While you're cleaning up your debt, order copies of your credit reports, since the information contained in them will directly affect the interest rates you're offered on credit cards, mortgages and other loans.
There are three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. Reports cost about $8.50 each, but they're free if you've been turned down for credit, employment or housing in the past 60 days. You can order all three at once for $29.95 from MyVesta.org.
When you get your reports, check for inaccuracies; the bureaus are required to investigate and correct them once you report them. Look, too, for things that may lower your credit rating, including open lines of credit you don't need, such as credit cards you never use or accounts you thought had been closed long ago. When lenders review your report, they take into account not only how much you owe, but also how much debt you are able to rack up. Too much, and they may not loan you any more money.
Also, consider ordering your credit score -- the number lenders use to assess your creditworthiness. Your score is based on information in your credit reports. FICO is the most widely used score and can be ordered in conjunction with your Equifax report. To find out more about your credit score, click here.
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