Ask an Expert: Lisa Barber on Credit Score and Taxes


Have a question for our experts? This line is open until Friday, January 21st. Lisa will then answer the top questions and we’ll post the answers right here.

Q: What is a credit report?

 

A: A credit report is an accumulation of information about how you pay your bills and repay loans, how much credit you have available, what your monthly debts are, and other types of information that can help a potential lender decide whether you are a good credit risk or a bad credit risk. This information is compiled by 3 nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Trans Union, Equifax, and Experian.

Q: What is the best way to monitor and improve my credit score?

 

A: I would recommend checking your credit report at least once annually. There is a central site that allows you to request a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies, www.annualcreditreport.com. You are your own best advocate so do not rely on monitoring services, do this yourself. There are several things to be aware of with your credit report: inaccuracy’s, unauthorized inquiry’s, and identity theft.

To dispute inaccuracies you will follow the specific instructions on your credit report. You will be able to enter disputes online, by phone, or by mail.

To eliminate unauthorized inquiry’s to your credit report you can go directly to one of the 3 consumer credit reporting companies and Opt Out of pre-approved credit offers.

To protect against identity theft we would recommend putting a good Identity Theft Insurance in place. Educate yourself on these types of services. While no company can completely protect you from a breach, there are services that are more than worth the cost!

Q: If my husband has better credit than me, can he add me to his credit card to raise my credit?

 

A: If your husband were to add you to his credit card you would become an authorized user and it would not affect your credit in anyway.

Q: What exactly is included in my credit report?

 

A:

  • Federal district bankruptcy records and state and county court records of tax liens and monetary judgments. This information comes from public records.
  • Specific information about each account, such as the date opened, credit limit or loan amount, balance, monthly payment and payment pattern during the past several years. This information comes from companies that do business with you.
  • The names of those who have obtained a copy of your credit report. (On your copy of your Experian credit report, addresses are included.) This information comes from the credit reporting agency.
  • Your name, current and previous addresses, phone number, Social Security number, date of birth, and current and previous employers. Your spouse’s name may appear on your version of the credit report, but it will not appear on the version that is provided to others. This information comes in part from your credit applications, so its accuracy depends on your filling out the forms clearly, completely and consistently each time you apply for credit.
  • Statements of dispute, which allow both consumers and creditors to report the factual history of an account. Statements of dispute are added after a consumer officially disputes the status of an account, the account has been reinvestigated, and the consumer and creditor cannot agree about the account status. Both the consumer’s and creditor’s statements of the account status will appear on the credit report.
    Q: What’s the most common mistake people make on their taxes?

     

    A: Believe it or not one of the biggest mistakes made is just adding correctly. Even people filing the simplest returns can have this problem. Other mistakes include everything from not handling rebates and credits correctly and miscalculating earned income credits to wrong social security numbers and addresses. We always recommend finding help with a tax professional for filing your returns. You definitely want to be involved and educated, but find an expert. You may want to do it yourself to save money, but the cost of a mistake may far out way any savings you may think you’ve made.

    Q: How do I decide whether to do my taxes myself or hire someone?

     

    A: Before you determine whether or not to hire a tax professional or do your taxes yourself ask yourself a couple of very key questions. First, do I really know enough about taxes to rely on a tax software that I am equally as uneducated about? Second, has there been a change in my life this last year that may have a greater effect on my taxes than I realize? A change such as unemployment, self employed, got married, received an inheritance, or sold a home or other assets. The list could go on! Third, do I have any fear of making a mistake at all?
    There are several popular do it yourself programs that are extremely user friendly. Turbo Tax and Tax Act are two, but we will always lean toward the side of caution and encourage you to meet with a tax professional to save time, money, and stress.

    Q: How do I declare flood damages on my taxes?

     

    A: There are Disaster Loss Kits for both individual and businesses on the IRS website at www.irs.gov. These kits are lengthy and quite involved, but they do give good information regarding the documents you will need to gather for your tax preparer. Definitely seek the help of a tax professional if you are dealing with disaster claims.