Nov. 10, 2008 -- Over the past couple of weeks I have written columns about how to find unclaimed savings bonds in your family's name and about the dangers of the for-profit credit repair companies. I received a number of follow-up questions from you, my readers, so here are the answers.
Question: Where do you cash in the savings bonds? Thank you. -- D.W., Florida
Answer: Silly me. I went into great detail about how you can go to the government's Web site, http://www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/tools/tools_treasuryhunt.htm and find out if there are forgotten bonds in your name, but I didn't explain how to actually get the money. If you don't have the actual paper certificate, follow the instructions on the Web site. If you do have the paper bonds, you can cash them in at most any commercial bank.
Question: My son has series EE bonds that have been given to him since birth (he's 12 now). I just put them in an envelope and forget about them. I suppose when he's 30 + years old, he can start cashing them in. I know nothing about all this bond business. What if he needs money before the 30 year mark, how much are the bonds worth? -- C.G., New York
Answer: The Treasury Department has a calculator on its Web site that shows you the current value of your bonds and what kind of interest they are earning. It can be found here: http://deposits.interest.com/includes/frames/hyperlink_icom.asp?link_address=http://www.treasurydirect.gov/BC/SBCPrice
Question: I read your article about credit repair companies. Basically, I'd like to know, how do I know if they are legal or not? I'd like to fix some things in my credit, but I don't have the time to write the letters and follow-up. Can a credit repair company be reputable? -- H.P., Florida
Answer: Gosh. I'm not sure how much more clear I could have been. My column stated: "The Federal Trade Commission has never seen a legitimate credit repair company." Credit repair is a scam. Period. Make the time to order your credit reports and fill out the simple form to dispute inaccuracies yourself.
Question: I had a bankruptcy in 2005 and lost my house in Pennsylvania in 2006. I have excellent credit since then, never miss a payment on any bill. What can I do to raise my score? There is so much confusing info out there. Of course, I will not go to one of those credit repair companies! Where can I get the best info on fixing, changing, bettering my credit report as best I can in 2009? -- C.A., California
Answer: Unfortunately, bankruptcies and foreclosures are two of the biggest black marks you can have on your credit report. The information from your bankruptcy won't "fall off" the report for 10 years. In the meantime, with every bill you pay on time your score will rise ever-so-slightly. It is a slow process. See the next question, for information on how to dispute other items on your report that may be dragging your score down.
Question: My fiancé has something on her credit that went onto her credit eight months after we had paid it to a collections agency. Now, according to the credit report, her bank never received the payment that was made to the collections agency and that is why they put it on her credit. What can we do to dispute this? We have proof of the payment, with confirmation from the agency with the dates and the amounts in question. Please, any help would be greatly appreciated. -- B.O., California
Answer: People often think they have to work with the individual company where they incurred the debt. Often your debt has actually been sold to a collection company. There is a way to bypass all this confusion. Just go to www.annualcreditreport.com, the government Web site set up to help you order your free credit reports from the big three credit bureaus.
Get a report from all three: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Then follow the simple directions each bureau gives for disputing inaccuracies. The fact that you have documents showing you paid the debt is golden. Allow 30 to 45 days for your dispute to be resolved, which means if you're planning to apply for a big loan, you'll want to get started on this well in advance.