This week I offer you another one of my "resource columns" -- this time on credit, the topic I get asked about most. I've been doing a lot of these link-packed columns lately and gotten a great response. It seems sometimes the biggest battle is finding the right resources to help you manage your money wisely and SAVE BIG.
Getting Credit Reports and Credit Scores
The big three credit bureaus are all now required by law to provide you a free copy yearly of the report they have compiled on you. Here is the website set up by the government to order your reports. One great strategy is to order from one bureau every four months instead of ordering them all at once, so that you are monitoring your credit year-round. Click here.
If you find mistakes on your credit report -- which is frustratingly common -- you should dispute them. If the credit bureau refuses to help you, complain. The Federal Trade Commission or FTC, is the nation's consumer watchdog, and the agency tasked with enforcing the Fair Credit Reporting Act and making sure credit bureaus respond to consumer complaints of inaccuracy. Click here.
Many people mistakenly believe they can get their credit score for free as well. Not so. (A few companies offer them for free, but with lots of strings attached.) FICO scores, developed by Fair, Isaac and Co., are the only ones that really matter when you need a loan. You can buy a genuine FICO score from Fair Isaac directly. Each score costs about $16. You don't need all the other bells and whistles unless you want them. Click here.
Legitimate Credit Counseling
There are lots of rogue credit counselors out there who will put you deeper in debt rather than helping you get out of debt. You can find a legitimate credit counselor through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling -- click here -- or through the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. Click here.
If you have credit card debt, one way to dig out faster is to transfer your debt to the lowest-interest-rate cards you can get. Just don't apply for more than one at a time. That can hurt your credit score.
Several websites list low-interest credit cards and these links will take you directly to the pages you need.
Be the hunter, not the hunted! You can seek out credit card offers that fit your lifestyle -- a low-interest card when you have debt, a rewards card if you don't carry a balance -- when you want them. But you don't have to tolerate the flood of preapproved credit card offers that jam your mailbox. You can opt out of receiving them. Click here.
Better Bank Accounts
Want to earn a higher interest rate on your bank account? The website Money-Rates.com lists the highest savings account interest rates at any given time. Click here.
And the website CheckingFinder does the same for checking accounts. Click here.
Finding Unclaimed Money, Savings Bonds
If your debt is depressing you, finding some unclaimed money would cheer you up and you can put it toward the debt! You don't have to pay for this information. Use the website set up by the states to find it for free. Click here.
Forgotten savings bonds can be another windfall. There are more than $12.5 billion worth of forgotten savings bonds waiting to be claimed. To see if there are unredeemed savings bonds in your family's name, you can do a simple search online through the Treasury Department's Treasury Hunt program. Click here.