Credit is an important money management tool for both young and older consumers. Yet the elderly, particularly older women may find it difficult to get credit.
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If you’re an older consumer who has paid with cash all your life, you may find it difficult to open a credit account. That’s because you have “no credit history” of how you paid on credit. If your income has decreased, you may find it harder to get a loan because you have “insufficient income.” Or, if your spouse dies, you may find creditors trying to close joint accounts. A “joint account” is one for which both spouses applied and signed the credit agreement.
Under the federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), it’s against the law for a creditor to deny you credit or terminate existing credit simply because of your age. This brochure explains your rights and offers tips for applying for and maintaining credit.
Applying for Credit
Applying for credit used to mean asking your neighborhood banker for a loan. Now, with national credit cards and computerized applications, the day of personal evaluations may be over. Instead, computer evaluations look at, among other things, your income, payment history, credit card accounts, and any outstanding balances. Paying in cash and in full may be sound financial advice, but they won’t give you a payment history that helps you get credit.
A major indicator of your ability to repay a loan is your current income. Those who consider income must include types of income that are likely to be received by older consumers. This includes salaries from part-time employment, Social Security, pensions, and other retirement benefits.
You also may want to tell creditors about assets or other sources of income, such as your home, additional real estate, savings and checking accounts, money market funds, certificates of deposit, and stocks and bonds.
If you’re age 62 or over, you have certain other protections. You can’t be denied credit because credit-related insurance is not available based on your age. Credit insurance pays off the creditor if you should die or become disabled.
On the other hand, a creditor can consider your age to:
– favor applicants who are age 62 or older.
– determine other elements of creditworthiness. For example, a creditor could consider whether you’re close to retirement age and a lower income.
While a creditor cannot take your age directly into account, a creditor may consider age as it relates to certain elements of creditworthiness. If, for example, at the age of 70, you apply for a 30-year mortgage, a lender might be concerned that you may not live to repay the loan. However, if you apply for a shorter loan term, increase your down payment, or do both, you might satisfy the creditor’s concerns.
Checking Your Credit History
A credit report includes information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. Nationwide consumer reporting companies sell the information in your report to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting a home.
You may find that your file doesn’t list all of your credit accounts. That’s because not all creditors report to consumer reporting companies. You may ask that additional accounts be reported to your file. Some bureaus may charge for this service.
Credit information about shared accounts should be reported in your name and your spouse’s. If it’s not, ask the creditor in writing to report the account in both names.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.
To order your free annual report from one or all the national consumer reporting companies, visit: www.annualcreditreport.com; call toll-free: 1-877-322-8228; or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
Do not contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies individually; they provide free annual credit reports only through www.annualcreditreport.com, 1-877-322-8228, and Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.