Credit Tools
By Judy Feldman

(MONEY Magazine) – Late last year, Congress passed amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act that should help consumers battle fraud and identity theft. Among your new rights: You will be entitled to one free credit report a year from each of the three major bureaus. Financial institutions must notify you in writing the first time they add negative information to your file. If you suspect you've been a victim of fraud, you will be able to notify all credit bureaus with one call (something the bureaus say happens already). You'll have free access to your credit score when you apply for a mortgage. And the fee you pay to get your credit score at other times (about $13 now) will be capped. Most of these provisions, however, do not take effect until December 2004.

For all these gains, consumer advocates are unhappy with other changes, including certain limits on states' ability to pass financial privacy and credit-report laws. This is unfortunate, says Travis Plunkett, legislative director at the Consumer Federation of America, because pro-consumer laws often originate in the states. It was only after California mandated the disclosure of credit scores in 2001, for instance, that companies began selling them. And the new federal rule that merchants truncate credit-card numbers on sales slips first became law in California, Connecticut and Nevada. --JUDY FELDMAN