Credit report basics

How to get your credit report and credit score

Federal law allows you to get one free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) every 12 months. Use the website to get your free copy. This is the only website to get your free report. Beware of imposter websites. You can also order your free report over the phone by calling (877) 322-8228 or by mail by filling out this form and mailing it to Annual Credit Report Request Service; P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348. You can order all three reports at once, or you can stagger the reports every couple of months so that you can monitor your credit reports throughout the year. Consider using this staggering technique before you pay for a credit monitoring product.

Your credit report won't contain your credit score, but there are a couple of easy ways to get it. First, many credit cards provide your credit score on each billing statement. If you have credit cards, check your billing statements to see if your score is provided. Another way to get it is to buy it from one of the credit bureaus. You can also buy your credit score at any time from Keep in mind that your credit score may be different depending on who you buy it from.

If your credit score seems low, it's possible that errors on your credit report are dragging your score down. That's why it's critical to review your credit reports carefully for some of the most common inaccuracies, as well as signs of identity theft or a mixed credit file. If there are mistakes on your credit report, you should write a dispute letter. If your dispute letter doesn't clear up the problem, or if you've been denied credit due to a mistake on your credit report, you should talk to an attorney who handles Fair Credit Reporting Act cases.

Building credit after bankruptcy

In an earlier post, we told you about the effect bankruptcy can have on your credit score. People who put in some effort to rebuild their credit after bankruptcy can usually make their score rise a lot faster than people who just wait for their credit to fix itself. here we give you some tips for boosting your credit score after bankruptcy.

Check-up on your credit report

After filing bankruptcy, it's important to make sure that your creditors have wiped your debts clean, or at least noted that the debt was discharged in your case. If old pre-bankruptcy debts come back to haunt you, they can drag down your score. That's why for our clients, we offer a free check-up appointment after a bankruptcy case is finished. We'll look over your credit report to make sure everything that was supposed to be wiped out was wiped out. If any accounts are still showing as active or in collection, we may use the Fair Credit Reporting Act to fix your report.

Secured credit cards

After bankruptcy, you might not be eligible to get a new credit card, or the cards you can get might not be the ones you want (watch out for sky-high rates, and predatory contract terms from the credit cards that solicit recent bankruptcy filers). Secured credit cards work like this: you give the credit card company some money for collateral (say, $500) and they give you a credit limit equal to the amount of collateral. But you use it like a credit card--your charges don't draw down the collateral--the money you deposited just stays on file in case you default on the debt. And unlike a debit card, your on-time payments will help boost your score.

You can get a secured card by comparing cards on But it might be an even better idea to approach a local bank or credit union that you have a strong relationship with--they might offer low-cost products that are meant to help you without all the tricks and traps.

Eventually, get an unsecured credit card

Often, after a year or so of on-time payments, the secured credit card company will return the collateral money and convert the account into a full-fledged credit card. A few months of on-time payments may also qualify you for more credit. Gas and store credit cards will probably be easiest to get, although they don't have quite the same score-boosting effect as major bank credit cards do. But remember what got you into trouble in the first place--pay off your balances in full every month, and watch out for sleazy credit card practices that might get you back in trouble.

Stay away from credit repair scams

There are services out there that claim they can fix your credit for a fee. But these services aren't worth the hassle. First of all, some of them will commit fraud to by trying to remove negative, but true information from your credit report, which may get you into more trouble in the long run. Also, you can probably do anything they'd do for you on your own without spending the money. In particular, stay away from any service that want money upfront for fixing your credit--this is prohibited by the Credit Repair Organizations Act, a federal law that governs credit-fixing agencies.

If you've filed bankruptcy and want help rebuilding your credit, or just considering bankruptcy and want to know what the impact on your credit will be, give us a call.

What happens to my credit score when I file bankruptcy?

If you're considering filing bankruptcy, you're probably concerned about what will happen to your credit--and rightfully so. Credit scores may temporarily be trashed when a client files bankruptcy, but the real question to ask is--who cares? Credit scores are based on the last 7-10 years of reporting information, but according to the credit scoring formula, things that happened in the recent past are weighted far more heavily than things that happened a long time ago. This is great news for the potential bankruptcy filer--your score may dip in the short term, but you can build your credit back quickly by opening new, positive credit accounts and letting that old stuff fade into the distance.

If you're considering bankruptcy, your credit score is probably on the brink anyway

There are alternatives to bankruptcy (working with debt management nonprofits or their more unsavory cousins, debt settlement and credit repair companies)--but anyone who tells you that these alternatives are gentler on your credit score is probably trying to sell you something. Once you have late payments, defaults and collection accounts on your credit, it's hard to get them to come off, and paying off collection accounts actually doesn't improve your score at all. Think about whether your credit score can be saved before you pay someone to save it.

it's time you and credit take a little break from each other

If you're considering bankruptcy, you're probably not planning to take out a mortgage or open a bunch of credit cards in the near future, and so you probably don't need to have a sky-high credit score right now. Your credit score may be a factor for renting apartments or finding new jobs, but having a recent bankruptcy may be less of a big deal to most people than if you haven't resolved your issues and have a bunch of debt collectors clawing after you. Sure--you'll need your credit to rebound eventually, but for now, explain your situation to a potential landlord or employer. If you're honest and upfront, you'll likely find that people are willing to overlook your earlier problems.

We have strategies for building back your credit

Remember, the recent past is much more important than the distant past when it comes to credit. The credit scoring models will reward you for opening new, positive credit accounts and paying on time every month. By stopping all new reporting on old accounts, bankruptcy cleans the slate so that your creditors don't keep dragging down your credit score month after month.

Once you file bankruptcy, you'll be inundated with new credit solicitations. But these offers aren't the ones you want--they tend to be expensive and predatory. We can point you toward safe credit building products--credit building loans and secured credit cards--that will help you build your credit back up slowly and surely. We also meet with you at no charge six months after your bankruptcy to make sure that all the negative information that was on your credit report pre-bankruptcy was cleaned up the right way. If you build new credit and pay on time, banks will begin to consider you for low-interest car loans and mortgages as soon as a year or two after your bankruptcy.

My ex is filing bankruptcy. What does that mean for me?

One of the questions we are most frequently asked is, "What happens to me if my former spouse declares bankruptcy?" The answer is, as always, it depends. Mainly it depends on whether you are obligated on any of your ex's debts. These could be credit cards, car loans, or mortgages that the two of you entered into jointly or that you are a co-signer for. A proactive first step is to pull your credit report and see if any of your ex's debts appear on it.  You are entitled to get one free copy of your credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting agencies. You can get yours online at

If you find debts on your credit report that relate to your former spouse, it may be smart to review your divorce decree and see if they were, or were supposed to be, resolved as a term of the divorce. You may want to call your divorce attorney for clarification.

If you have taken out joint debts and your ex files bankruptcy, you may be facing liability for 100% of them.  If you find yourself in this position it is probably worth your time to come in for a free consultation.  It is possible that your ex is filing bankruptcy due to an imminent creditor lawsuit.  As soon as s/he files, that creditor may turn their attention toward you.

5 steps for canceling a credit card without hurting your credit score

So you want to cancel a credit card, but you're worried that it will damage your credit score. FICO, the company that calculates your score, recently explained that the main thing to be concerned with before canceling a card is your credit utilization ratio. This is basically how much credit you're using compared to how much credit is available to you--the higher the ratio, the more it negatively affects your credit. So if you're looking to close an account without hurting your score, you need to have zero balances on all of the cards that you want to keep before canceling an account. That way, your credit utilization ratio doesn't change because it's still zero. Don't worry about a canceled card shortening your credit history--FICO recently explained that that's a myth. So, assuming that all of the credit cards that you want to keep  have a zero balance, here are 5 steps for canceling a credit card:

  • Pay the balance in full

  • Because interest may have still be accumulating, call and confirm that the card has a zero balance.

  • After confirming that you really have a zero balance, call and cancel the account.

  • Send a letter confirming that your account is closed.

  • Because it often takes awhile for the credit card company to update your credit report, wait 60 days, then use the free credit report at to confirm that the account is closed.