Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013
Annual reminder for 2013. The most well known part of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) is that you can get a free copy of your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus once every 12 months. However, there are also several other consumer databases that you should check as well which are also available absolutely free once every 12 months, and they can also have a significant financial impact. If you got one last year, you can now get another one and reset the 12 month clock.
ChexSystems Banking History
ChexSystems is a consumer information database used by an estimated 80-90% of all banks to help determine the risk of opening new accounts. Think of it as the bank’s version of a credit bureau. If a person commits check fraud or overdraws their account, it will be listed here. In addition, the simple act of opening or closing a bank account may be recorded in their database. Getting a negative ChexSystems record can leave you blacklisted from opening bank accounts at most major banks.
Get your free ChexSystems consumer report here.
Medical History Used For Insurance Underwriting
MIB (previously known as Medical Information Bureau) is run by 470 insurance companies and has a “primary mission of detecting and deterring fraud that may occur in the course of obtaining life, health, disability income, critical illness, and long-term care insurance.” They record information of “underwriting significance” for those who have applied for life and health insurance with MIB member companies. If you have not applied for individually underwritten life, health, or disability income insurance during the preceding seven year period, then you probably don’t have a record.
Get your free MIB consumer file here.
Insurance Claims History
CLUE stands for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, and they collect information that is used to calculate your potential risk of loss and thus your insurance premiums. You can also find out about previous claims on the house you are currently renting or recently bought, even if they weren’t made by you.
The C.L.U.E. ®Personal Property report provides a seven year history of losses associated with an individual and his/her personal property. The following data will be identified for each loss: date of loss, loss type, and amount paid along with general information such as policy number, claim number and insurance company name.
The C.L.U.E. ®Auto report provides a seven year history of automobile insurance losses associated with an individual. The following data will be identified for each loss: date of loss, loss type, and amount paid along with general information such as policy number, claim number and insurance company name.
Get your free CLUE Auto and Personal Property Reports here.
In addition, you should also request your free A-PLUS report (Automated Property Loss Underwriting System), which is a smaller database that also contains information about property loss claims.
When a potential employer runs a background check through LexisNexis (formerly known as ChoicePoint), this is the information they see. It doesn’t seem to claim be comprehensive, and they may have only limited or even no data about you, but I would still check for potentially negative data.
LexisNexis Screening Solutions Inc. provides Employment History Reports to employers only with a job applicant’s or employee’s consent. Employers utilize a variety of companies to obtain employment history information. Our files would only contain information on you if LexisNexis provided your Employment History Report to an employer.
Get your free LexisNexis employment history report here.
This report can be important if you are a renter and someone runs a background check on you at LexisNexis (ChoicePoint).
LexisNexis Screening Solutions provides Resident History Reports to housing providers that have the subject’s consent. Housing Providers utilize a variety of companies to obtain tenant history information. Our files would only contain information on you if LexisNexis provided your Resident History Report to a housing provider.
Get your free LexisNexis tenant history report here.
LexisNexis Full Disclosure File
You may notice that LexisNexis is involved in many different areas above. As one of the largest personal information databases in the US and a for-profit company (part of Reed Elsevier), they should just rename themselves Big Brother, Inc. You can request a “Full File Disclosure” that supposedly includes all of the information that they have on you – including public records, real estate transaction and ownership data, lien, judgment, and bankruptcy records, professional license information, and historical addresses on file.
Request your LexisNexis Full File Disclosure here. You’ll need to fill out a PDF form and snail mail it in.
This is part of my annual checklist at the beginning of each new year.
Monday, January 10th, 2011
Below is a chart of the median duration of unemployment from July 1967 to December 2010, based on data supplied by the US Department of Labor. Things are bad out there, and remember, this is just the median!
According to this December 2010 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, out of the 9.4% unemployment rate, 44.3% of them are considered long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more). That means over 4% of the total US workforce – 6.4 million people – has been unemployed for over 6 months.
Which leads to the poll question of the week. How prepared are you for an extended period without a paycheck? In this case, by emergency fund I am talking about a cash (or similar) cushion that is accessible, not lines of credit.
If you don’t see the poll above, you may be viewing the RSS feed and should click and visit the actual blog website.
Friday, January 7th, 2011
If you haven’t been keeping close track of it, your portfolio’s asset allocation may have shifted significantly over the past year. Your relative mix of assets like stocks, bonds, or real estate has a great impact on the volatility and expected future return of your portfolio.
Morningstar has a bunch of helpful tools for managing your investment portfolio, but many of them require a paid membership. However, one handy trick is that anyone can use many of these premium features for free at the T. Rowe Price website by signing up for a free account with nothing but an e-mail address.
This tool lets you enter all your portfolio holdings, which it then stores for you and allows you to track it with automatically updated prices. You can either track all your future transactions as you go, or just input your updated holdings every few months like I do.
Once you enter your holdings, simply look for the Portfolio X-Ray tab and you’ll have a complete breakdown of the true asset allocation of your overall portfolio. Does your “small cap” fund really own a bunch of mid-caps and large-cap funds? X-Ray will reveal your true exposure to stock style (i.e. Small/Mid/Large, Growth/Blend/Value), geographical regions (i.e. Japan, US) , stock sectors (i.e. Telecom, Energy), average expense ratio, and more.
If you’d rather have a quick peek without needing to register at all – but also without the ability to save your portfolio – try the Morningstar Instant X-Ray tool.
If you already have a target asset allocation in mind, now might be a good time to to rebalance your assets back towards that target. Rebalancing is a way to maintain the risk/reward balance that you have chosen for your investments, and also forces you to buy temporarily under-performing assets and sell over-performing assets (buy low, sell high). If you are looking for a bit more guidance, here are my favorite posts on investing.
Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
It’s 2011, so why not a status check on your credit scores? In a previous post, I explained the relationships between credit reports vs. FICO credit scores vs. FAKO credit scores. Give it read if you haven’t already. You can obtain a free copy of your credit report from all three major credit bureaus once every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com, as mandated by the government.
As for credit scores, chances are you’ll have to pay up for a FICO Score. But even though I feel that such FAKO scores are only good as a credit score estimate, I’ll still take it if it’s free. Remember, there are three different credit reports out there for you, so there are also three FAKO credit scores you should track. It happens that there are websites that will either provide a free FAKO or a credit score range for all three credit bureaus with no credit card required. Pulling your own credit score doesn’t hurt your score either.
CreditKarma.com is an ad-supported site that offers you a free FAKO as often as you like, called a Transrisk score, based on your Transunion credit report. The score range is the same as FICO, from 300-850. Brave souls!
You don’t get your credit report details, but you do get a few tips on what recent changes to your credit report have impacted your score. CreditKarma recently added two new free scores as well – the VantageScore and Auto Insurance Risk Score, both based on your TransUnion data. VantageScore is basically a challenge to FICO and has a completely different scoring range system, and the other one is used by auto insurers to “assess your riskiness and to assist in pricing your premiums”.
The Equifax Credit Score Card comes directly from Equifax and provides a free credit score range of Low (280-559), Below Average (560-659), Average (660-724), Above Average (725-759), and High (760-850). It’s called the Equifax Risk Score. FICO has a range of 300-850, and this range is 280-850 so you don’t really have to do any scaling.
It doesn’t provide any specific data from your Equifax credit report, but it does include a short summary of any negative factors that you may have on your report.
Quizzle.com is a site owned by Quicken Loans that offers you a free FAKO score every six months, called a “CE Credit Score”, based on your Experian credit report. FICO has a range of 300-850, and this range is 350-850 so you don’t really have to do any scaling. They just seem to alter it just enough so FICO doesn’t sue them.
The site also provides access to the details of your Experian credit report, so this can be handy if you’ve already used up your freebie from government-mandated AnnualCreditReport.com.
One annoying part of the site is that they ask “required” questions about your home and mortgage that seem to imply that the answers are needed to access your credit score, but in fact are not. They just want the data to better target you for things like home equity loans or refinances (remember who runs the site).
FICO Score Estimator
Just for good measure, I filled out the FICO Score Estimator and got the following result:
If you really want your official FICO score, you can still get it with a free trial and immediately cancel with minimal hassle. Here are step-by-step instructions. The FICO is based on your Equifax report.
Note: Unless you’re going directly with a credit bureau (which already has your sensitive data), you’re going to have to give your personal information including Social Security Number to a third-party website. I am not a online security expert, so you’ll have to do your own due diligence as to whether you want to proceed. I have agreed to be the test monkey and have used all these sites, and am showing you real screenshots of my results above.