Your Top 11 Credit Questions Answered

It sounds like you have little income and no assets. If that's the case, it may be that you are "judgment proof." That means that even if someone tried to sue you, there wouldn't be any way to force you to pay. Creditors generally cannot seize Social Security payments to pay debts. In addition, most retirement accounts (IRAs, pension plans, etc.) are also protected from creditor claims. If you are judgment proof, there may be no reason to file for bankruptcy.

You may want to talk with a bankruptcy attorney to assess your situation, especially if you have assets such as a home or money in bank accounts outside of retirement accounts.

If you are judgment proof, you will likely be able to stop the creditors or collectors from contacting you by simply writing a letter indicating that you have no income other than Social Security payments and no assets. Explain that you have no way to pay them and ask them to stop contacting you. At that point, they likely will stop. Keep copies of your letters, send the letters certified mail, and keep copies of any correspondence you receive. If you are sent any papers that indicate they may be trying to sue you, contact a consumer law attorney immediately.

7. Will checking my credit report hurt my credit score?

No. When you check your own credit report through a service that sells credit reports directly to consumers, you create what is called a "soft inquiry." These inquiries are listed when you review your own credit report, but they are not shown to creditors and do not affect your score. You can pull a free copy of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com or you can check your credit scores using the free Credit Report Card.

It's a great idea to review your credit report on a regular basis, so go for it.

8. How many points does an inquiry take off your credit report?

There is no set number of points that will be deducted from your score for a single inquiry. The same inquiry from the same lender at the same minute can affect two people's credit reports differently.

In general, inquiries are a small part of your credit score (less than 5%), and the stronger your score, the less likely one or two inquiries are to have an effect on your score.

Nevertheless, be very careful about applying for new credit, a cell phone, insurance, or anything that might result in a credit check if you are in the process of getting a mortgage. Sometimes a score drop of just a few points can drop your score below the range for the rate you are trying to get.

9. My ex-husband was supposed to pay this account, he didn't, and it damaged my score. Now what do I do?

Joint accounts can create problems long after a marriage is over. Even though your ex-spouse is supposed to pay the bill according to the divorce decree, you are still on the hook for the debt to the lender if you are a co-signer. That's because your divorce decree is an agreement between you and your ex. It doesn't erase the original contract you had with the lender.

As far as your credit is concerned, the late payment will likely be considered accurate, since the account is still yours until it is paid off, closed, or refinanced into your ex-spouse's name. Once in a while, a creditor will agree to remove the late payment from the innocent spouse's credit report, but may require that it be paid off first.

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