For most adults who are out of school, there's only one "grade" left that really matters in your life: your credit score. A good one can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of your lifetime; a poor one can prevent you from living the life you want to.
In this clip from Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick, Robert Brokamp, and Fool alumna Dayana Yochim discuss the best courses of action for a listener whose identity was used to keep the cable and internet on in an apartment she'd moved out of -- a bill that the next occupants didn't pay. While that can put you in between a rock and a hard place, there are ways to rectify the problem, or at least minimize its impact.
A full transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on July 12, 2016.
Alison Southwick: All right, so here's a tough one. Are you ready?
Robert Brokamp: Ready.
Southwick: At least I think it sounds like a tough one. This comes from Berlinda. Berlinda writes: "I had internet with Verizon, then I thought I canceled when I left. The next tenants that lived in the apartment used my name and did not pay their internet bill. I initially contacted the people who lived there after me -- they were friends of a friend -- and asked them to pay it. They told me they did! Now I'm trying to get a mortgage for a home and found out that Verizon recently updated this debt, so it looks like it was reported just this February and it has hurt my credit score significantly. What should I do? I could pay it, but I'm worried about the damages of it being so recent on my report." That's a pickle.
Dayana Yochim: Oof!
Brokamp: That is a pickle. That's a tough one.
Yochim: The lesson here is trust no one. When you move out, you cancel all of the utilities in your name. Yes, this is tough. The credit reporting bureaus allow you to put a note in your file explaining circumstances that aren't necessarily going to be spelled out in the data that's presented there, so that is an option.
When you're shopping for a mortgage, it's likely you are going to have a human lender person looking at your file, so that might work. That might be taken into account. It's probably a good idea to just go ahead and pay Verizon what they need just to take care of it. Also when you do that, ask them to stop reporting it as well. They don't have to, but if you ask nicely, they might. What you're going to have to do is ask them to stop reporting it to the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Companies don't necessarily have to report to all three. Sometimes you might see something on one report that's not on another. That's one way to deal with it for right now. Just go ahead and take care of it.
Southwick: Assuming it's not, like, thousands and thousands of dollars.
Yochim: Right. And then ...
Southwick: I hope it's not.
Yochim: Then see you on Court TV, ex-roommate.
Southwick: It sounds like the best she can do is just call up Verizon and be really nice to the customer-service person ...
Southwick: ... and say, "Please help me out. What can I do?"
Brokamp: Yes. And that's true any time there could be a potential ding to your credit score. Let's say you've been a good customer for three years with a credit card company, but then you went on vacation and you forgot to pay a bill. You can talk to them and just mention that it's just this one time -- can you just accept the payment and not put it on your record? They might be able to help you out.
Yochim: And with a credit card even, like, "Hey, this is what happened. Can you waive the late fee?" That can happen, too. Just make sure that it's Verizon that's reporting it. If they sent it to collections, you're going to have to pay someone else. Probably a smaller amount if it is thousands of dollars, because the collection companies just want to get something. But that's a bummer.
MyFICO is a great site to go and look for answers on how people have handled this situation, as is NerdWallet.com. But it doesn't have to be a complete disaster, and it's good to just go ahead and address it.
Southwick: It's not going to go away.
Yochim: Right. Well, it will in seven years, but do you want to wait seven years for ...?
Southwick: Buying a house? Nope.