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Debts, not assets, create credit history


Q: I am unemployed and have no income of my own. My husband and I were issued VISA cards in each of our own names. All our assets, including our home as well as our savings and checking accounts, are owned jointly. If something were to happen to my husband, would I have a credit history?

A: Income and assets have very little to do with a credit history. A credit card, a car loan or a mortgage should show up on your credit history, whereas a checking or savings account and even stocks and bonds probably will not.

In order for a joint credit source to appear on a wife's credit history, her name should appear on the loan or credit-card application. Joint ownership of your house will not appear on a credit report, but your name on the mortgage loan counts as a good credit reference.

But just because a credit entry should be on your file does not necessarily mean that it will actually be there. I recommend that you send away for a copy of your credit history from one of the national bureaus (e.g., TRW, Trans Union, Equifax) and a local credit bureau. Local credit bureaus can be located via your telephone directory under "Credit Agencies" or "Credit Bureaus."

You can get a copy of your credit history through Equifax ([800] 685-1111) and Trans Union (760 West Sproul Road, P.O. Box 390,Springfield, Pa. 19064), but they typically charge $6 to $10 per report. On the other hand, TRW will send consumers one free credit report per year upon request. To get your copy, write on plain paper or personal stationery to: TRW Complimentary Credit Report Request, P.O. Box 2350, Chatsworth, Calif., 91313-2350.

TRW can only accept written requests, and it is important that you include all the following information in your letter:

* Full name, including middle initial and generation, such as Jr., Sr., II or III

* Current address, including ZIP code

* Previous addresses, including ZIP code if the consumer has moved in the last five years

* Social Security number

* Year of birth

* Spouse's first name if married

RF * Photocopy of a billing statement, utility bill, driver's license

or other document that links the name of the consumer requesting the report with the address the report should be mailed to.

When you get the report, check all entries. If valid credit references have been omitted from your file, write to the credit bureau and include the specific details of the loan. It is imperative that you also contact the credit-granting institutions, since that is where the credit bureaus get their information.

In some circumstances, these lenders base creditworthiness on two judgments: ability to pay and willingness to pay. Although income and assets do not show up on a credit history, they are given a strong weighting by credit grantors. Creditworthiness is like a three-legged stool, its three legs being: income, assets and past credit experiences. If any one of the legs is missing or weak, the stool might be unstable or even tip over.

Susan Bondy founded her namesake financial services company 1980 to provide financial planning and asset management. She is a frequent guest on "Good Morning America," the "Today Show" and National Public Radio. She is the author of "How to Make Money Using Other People's Money." Write to Susan Bondy in care of The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. All letters will be treated confidentially.

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