In the latest Money Matters report, a personal finance expert offers tips for consumers to clean up their credit score. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.
The Federal Reserve says Americans have more than $850 billion in credit card debt. That's a pretty big mess, which is why personal finance expert Beverly Harzog, who wrote about her previous plastic problems in the book "Confessions of a Credit Junkie," recommends we all do a little spring cleaning.
You can start, she says, by clearing the cobwebs out of your credit report. Check everything from your social security number and mailing address to the big red flags that indicate fraud.
"You want to look for accounts that you didn't open," Harzog says. "It's not that complicated to look at a credit report, so just go through every line item."
You can get a free report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year by visiting annualcreditreport.com.
What credit reports won't show you are the individual purchases made with your card. For that, you'll need to log in to your account online and check for any unfamiliar activity.
Harzog says recent security breaches at major retailers make it all the more important to be doubly diligent.
"If you've used your card somewhere and you've heard that there's a hacking, check it several times a day," Harzog says. "If everything seems to be fine, checking it a couple times a week is fine, but make a vow to yourself that that's part of your financial housekeeping."
While you're in there poking around, take note of any recurring charges for subscriptions or services you no longer use or never intended to buy.
"Maybe you signed up for a gym, or maybe you tried to get a free credit score and you accidentally signed up for a credit monitoring service," Harzog says. "Some people think, 'OK, I'm going to get the free score and then cancel the service,' and they forget."
The last thing to look at a look at your card's rates and fees. Think you can do better? Speak up.
"If you're a great card holder, you pay your bills on time, you've got an excellent FICO score, yes, negotiate. You can even ask to have an annual fee waived," Harzog says. "And if you're getting some credit card offers in the mail for interest rates that are better than the one that you have, use that as leverage."
Finally, since nothing will tarnish your credit score faster than missing a payment, Harzog suggests you set up alerts and reminders to help your financial house stay spick and span.