5 Reasons why the Christmas season is the time you are most at risk of damaging your credit rating

As credit repairers, our busiest period is in the first few months after Christmas. Clients come to us desperate for help to remove the negative listings from their credit files that are causing them to be refused home loans, car loans, personal loans and even mobile phone plans. At this time it is heads down and tails up for our team as we plough through the many cases we receive.

Before this time, we thought we’d review why the post-Christmas credit crunch may occur, and hopefully help some of you stay out of trouble.

Here are 5 Christmas hazards you should be aware of:

1. Identity theft.

With identity theft growing in severity and volume to now be the fastest growing crime in Australia, the perfect time for fraud could be the Christmas period. Scammers are out in full force and people can be lax with their personal information – never an ideal combination. Many news outlets report of fraudsters ramping up tactics – accessing people’s bank accounts and using personal information to steal identities and ruin good credit ratings.

The Government website SCAMwatch has released the 12 scams of Christmas – a report on what consumers should watch out for. A few of the prominent scams for 2011 include:

Holiday scams. Consumers are warned to look out for fake accommodation vouchers, scam travel clubs and scammers asking you to pay upfront deposits for properties which aren’t actually available for rent.
Flight scams. Scammers set up fake websites which look genuine and make you believe you are purchasing an authentic flight ticket. When you arrive at the airport you may find your booking was a fake.
Charity scams. At Christmas many legitimate charities appeal for donations of money, food, clothing and children’s gifts. Unfortunately scammers also try to get your money by camouflaging themselves as genuine charities.
Online shopping. Beware, scammers post fake classified ads, auction listings, and run bogus websites. If you get caught by a scammer you will not only lose your money but will also never receive the item you were trying to purchase!

If fraudsters are able to access your personal details in full to commit identity theft – they have basically the key to your good credit rating. They can run up credit all over town in your name. Often it’s not until you go to apply for credit in your own right and are refused that you realise your credit file has been misused.  With adverse listings difficult for the individual to remove, and with defaults remaining on your credit file for 5 years your life is basically set to be turned upside down without the help of a credit repairer.

2. Overlooking bill payments.

There is no doubt the lead up to Christmas is busy. Work is incredibly fast-paced, kids have prizegivings, graduations, Christmas parties and holidays, the Christmas shopping needs to get finished, Christmas food needs to be bought, and holidays need to be booked and planned. The fallout from all of this stress can be the little $180 phone bill that gets shoved in a drawer to think about at a later date, or you can even forget to transfer money for the mortgage payment.

Then you go away for a few weeks in January to unwind trying to put Christmas, work, and stress behind you while you dip your toes in the water and sip your margarita.

When you get back, there may be a notice in the mail saying the phone company or the bank has listed your account as unpaid and put a default listing on your credit file. Or it may not be until you apply for credit again that you find out about the bill – but by then it is much too late.

60 days is all it takes to have an unpaid account listed as a default on your credit file.

Before you get into the Christmas rush, nominate a place for all of your bills and make a point of actioning them all as soon as you can. Don’t let the New Year go by without clearing your debts – especially if you are going on holiday for a significant period.

3. Moving and transfers.

Moving house is a very common reason people have bills and even default notices go undetected which can lead to a bad credit rating. As Christmas and New Year is a very common time for transfers and other work changes to occur that could see you moving interstate it is very important to tie up all loose ends in your current address.

At least two weeks prior to your move, notify all creditors of your change of address and when that will occur and get confirmation of the receipt of your new address in writing or via email from them. When cancelling utility and phone accounts, give those creditors the date of your move and request to settle the account on that date. Ask for confirmation that the account has been settled sent to you via email or to your new address. Make a diary note to chase this up if it has not been sent within a week of your move.

The number one rule for moving is get all changes confirmed in writing. Otherwise accounts may not be completely settled, and the creditors may not have your new address to send you any outstanding debts, resulting in a bad credit rating which you would only find out about when you are going for credit in a separate instance.

4. Over committing and spiralling into debt.

It may be a simple rule, but one which can be difficult to apply when you get caught up in the “Christmas spirit” – don’t spend what you can’t afford.

You may, as many do, feel the pressure to “give” so much you do so at the expense of your own budget and ultimately end up with a debt you cannot pay back. The end result of this can be getting into more debt to pay the original debt. It eventually catches up with you, and you end up with loan commitments you can’t meet or other bills get neglected because you just can’t afford to pay it all. Creditors start to default your credit file. Your financial freedom is compromised.

Savings guide Australia offers some tips this season on ways to have a great Christmas without blowing the budget. Our best advice is actually to have a budget and stick to it. Reducing spending on each person by even 20% will make a massive difference at the end of your shopping. You should also write a shopping list and stick to it, minimising the likelihood of impulse buying.

Remember it’s the thought that counts!

5. Overlooking errors and omissions from Creditors.

This is the silly season – and everyone is busy and preoccupied. The volume of transactions may increase while staff decrease, putting stress on Creditors’ systems. For this reason it is crucial to keep an eye on your own finances.

Check your bank statements (it could even help with Christmas budgeting), check your bills as they come in and make sure everything is as it should be. Know which bills are due and when. If you don’t receive a bill for whatever reason, chase it up. The Creditor will more than likely still have a record of the bill – it may have been lost in the mail or sent to the wrong person. But in the end you are the one who will pay for their oversight.

This is also a good time to request a free copy of your credit file from one or more of the credit reporting agencies if you haven’t already this year. You will receive a copy of your credit report within 10 working days. You should check that all of your details are correct. Check there are no adverse listings on your credit file which could prevent you from accessing credit in the future. If there are negative listings – defaults, writs or Judgments which you believe contain errors, are unfair or just shouldn’t be there, you have the right to have these entries rectified.

Make your life easier and ensure you get the best chance of getting the listing/s removed by instilling the help of a credit repairer. Visit MyCRA Credit Repairs for more information on how credit repair works, or call tollfree on 1300 667 218.

Image: Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1. Image: Chris Sharp / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 3. Image: Digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 4. Image: worradmu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 5. Image: nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net