Thursday, September 10, 2009

Credit scores, reports, and the things we get from our parents

Weight: 248.7

So, I have a kindle. I love it. One of the things I love most about it is that you can download the first chapter for free of any book you're interested in. So, if I'm say, looking for a humor book, I can download a few chapters until I run into one that really cracks me up. Recently, I was looking for a personal finance book. I'm not in debt, but many personal finance begin with the importance of getting out of debt. One of the things that came up in several of the books was "Getting out of debt is a lot like losing weight."

Today's post is going to be a lot more about money than it will be about weight loss, but there's a lot of overlap between the two. As we travel this journey of self betterment, building healthy bodies, I think it's worth spending a bit of time to get our financial houses in order as well.

I've always been interested in finance. Through most of college I thought I would go into investment banking. Since before I can remember, I had a "junior" bank account and my parents encouraged me to save some of my allowance and birthday money, and later baby sitting earnings and writing prize winnings. (I'm not much of a writer these days, but in High School I won some substantive prize money through Scholastic writing competitions, including one for the best nonfiction portfolio in New York City.) In my senior year of high school, my father went with me to Citibank to help me open real, regular savings and checking accounts complete with a debit card. Growing up, I was instilled with things that I didn't recognize as good habits, but just accepted as truth: you don't spend more than you have, you pay your bills off in full each month, and you always pay on time.

(This is where one could note that there are all sorts of food lessons I didn't learn from my parents, like don't eat when you're not hungry, get in fruits and vegetables, avoid processed junk, etc, but let's not be negative.)

As someone with that interest in personal finance, I sort of knew that I was mostly on the right track. I'd been paying bills on time and in full, I've started saving for retirement through a Roth IRA, and I make sure to spend less than I earn. But for a good long while, I've known that there was something else I should have done that I just hadn't yet.

For a really long time, I was scared of finding out my credit report and score. In college, I had a small medical bill that my parents insurance was supposed to pay. I sent it to my mom, who swore she sent it to her insurance, and then no one ever followed up on it. This was in maybe February or March. Spring passed and I went home for the summer. That fall, I came back to find a whole host of letters about the apparently unpaid medical bill. I was furious at my mother (she said she'd taken care of it, although in hindsight, at 19 years old I should have been responsible enough to follow up on it myself) . I paid the bill immediately, and called my mother and cried and screamed and told her she'd ruined my credit and that I'd never be able to get a mortgage or a car loan and that potential employers would see it and that it would be her fault if I didn't get a job and just all these horribly nasty things. My mother and I don't fight often, and I wasn't the type of melodramatic kid who said stuff like that on a regular basis. I was, honestly, furious, and petrified that I'd have this black mark hanging over me for 10 years all because my stupid mother hadn't made sure the insurance paid a stupid bill. I literally wouldn't return her calls for weeks. It's among the most self indulgent outbursts I've ever had (really, a 19 year old can look into these things for herself) , but it also still ranks up there as among my most terrifying experiences to this day.

So, since that happened, 4ish years ago, I'd been afraid to check my credit report.

Well guess what I just did? I checked my credit report. Each year, you're entitled by federal law to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three reporting bureaus. The only place you should go to get this score is the official government site: Do not go anywhere else:,, all the other ones you see advertising on TV are all scams. Don't go to them, they're not free, and they're not legit, in spite of their catchy jingles.

The missed medical bill wasn't on there. But what was, was fabulous. In about 6th grade, my parents gave me a credit card to use when I went shopping with my friends. In the spring of 9th grade, my dad decided to have me use a different one that would give him rewards, but at the time I thought nothing of it. But there both cards were: each with a decade of beautiful on time payments. My own credit cards (I have two, one I got in college and a more recent one that gives rewards) were there too, each with their on time payments. The $1000 credit line attached to my checking account (which I've never actually used) was there too, with on time payments dating back to when I was a senior in high school. It was beautiful. There was an error that I'm going to mail them about to get corrected (the birthdate's off by a few decades) but other than that everything was all correct and filled with green boxes for years of accounts in good standing.

Then I went to check my actual credit score. This is the number between 300 and 850 that most people think about when they think about credit scores. Until recently, it was impossible to get your credit score for free. However, an ad-supported site called Credit Karma (sort of like now lets you see your TransUnion credit score. I'm pretty cautious about providing personal information on the web, and will research sites a bunch before I'll input information. I've got enough sources to consider it safe.

And I did check it. The result: 766. High enough that I could actually qualify for the best mortgage rates at 23.

So right now, I'm just feeling thankful to my parents. For all the good habits they taught me growing up, and for the decade long record of on-time bill payments they gave me. I called them to thank them, and though I didn't apologize to my Mom (I possibly should have) , I did tell her that the medical bill did not show up.

Today, my financial house is much cleaner than it used to be. I'm glad I faced my fears and looked at the report. Knowing that I do have my finances under control makes me feel a lot closer to having my waist under control. Mostly, I feel like I'm getting closer each day to being the person I really want to be.

How closely do you think money and weight loss are related? Do you feel better than one than at the other? And the question I'm most curious about: do you check in on your credit report and/or score, and why or why not?

I also just want to quickly reiterate: please don't don't don't use a scam site. The only place to get the three annual reports you're entitled to by the government is The only reputable site for getting your credit score for free that I know of is Be extremely careful anywhere else, and avoid the credit sites that advertise on TV like the devil.


  1. Congrats on the great score! It has definitely inspired me to be cautious with my spending. Have a great day.

  2. This is cool, I have been working on putting some savings away. I was never taught anything about credit or money growing up. I didnt know about "credit" until I was 21 and I found out on my own. I am trying to fix my finances and I am even thinking of opening up another savings account for "fun things" lol. Its hard though but comforting to know that I at least have something tucked away.

    Thank you for always being so informative :) Your information always helps!

  3. WOW!! Good for you!! I do the same "hands over my eyes" approach that you did with your score with my bank account sometimes. I don't know why, I just am scared to look!

  4. My mom did a similar thing, telling me she paid my medical bill and didn't. She also lost and/or refused to give me some of my mail that consisted of bills of various types. I spent a year living in near poverty to repay everything as soon as I did a credit report and discovered all this.

    It is interesting on how these stories can be related to food - one simple mistake or lack of good knowledge can lead to years of making up for that mistake.

  5. Wow weight loss and free financial advice. Gotta love it!

    Thanks Hadley!

  6. Thanks for the tip about Credit Karma. Gonna check that out.

  7. You, my dear are a very smart 23 year old!

    Wish I had been that smart.

  8. I too wish I had had my act together when I was your age! Excellent credit score! So, are you going to buy a house in DC?

  9. Good for you! So many young people your age are already struggling. My husband and I are one of the only couples we know our age (I am 36 and he will be 40 in jan) that live in a home mortgage free. It is nice not worrying about someone taking my house away.

  10. I so wish my parents had instilled those same financial wisdoms to me. Unfortunately, they did not and so I have struggled for years.
    Thank you for the great advise and for the inspiration that it CAN be done! And keep up the good work on your diet as well!