How To Protect Your Credit When You’re In The Military
This post is sponsored by Lexington Law.
When it comes to finances, being in the military presents many unique challenges. Being deployed abroad and moving frequently lead to changes in information, gaps in available cash, and a confusing financial record to keep track of.
Being abroad (often with little access to internet) and moving around can leave members of the military more vulnerable to identity attacks and having their information stolen. Even though there are federal laws meant to protect service members, credit reporting doesn’t always fairly reflect that.
How does bad credit affect members of the military?
Bad credit can affect anyone, but there are a few additional consequences for military members.
Some branches of the military run a credit check as part of the background check for security clearances as well as for those who are interested in enlisting. Poor credit can show that the person in question, perhaps unfairly, is untrustworthy. If your credit declines while you are in the military, it can prevent you from being promoted when your security clearance is up for review.
Additionally, service members need to take extra precautions when they are deployed to make sure all of their bills and payments are made on time at home. With limited ways to call, time differences, and limited internet access, missed payments can slip through the cracks and go unnoticed for months at a time. These missed payments can be devastating to your credit score.
How To Protect Your Credit When You’re In The Military
1. Place an Active Duty Alert on your credit report.
If you’re active military personnel, you can take advantage of this free resource! An Active Duty Alert requires lenders to apply certain policies and procedures to confirm the identity of the person making a request before issuing a line of credit. This will prevent fraudulent account from being opened in your name, unrequested increases in credit, and add an extra layer of protection for potential identity theft.
According to Experian:
An Active Duty Alert remains on the report for one year. It notifies creditors that you are a member of the U.S. military and that you are currently on active duty. An Active Duty Alert does not require a lender to contact you directly to get your approval before granting credit in your name, but it does ask them to verify the identity of the applicant first. If you choose, you can add a telephone number where you can be reached to the alert.
To activate an Active Duty Alert for your credit report, you’ll need to contact on of the three credit bureaus. Once you’ve completed the process, the bureau you contacted will contact the remaining bureaus on your behalf.
2. Monitor your identity.
This is an important thing for anyone to do, but especially important for members of the military.
I highly recommend signing up for an identity monitoring service like Lex OnTrack. You’ll be notified of changes on your credit report, be given your FICO credit score, receive a credit score analysis, have access to credit repair services as needed, and additionally be covered with $1,000,000 in identity insurance in the case of identity theft.
Using a service like this will give you peace of mind as you focus on other things that are important to you. Learn more about Lex OnTrack here.
3. Take advantage of a free security freeze for members of the military.
According to the credit repair consultants at Lexington Law,
[In] the first half of 2018, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion [began] offering the option of free security freezes on credit files for eligible members of the United States Armed Forces. The new credit freeze allow[s] service members to place, lift and remove a security freeze on credit files at no charge, even if you have not been a victim of fraud or identity theft. A security freeze prevents sharing of your credit information with anyone without your explicit permission.
To learn more on how to place and lift a security freeze, go here.
4. Review your credit report before you deploy.
As standard practice, you should review your credit report at least once a year. Always check for errors, incorrect information, mistakes, and accounts you do not recognize. Doing so will help protect your credit and financial reputation going forward.
You can get a free copy of your credit report once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com. If you do spot any incorrect information, start taking care of it right away. If something unsavory is happening on your credit report, you don’t want to let it sit and/or progress further while you are deployed.
5. Keep track of critical records and shred documents with sensitive information.
With moving so frequently, critical documents with sensitive information can get lost and misplaced easily. If you don’t already have one, designate a space, or better yet invest in a file safe, for your documents with account information, social security numbers, life insurance information, and passwords.
When you no longer need some of these documents, make sure to shred them and dispose of them properly so they don’t end up in the wrong hands.
If You Do Have Problems With Your Credit As a Military Member…
Know that there are federal laws that protect you while you on active duty. However, information reported to the credit bureaus may not always reflect those protections. This can leave you in a sticky situation with a dropping credit score and with errors on your credit report.
Before throwing your hands up and accepting this as reality, be aware that there is help available to you! There are consultants who are knowledgeable on the laws, federal statutes, and consumer protections who can advocate on your behalf.
If you do find yourself in this situation, contact the consultants at Lexington Law for additional information and to explore your options. Lexington Law offers a specific credit repair focus tracks just for members of the military. Contact them for more information and an initial consultation by clicking here.
If anyone you know is considering joining the military or is currently part of the military, be sure to forward this to them to save for reference.
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