Tuesday, October 20, 2009

For the Love of $.19

Written by: Toby Smith

I had an experience this week that really brought home the message we preach to all clients-new, returning, and prospective; CHECK YOUR CREDIT REPORTS ON A REGULAR BASIS!

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to check my credit report four times a year, instead of two, and during the January check up, I was not happy to see that a problem I thought had been resolved with a local utility company was still showing on my report. I made a mental note to check it again, and to take further action, if necessary. Well, the fall check up arrived, and the problem was still not resolved so I put on my battle gear and called the company.

A pleasant representative, who verified my identity, pulled up the account, and while I couldn’t swear to it, I thought I heard her laugh before she said, “The balance is $.19 cents.”

SAY WHAT???? This has to be a joke! Either a very good one, or a really bad one, but this can’t be!

“Yes, ma’am,” the representative continued, “You did pay the account, but the cents were left off, so technically it’s not paid in full. Let me transfer you down to the credit folks,” she added rather quickly.

Lots of negative thoughts played pinball in my head and the “hold” music, some Kenny G. wannabe, was not making the situation any better. Then, another voice of authority came on the line.

“How can I help you?”

She didn’t say it, but I heard it in her voice – get to the point, no crying, and don’t waste my time!

I humbly explained my sad tale, and advised her of what I learned minutes before. She listened patiently, before dropping the hammer.

“Well, the information you have received is correct. You have two choices, wait for the information to fall off your report, or come down and pay it. We report to the credit bureaus on the 15th and the 30th.”

I went into argument mode, explaining that I had paid the balance off last year; the status should have changed. By now, I’m slightly raising my voice and ask, “Are you telling me that the status didn’t change because of 19 lousy cents? Is that what you’re saying?”

She didn’t even flinch.

“Yes, that’s correct. The bureaus do not recognize the cents, but we do, and that’s why this remains open. You can come down and pay it. We report to the bureaus…[blah, blah, blah]…and here’s your account number for future reference…[blah, blah, blah]…and we close at 5 pm. Have a nice day."


No chance of that!


So, I left work at 3:30 pm, drove 20 minutes, parked, and went inside to pay my $.19 cents. (See, it does pay to keep pennies!)

Aside from a good laugh, I would be grateful if you would take away the following:

1. Check your credit report more than twice a year. Once a quarter isn’t a bad idea, especially, if you are in serious “clean up the credit” mode.

2. Checking your own report presents no problem. However, shopping for credit generates inquiries. There are two types; hard – car dealerships, banks, credit unions and; soft – credit card promo offers, etc. Both can drop your score from three to five points a pop.

3. With respect to status, paying “as agreed” is always the goal. “Current was” means that you fell behind but brought the entry current. “Collection” indicates that you have stopped paying and “Charge off” means that the creditor wrote the item off as a lost cause. But rest assured, it will find a home on your credit report. Seeing the word “paid” in front of collection or charge off indicates that the item was addressed, which is generally a good thing for your numbers. Be careful about paying any and everything, though; some old items can get you into trouble.

4. The folks you do business with either report your monthly affairs to the credit bureau or they don’t. Hopefully they do, and it’s very important that everything goes to all three bureaus, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

5. You might want to pay things down to the penny….

6. If you don’t check your credit report regularly, be prepared for the unexpected, nasty, surprises to pop up. Family Services, Inc. offers a popular class called Credit Cents, which, among other things, teaches participants how to read a tri-merge report (the three credit bureaus) report and encourages the development of a written action plan. For more information on Credit Cents call 735-7862 or visit the website at www.fsisc.org and click on Credit Improvement under Homeownership Resources or Consumer Credit Counseling.

Just a word of warning…if you come to a Credit Cents class, expect to hear this story again. If we ever meet, expect to hear about the day I had to pay $.19. My great-grandchildren–who are nowhere in sight–are going to get a letter about the benefits of checking credit reports regularly.

The receipt reads:
Prior Balance: 0.19
Payment: 0.19
New Balance 0

For the love of $.19…. smile