Category Archives: Credit

Free Credit Reports: A Walkthrough

About this time every year I try to remind myself to send away for a free credit report from both TransUnion and Equifax. Taking a look at your own report allows you to see how lenders view you, and also lets you check to make sure there are no mistakes.

In case some of you are unsure of how to get this information, I thought I would walk you through it.

First we’re going to download the report request forms from the two companies: Transunion and Equifax and fill them out. While providing your Social Insurance Number is optional, I have heard that it speeds up the process.

You will also have to photocopy both sides of two pieces of major ID, such as your driver’s license and passport, and submit that with your request form. Combined, the two pieces of ID should have your address, name, signature, and date of birth.

And that’s it. Mail them to the respective agencies (addresses on each form) and wait to get your free credit report.

I should point out that this is just your credit report. It has all the information about your credit history, but not your credit score.

Once you get it in the mail you want to check for mistakes and correct any if they exist. Mistakes may be as small as a mis-spelled street name, so take a good look. A good document to look through while you wait, and alongside the credit reports once you get them, is called “Understanding Your Credit Report,” which I have linked under “Resources” in the side-bar to the right.

Change Cards… Not Accounts

Banking can sometimes be a lot like baking. Change an ingredient and you change the result.

Sometime ago I changed my bank account to reflect my usage. I changed from a monthly fee to a free, pay per debit charge plan. The side-effect was that the fee on my credit card was no longer waived. The annual fee was less than the total monthly fees on the bank account, but it was still annoying.

I didn’t want to close my credit card account, however, because it had a 12 year history, and removing that would affect my credit score, which is something I want to keep relatively intact.

What I then thought about, and confirmed through a phone call, is that changing cards on the same account keeps the account in tact, so does not affect your score. Doing so keeps the same account active, and the information still flowing to the reporting agencies.

To clarify, your credit card is merely the piece of plastic. Your credit account is broader, and dates back to when you first applied for credit with a particular provider. In my case, I have had 3 credit cards on the same account. The first was a student card, the second was the normal version of the previous card that I switched to after graduation, and now a third card. However, my account is the same 12-year-old account.

You may not be able to switch from, say, a point card to an airmiles card, or a gas point card to a cash-back card (check with your provider), but you should be able to switch to a similarly structured card with the same provider. I switched to a no annual fee card that has the same point system (though it accumulates at a slower rate), so I can still use my points toward my RRSP or TFSA. I also ended up getting half of my last fee credited back to my account. The change also gives me some better travel insurance, and extended warranty of products bought with the card.

When it comes down to it, unless you are putting a lot of purchases on your card to justify the annual fee, you are probably better off with a no-fee card. Calling to change cards on the same account will save you money and leave your credit score untouched.

Use Sink Funds for Bills

Recently I’ve been thinking about using something akin to a sink fund within our budget.

A sink fund is a business term used by some companies that issue bonds. They may set up a sink fund that, basically, saves money to use toward paying back the principal on their debt. That is to say, the money is still in their possession, but it is earmarked for paying back debt and can’t be used for anything else.

The idea goes as follows: set up a separate high interest savings account and label it, say, credit sink fund. Use your card as usual, but when you get home after any purchase, jump online and transfer the corresponding amount from your main saving/checking account to the credit sink fund.

Do that for the month until your payment date comes, and then pay off your credit card balance using your sink fund.

What advantage does this have?

In real terms, absolutely none. Psychologically, however, I think it has a few benefits. First and foremost, there is absolutely no surprise when your bill comes. Since you have been adding to your sink fund throughout the month, you would be constantly aware of how much you have owing. Linked to this, you would never have to think about what is in your checking account. Anything in the account is yours to do as you wish, because you have already taken care of your credit through the sink fund.

To a lesser degree, you would also be gaining interest in your sink fund that allows you to see the financial benefit of your interest free loan from the credit card company. (Let’s be clear, you are no better off, as the interest would have been gained in your main account. This just shows you exactly how much is a result of your using credit.)

The above mentioned DOES have a benefit over using a debit card, however, as debits are removed from your account right away, meaning you are giving up interest for the rest of the month, and any points or other rewards that are associated with your credit card.

You just need to be responsible, and pay off in full every month.

Mortgage Lenders Not Renewing

A guest writer over on the Million Dollar Journey blog reported that some mortgage lenders are either leaving the Canadian market (hence not renewing mortgages) or are only renewing if certain conditions can be met (based a lot on credit score, it seems).

Worst of all, it seems that borrowers are not being informed until 90 days before renewal.

If you have your mortgage at any of the following, you may want to first read the original post linked above (though it’s a bit of a roller coaster), and then call to see if you will be able to renew:

  • Xceed Mortgage Corporation
  • Accredited Home Lenders
  • HSBC Finance
  • GMAC
  • GE Money or
  • ResMor

No matter what, if you have good credit you won’t have a problem: you just may have to do some running around to have it renewed at a different place.

A Second Credit Card, Part 1.5

As I mentioned in an earlier post (which I consider part 1), I am in the market for a second credit card, and promised to explain why.

Don’t worry. I’m not in any financial trouble; far from it, actually. But we would like to buy a house or condo about 5 years from now.

What does that have to do with a second credit card?  Some time back I read on the Canadian Mortgage Trends blog that beyond having a good credit score, “lenders often want to see a minimum of 1-2 years of satisfactory payment history and at least two trade lines.”

Depending on which company is used, I have either a 799 or an 839 credit score, both of which are well above national averages. Still, the fact that my credit history is mostly made up of my 12-year-old credit card, a couple of inactive department store cards, and two student loans I paid off 3 years ago, it got me thinking.

Armed with print-outs of a recent credit score and report, I met with a mortgage specialist at my bank when I was in Canada last December, just to talk hypothetically. He said that based on my score and a look at my history, he would give me a mortgage at prime, but said/hinted that, yes, having a second active credit card would help, and maybe give me some more bargaining power if it had some history to it.

Since any mortgage is 5 years or so down the road, it seems like the best time to add a new card to my portfolio. First, it will give some history to the card. Second, it will take care of the second trade line. And third, by getting the card now, the effect of a lower credit score (which will happen as soon as I apply for new credit) will be made moot by the fact that it will be a five-year-old card by the time I look for a mortgage.

The only problem? In my search for my second card, I’m finding myself being very very picky. It  just may take me 5 years to select the one I want.