NEW YORK -- Are you sweeping credit cards out of your wallet? Canceling those that you don't use to save money and lend an air of frugality to your credit report?
Make sure that the cancellation "takes." Even though you wrote to the creditor, canceled the account, sent back the cut-up card and got an acknowledgment, the account may still appear "open" on your credit report.
An unhappy reader in Seabrook, Texas, writes that he was just turned down for credit because of all the cards that were listed on his credit report. But two of those cards had been canceled years ago.
"Now I find out that they still appear in an active status on my credit history" he says. "How can I make my canceled cards disappear from the credit bureau files?"
First off, let me say, "Me, too." I've also found canceled cards carried on my credit history as if they were open. Many card issuers are sloppy about the way they transmit data.
To be sure that your canceled accounts have indeed been closed, get a copy of your credit report. It's free if you were turned down for credit based on information it contained. Otherwise, you'll pay anywhere from $3 to $15 (plus state tax), depending on the bureau and the state you live in.
There are three major credit bureaus -- TRW, Equifax Credit Information Services and Trans Union -- all of which may have your name. Write to their local branches, listed in the Yellow Pages under "Credit Bureaus." (Equifax might also be listed as CBI, part of its former name).
If you don't see a local branch, write to their headquarters: (1) TRW, National Consumer Assistance Center, 12606 Greenville Ave., Dallas, Texas 75243 (2) Equifax, 1600 Peachtree St. N.W., P.O. Box 4081, Atlanta, Ga. 30302. (3) Trans Union has no central office.
TRW marks a closed account "paid satisfactory." Equifax marks it "account closed." Trans Union marks it "closed."
If your credit report shows a closed account as open, follow the bureaus' procedures for reporting an error. They have to verify your claim with the creditor within a reasonable period of time, generally 30 days, and inform you of the results.
If the creditor agrees that you did, indeed, close the account, it will be so listed.
If the creditor itself is still carrying your account as open, you will have to cancel all over again.
But you can't make canceled accounts disappear from your credit-bureau file. They stay on your history to show how promptly you paid that particular account.
Closed accounts normally stay on your record for up to seven years. TRW's Susan Murdy says that TRW now keeps them for 10 years if the information is positive.
Here are two situations where it's especially important that you check your credit report to be sure that closed accounts have been properly noted:
1. You are applying for an important loan such as a mortgage. An inaccurate credit history might keep you from getting it. If your spouse is co-signing, get your spouse's history, too. Some bureaus will send you your spouse's record on request; others require the spouse's express consent.
There is no such thing as a joint credit report. You have to request the reports filed under both names. The spouse's record goes to the address shown on the credit file, so you can't spy on a spouse who is living somewhere else.
2. You are separating from your spouse and want his or her new transactions off your personal credit record.
Write to all your creditors, closing joint accounts and asking for a new account in your name alone. (Tell your spouse you're doing it, so that he or she can write for a personal card at the same time. It's mean and rotten to leave a spouse with an invalid card.)
Three months later, get a copy of your credit report to be sure that your joint accounts are closed. But any loans you co-signed, or any unpaid revolving credit that you're both responsible for, will stay on your credit history until the debt is cleared.