Lenders Sharing Secrets

Your lenders may not be meeting over coffee and crumpets to discuss your card-carrying habits, but they are checking up on your creditworthiness with the competition.

To remain profitable, lenders are broadening the scope of their background checks. The result: Consumers are getting popped with higher interest rates based not on their history with the rate-jacking lender, but on payment history or credit activity with other companies. So, while you've been an upstanding card-carrying citizen with First Bank of Firstness, your less-than-pristine handling of your Minque MasterCharge can sully your reputation and trigger a rate hike with the folks at Firstness.

Fair? Maybe not. But it is completely lawful for them to do so when the mood strikes.

Your cardmember agreement (you know, that leaflet written in microscopic type in the acceptance envelope with all the deals for rental cars, hotels, and "Kittens in a Basket" porcelain figurines?) spells out the lender's freedom to raise your interest rate anytime. When you signed the card and activated the account, you agreed to these terms, like it or not.

That said, consumers still have several avenues of recourse:

1. Pay off your balance as quickly as possible and then resolve to pay your balance in full every month from now on. That way, the interest rate doesn't matter.

2. Roll your balance over to another lower-interest-rate credit card if you are not able to pay it off soon. (See if The Motley Fool Visa is competitive with other offers you see.) However, you might want to keep the old card's line of credit open, especially if it is one of your older accounts. Older accounts help establish a long credit history. So, if you roll your balance over, pay it off ASAP, then cancel the new card.

3. Resolve any red marks on your credit record. It's best to see what is on all three of your major credit reports so you can look at your borrowing potential under the same harsh lens the lending industry uses. Our partner, True Credit, charges $29 for its 3-in-1 credit report and credit score, which is one of the best offers I've seen.

If you find something being reported that is just plain wrong, you need to dispute the red mark on your credit report directly with the credit bureau(s) reporting it and the entity that is sending you the bill.

4. Wait it out. Most dings on your credit report will disappear after seven years. The good news is that it doesn't take that long for lenders to consider it old news. Your more recent good credit behavior weighs much more heavily in your favor than one blip a few years ago.

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