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New Personal Finance Tools Worth a Look PDF Print E-mail
Written by DAVID PITT, AP Personal Finance Writer   
Thursday, 05 May 2011 02:58

Here are a few new resources to help you get more informed and make better financial decisions.

Calculators to help you see where your credit score stands, a free credit report monitoring service, and a way to research financial advisers are among new personal finance tools worth checking out.

CREDIT SCORE ESTIMATE

Keeping track of your credit score is an important aspect of managing personal finances. As a starting point it's best to use the government's free credit report service at www.annualcreditreport.com .

There you can request your credit report from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, the three major reporting agencies.

Checking the reports regularly for errors and to be sure no unauthorized accounts have been opened in your name is a smart strategy.

However, to get your actual credit score, you have to pay typically around $15 to $20. If you're in the market for a loan, it's important to know your score and rectify any problems on your report so that you'll receive the best interest rate possible.

Recently new calculators that estimate your credit score based on a few basic questions have emerged. The questions typically include age of oldest credit account, such as a credit card, auto loan or other obligation.

Also, how many accounts are listed on your credit report, the credit limit and balances for all accounts, and the number of times you've applied for credit.

The questions address the major points the credit rating agencies use to come up with a score.

One of the new calculators is offered by Black Book, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based company known for its online vehicle trade-in information. The credit score calculator is at http://blackbookcreditscore.com .

After answering a dozen questions, users receive an estimated credit score range.

"It's empowering customers to make more informed decisions," said Mike McFall, president of the online division of Black Book.

You'll find similar calculators at a Visa USA Inc. site: http://www.whatsmyscore.org/ estimator. And at Bankrate.com: http://www.bankrate.com/ calculators/credit-score-ficocalculator. aspx .

It's fine to use these calculators for a rough idea of your score. However, if you're seriously considering a loan and don't want to be surprised, it's wise to buy a score from one of the credit rating agencies or at www.myfico.com .

CREDIT MONITORING

There's been a recent string of hacking incidents in which account information was stolen. Each time such a security breach makes the headlines it causes concern about whether our money and credit are safe.

Credit monitoring services, which notify you of any changes to your credit report, are abundant but they carry a fee.

One provider, IdentityIQ, is now offering a free daily credit monitoring service at www.freeidentityiq.com .

To sign up go to the site and type "free" in the area that asks for a promo code. You'll enter basic information including a Social Security number and birth date to help identify your credit report. You will not have to enter any credit card numbers or have to pay.

The free service offers monitoring of one of the three credit reports. If there's a change in your report such as a new address, credit inquiries and new accounts opened, you'll receive an email.

If you're notified of a change you can log into the IdentityIQ site to find out more about what's happened. If you have questions, you can call the company's support staff, said Mikol Sesker, the company's president.

There's no obligation to buy a credit report or other service from the company. The hope is that the free service will be an entry point for new users to become acquainted with upgraded services for a fee.

Such services include monitoring all three credit agencies, credit scores, and identity theft insurance coverage.

ADVISER DIRECTORY

Consumers will benefit from a new service that's being developed by San Diego-based BrightScope Inc., a provider of investment research and financial data.

The company recently launched a searchable database of financial advisers from across the country.

Each adviser has a profile that lists location, experience, qualifications, amount and types of assets under management, area of specialty, legal disputes, and formal complaints.

The data on the site is still being populated. Eventually profiles also will list fees and performance figures, said BrightScope CEO Mike Alfred.

"There certainly are red flags in these types of disclosures that when added up over time can give a consumer just a hint of what that person is really like," Alfred said. "That's what this is really all about is providing information that can help people make better decisions."

The site is located at: http://www.brightscope.com/ financial-planning/find/advisor .

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