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Lament Those Late Fees

Remember to be kind to your local librarian. Get on her wrong side and she could trash your credit record.

The city council of Houston is considering siccing a collection agency on deadbeat bookworms who have library fines in excess of $10, according to The collection action could turn up on Houstonians' credit reports, marring their ability to get a loan -- for a mortgage, car, or credit card, and possibly a loaner copy of the latest Grisham bestseller.

While we know that our Fool books are riveting, realize that it is increasingly important to do what it takes (avoiding collection agencies, for example) to keep your credit record clean. More and more companies are consulting your credit history to make decisions on everything from your homeowner's policy to how much you'll be charged for car insurance. It pays to have at least a passing familiarity with the anatomy of your credit report and understand what items the Powers That Be are tracking.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 allows insurers to use credit reports in insurance underwriting, the process of examining, accepting, or rejecting insurance risks. If a policy is denied, insurers must disclose use of credit history to the customer. More than 20 states are looking at the use of credit reports in insurance underwriting and scoring.

For those concerned about their return history at the lending library, one of our sponsors, TrueCredit, is offering a sweet deal for Fools. You can get $5 off the 3-in-1 report (regularly $34.95), which includes your rap sheet from all three major credit agencies, as well as a free credit score (another $5 savings -- ka-ching!).

Once you assess the damage, consider asking -- nicely -- if your library has a nighttime drop-off box.

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