Last week's Question and Answer:
I was conceived at a 1978 gathering of biologists in Switzerland. These folks were interested in using genetic engineering to improve human health care. Today, based in Cambridge, Mass., I'm one of the world's premiere biotech companies and am the oldest independent one. I introduced my first proprietary product, AVONEX, in 1996, to treat relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis. Smith- Kline Beecham and Merck sell Hepatitis B vaccines developed using my research. My researchers are focusing on novel products for multiple sclerosis, inflammatory, respiratory, kidney and cardiovascular diseases and in developmental biology and gene therapy. I have many products in my pipeline. Who am I? (Answer: Biogen)
The Fool School
It's good to check on your credit report now and then to make sure that it's accurate. This is especially true and can save you headaches if you plan to be applying for credit (such as a mortgage) in the near future.
There are three credit bureaus that keep credit records on consumers: Equifax (800-685-1111, www.equifax.com), Experian (888-397-3742, www.experian.com) and Transunion (800-888-4213, www.transunion.com). You should be able to contact any or all of them to get a copy of your credit report. Some experts recommend getting all three reports, as some information on you may have been reported to just one bureau. You can order a copy of your combined credit report from all three bureaus at www.truelink.com.
In some circumstances, getting a report from one of these bureaus is free such as if you live in certain states (Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and Vermont, last time we checked), or within 60 days of being denied credit, employment, insurance or rental housing. Otherwise, it may cost you about $8 per report, or more for a three-in-one combined report.
If there are errors on your report, you can have them corrected. Somewhere in the report, often at the end, there should be instructions on how to dispute anything that you believe is an error. Credit bureaus are required to investigate and correct mistakes.
If some negative information there is correct, though, expect it to remain there for seven to 10 years (usually seven, but 10 for bankruptcies). You can lessen the sting of that information, though, by paying your bills on time. Credit issuers tend to give more weight to your recent bill-paying history, so a clean record for the last year or two can make a real difference.
Finally, beware of "credit repair" clinics. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), these are often scams. Experian concurs, noting that "consumers pay so-called credit clinics hundreds and even thousands of dollars to 'fix' their credit report, but only time can heal bad credit."
Learn more about credit issues at www.truecredit. com/Help/CreditCentral.asp, and www.ftc.gov. For copies of FTC brochures on credit issues, call 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).