Equifax Aftermath
September 8, 2018 10:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm hoping to move in the next few months, and I'm planning on looking into apartment complexes to apply to. However, I'm worried about my credit score hindering an approval. Is my credit score okay, and do I need to do something with an ill-advised Equifax credit freeze before I can apply?

My credit score is now 674 (fair) (for Transunion and Equifax), and I believe I put a freeze on JUST my Equifax after last year's security breach. Has that one freeze affected my credit score with all the other companies? Do I need to lift the Equifax freeze in order to apply for an apartment? If so, how do I do it, and will it cost me?

More information: As of September 23, 2017, my credit had been in good standing for years, supposedly at 722, according to Credit Karma. By October 3, I took a big 48 point hit, which has never recovered. None of the reported credit factors have changed. It doesn’t look like fraud. I haven’t missed any bills. I’ve never had any derogatory marks on my credit. I haven’t applied for a credit card or anything else that would require someone else to check my credit. I haven’t done anything that should have affected my credit except for one thing: Equifax's website said that my account had been compromised, so I put the free credit freeze on Equifax in a panic, but I never followed through by putting freezes on Transunion or Experian.

What I don't understand is this statement (according to Lifehacker): "Freezing your credit essentially prevents lenders from being able to access your report, which means they also won’t issue you a new credit card or loan while it’s on lockdown. It doesn’t affect your credit score or your existing accounts, just your ability to open new ones." But it seemingly HAS affected my other accounts?

Questions:
1) Will the apartment complex(es) I apply to be able to see my credit with this ONE credit freeze intact? If not, how can I rectify that within a couple of weeks? Exactly what do I need to do, and what might it cost me? I'd LIKE a free and easy solution, but I don't know if that's possible.
2) Will my credit score of 674 be a deterrent to being approved as a new tenant?
(3) Why was my credit score so negatively affected by this action?)
posted by Mael Oui to Work & Money (7 answers total)
 
A credit score of 674 is generally fine for renting an apartment, so I wouldn’t worry about that, at least.
posted by Automocar at 11:23 AM on September 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


I can only speak to #1. Here are the directions for unfreezing your credit with Equifax. You may want to find out which agency/agencies the management companies use befoe you unfreeze; it may not be necessary if they use a different one.
posted by XtineHutch at 11:30 AM on September 8, 2018


AFAIK, credit freezing doesn't impact your score with other agencies at all. Have you tried one of the credit monitoring services (even for a one month trial)? I've had some surprises there- like opening an account at Discount Tire (even paid off on time and at 0% interest for a year) is like opening one at a slimy furniture store as far as your credit record is concerned.

674 should be fine for renting an apartment.
posted by getawaysticks at 11:49 AM on September 8, 2018


I can't answer #2 with any certainty, but:

1) Depends on which bureau they use. If they use only one and it's not Equifax, their query should come back right away. If they use Equifax, you can tell them your credit has been frozen and then contact Equifax for a temporary lift. Once you have the lift in place, alert the leasing agency and they'll be able to do the pull.

NB: you should make sure you really got the kind of hold you think you did. If you ended up with a 90-day fraud alert and not a freeze, Equifax would have been required by law to inform the other agencies of the fraud alert, and they're required by law to apply it. That would have stopped new inquiries at all three agencies, but it would also have expired after 90 days. If you really got a freeze, it only applied to the specific agency you requested the freeze from. When I called to freeze my credit they tried to steer me towards a fraud alert and I had to say, "no, I've already had two of those and the problem is still going on."

3) Have you pulled credit reports from all three agencies? You need to do that now and make sure that one of them isn't reporting adverse information that the others aren't. If there's been any fraudulent activity it would definitely reduce your score. If you got a freeze with only one agency, there was nothing to stop people from opening new accounts through lenders who use the other agencies for approval. I've had adverse information from fraudulent applications show up on only one report, and the only way to know that is to pull all three.

I learned that my information had been compromised around the time the Equifax hack was actually happening (six months before it was disclosed), but I have never been able to determine if Equifax was actually the source. There were a couple other known breaches that might have included me, but there's never been any way to know for sure. Sadly, despite the freezes people are still trying to open accounts with my stolen information, but the automated rejection letters I'm getting from Synchrony Bank have changed. Sorry fraudsters, no JCPenney, Walmart, or TJ Maxx store cards for you!
posted by fedward at 12:04 PM on September 8, 2018


Re: #2: My credit score was significantly lower than yours for a long period of time while I was moving a lot (thanks ADHD!), so I was applying for a lot of apartments in different cities. My credit was never once an issue. A landlord once told me they only care if you have a recent bankruptcy or eviction on your file, or if your income isn't enough to pay your rent. And the former isn't necessarily a dealbreaker either (at least not the bankruptcy). You should be fine.
posted by lunasol at 1:46 PM on September 8, 2018


The scoring algorithm in use by CreditKarma is not the only one out there and I had a similar freak out earlier this month seeing my credit score had dropped a whopping 100 points by their estimation. I was about to go into full blown id theft panic mode but I also get a free actual FICO score (different algorithm, usually but not always the official one apartments would get from the big 3 from a paid report) from my bank. My true FICO hadn't changed a bit. Do not assume CreditKarma is 100% right here without seeing a real FICO score for confirmation.
posted by slow graffiti at 5:06 PM on September 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


A lot of things depend on whether or not you actually put a freeze on, or just a fraud alert. A freeze means nobody can see your report without your authorization. This is usually done by either lifting the freeze or there's a way to provide the creditor (or landlord) access by coordinating their inquiry with the CRA (in your case, Equifax). IIRC, you either provide the lender's name to EQ or they give you a code that the lender can use to bypass the freeze to perform an inquiry.

There is virtually zero chance that just adding the freeze, in and of itself, had anything to do with your score.

The fact that you are looking at Credit Karma should be taken with a huge grain of salt, as others have said. This is not the same score or scoring model that lenders will use. To know what they will see you need to get a true FICO score. Some of your credit card holders might provide this to you for free in your online account management. Discover, Amex, Chase, and Wells Fargo are ones that I know do this.

Any of these reasons could cause a dip in your score:
1) Negative / derogatory mark, like a missed payment or collection
2) Increase in credit card balance, especially if going from less than 30% utilization (balance vs. credit limit) to over 30%, both overall and on any one individual card - crossing this magical threshold can KILL your score. It's as important as payment history.
3) Any new account, especially if you have a young credit history
4) A new balance being reported on a credit card that has shown a zero balance or been inactive for several months
5) A third (or beyond) hard inquiry within a short period of time - though this effect is typically much less than the 48 points you indicate
6) Paying off an installment loan (seriously. My score dropped 20+ points when we paid off our car. It actually went up when we bought a new one).

Notice how 3 and 6 contradict each other? Yeah, that's how fickle credit scoring is. It's incredibly dependent on your exact credit configuration.

Very first thing would be to get your free copy of each of your 3 credit reports (if you haven't already recently) and examine them carefully for accounts you don't recognize, a balance you feel is inaccurate, essentially anything you find that you can't reconcile to something you know exists. Also, look to see what you have available for free actual FICO scores. If you have no lenders who provide this, consider dropping a few bucks to get one.

TL;DR:

1: Yes. They may pull from another bureau, or you may need to do some legwork if they can't get past the EQ freeze. They'll tell you and, ideally, should know what to do.
2: Absolutely not. You'll be fine.
3: Could be many reasons, but the freeze you placed was not one of them.
posted by SquidLips at 7:43 PM on September 8, 2018


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