Big Brother, Alive and Well

We don't want to alarm you, but it seems that an Orwellian plot is unfolding before our very eyes.

You already know your credit record weighs heavily in the interest rates you pay for your home, car, and plastic. Now your credit rap sheet is playing a bigger role than ever in your humdrum life.

Home and auto insurers are now consulting credit scores to determine premiums. Your borrowing history may even be used by cell phone carriers and utility companies to decide if you are worthy of using their services without paying a premium. Scary? Heck, yeah. Forget your stellar driving record and whether or not you can afford basic electricity, let alone a hefty fee because you were late paying a few bills back in the 1990s.

The good news is that the machinations behind these decisions are becoming available to us regular folk. You can find out where you stand in the eyes of lenders using Fair, Isaac's FICO model. And now available for public consumption -- and introducing an entirely new revenue stream for credit bureaus -- is your insurance score. Last month, credit reporting agency Equifax teamed with ChoicePoint (which provides risk management calculations to the insurance industry) to give consumers access to their insurance scores. So now, before you apply for a loan or shop for car insurance, you can see exactly what the phone rep is using to set your rates.

About 25 states are considering limiting or abolishing the practice of using credit scores to determine insurance premiums. In the meantime, keep an eye on your scores and credit, especially if you are planning to, well, do just about anything in the next year. And if you spot an error on your report, remedy it before you go shopping for a loan, phone, or insurance.

Who knows what the future holds. We can just envision the following exchange with the doorman at some chi-chi downtown club. "573? Sorry, sir. This is a private party for those with scores of 700 and above. Step aside."

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