutely must, many think, evoking memories of youthful bounced checks and late payments? FICO or Fair Isaac Co. is a company that created the FICO score, a number arrived at by utilizing information provided by the three major national credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. As it relates to applying for a mortgage loan, a credit agency service (kind of like a broker of credit data) will give a mortgage lender the ability to pull credit from each of the three bureaus. The data is extracted from the three bureaus simultaneously and commonly filtered through three different versions of the FICO scoring model and results in the production of your credit risk scores. It is common for Experian to use FICO V.2.0; TransUnion to use FICO Classic.4.0, and Equifax to uses BEACON 5.0 FICO. These scores often differ depending on the bureau. Some creditors don t even report to the top national bureaus. So if you have differing data collected by each bureau getting pumped though different software versions, this produces different scores! A key point for you to understand is that a credit monitoring system is likely monitoring only one bureau and likely NOT utilizing the same FICO software versions that the mortgage industry uses. So when it comes to applying for your largest piece of credit in your life, your credit monitoring system literally has you blindfolded as your mortgage credit scores appear much different than what you had been monitoring or hoping for. So let s look at the value a credit monitoring service brings to the table. A credit monitoring service monitors your credit report and sends you a text, or letter should any unusual activity occurs. While you want to monitor your credit to have the best error-free credit 2

3 score possible, a credit monitoring service often monitors your information at only one of three credit bureaus, while you hope that your number and information is similar across the board. Buying an incomplete credit report is as helpful as purchasing a bucket with a hole in it. Worse, credit monitoring services are sometimes claiming to sell you something they can t actually deliver - protection. While there are bona fide identity-theft protection products such as LifeLock, a credit monitoring service is less valuable as identity theft protection despite their claims. Identity Theft is a nightmare because criminals who obtain a person s personal information find a way to open credit cards and banks accounts and even obtain loans based on your name and credit. Credit monitoring services are simply not equipped to handle such surveillance. An all-encompassing Identity Theft protection company, unlike a credit monitoring service, networks with hundreds of companies from auto lenders to retail to pay day institutions to black market websites and, because the network is directly affiliated with the Identity theft protection company you can be notified of suspicious activity often in minutes. By contrast, if suspicious activity occurs in one of your accounts or on your credit card, a credit monitoring service does not have the same network and so the report of activity must first go to a credit bureau a middle man of sorts who will contact you over a longer period of time. Also, a credit card company or bank doesn t have the insurance that a company like LifeLock has, to spend up one million dollars hiring experts to track your case and expedite your credit recovery. An Identity Theft protection company simply can shield your credit in ways credit monitoring services simply cannot. Why spend $10 to $20 a month--$120 to $240 a year on a credit monitoring service, something that is essentially useless? In fact, credit monitoring services are worse than useless because they can be dangerously misleading. It s not unlike someone reassuring you that they set your burglar alarm when they did not. That creates a false confidence that could come back to haunt you. A Better Solution: D.I.Y. Do it yourself. 3

4 There are a few commonsense things to do, and herein we provide a guideline. You might even find monitoring your own credit kind of fun. It certainly is interesting! Taking personal responsibility for your money and credit is the beginning and foundation of wealth creation. Save, protect, invest. Managing your finances well means creating opportunity and options. Ask your bank and each of your credit card companies if they report to all three credit bureaus. Ask them about their security. Be on the alert for companies who promise too much. A credit monitoring service, as stated above, cannot prevent identity theft. The most they can do is alert you about unusual activity on your accounts, and then only after the fact. If you do receive warnings from your bank or credit institutions, heed them! Pay attention! Address the issue! Consider yourself warned and take further steps to protect your credit and your name. Don t fall for the credit monitoring services that claim they are free. They are not. The only free credit reporting is AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can only get that once a year. Get it every year. Purchase your tri-merge credit report from a mortgage lender. Even purchasing it four times a year is less expensive and more accurate than a credit monitoring service. Review each transaction of every bank and credit card account. Always work with banking and credit institutions you trust. Develop a personal relationship with those in your bank. Protect yourself in a myriad of ways. Top amongst those ways: don t carry your social security card, and be leery of giving out your social security number. Keep your tax and financial information and tax files in a secure place. Shred sensitive documents, anything that has information about you. Raise your privacy setting, which are tools on the internet and social media. Privacy settings controls who can see your data (and most importantly, who can t). Limit personal information on your social media sites. It is foolish to list your birthday, pet and/or children s name, mother s maiden name, etc. That information is the very stuff of Security Questions used by banking institutions to prove your identity! 4

5 If you believe or fear a card has been compromised, cancel it for security and peace of mind. Monitor your bank statements relentlessly for fraudulent charges. Make such reviews a good habit and such personal monitoring isn t even time consuming, but rather, it s just routine. Be careful where you use your debit card, including using ATMs in bad neighborhoods or where a machine is not in plain sight. Ambitious thieves use what are called skimming machines to steal information off your card. Verify who is asking for information or passwords, on whose behalf and why. Be extra careful at restaurants or bars or anyplace where your credit card is taken out of sight. Protect your information from computer malware. Identity thieves can use malware to infect your computer and steal information. To counter, always run your security updates, learn how malware works in order to counter it, turn on your firewall, and limit those who have access to your computer. Use a Credit Security Freeze (also known as a Credit Freeze, a Security Freeze, or Credit Report freezes). Credit Freezes prevents others from seeing your credit reports, preventing new credit from being issued if someone other than you applies for a new account, credit, or a loan in your name. Credit Freezes are certainly an inconvenience for you, but it is a tool in your arsenal that gives you options in your defense. Put a Fraud Alert on your credit report so that Alert will be read anyone legitimate (e.g., a reviewer at any and all of the three major credit bureaus) to send a red flag that you are watching for suspicious activity. If you are interested in how So Cal VA Homes can help you use your VA home loan benefit, call us at (888) to begin a conversation. Copyright 2015 by Peter Van L. Brady All rights reserved. 5

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