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How do I get a free copy of my credit report?

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Richard M. Alderman Interim Dean of the Law Center

Q. I thought I could get a free copy of my credit report. I went to several websites, and most required a credit card and imposed a charge after a certain period of time. They also seemed to want to sell me other services. What is the best way to get my free report?
A. First, let me compliment you on wanting to review your credit report. Inaccurate or incomplete credit reports may affect your mortgage rates, credit card approvals, apartment requests, or even your job application. Reviewing your credit report also helps you catch signs of identity theft early.
Under federal law, you are entitled to a free report from each of the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax, once every twelve months. Although there are dozens of websites offering a “free” report, only one is authorized by federal law. That website is www.annualcreditreport.com. Because the three companies have very similar information in their reports, I suggest you get a copy from one of the three companies every four months, review it, and promptly report any errors or incomplete information.
Q. How long does bad information stay on my credit report?
A. Negative information becomes “obsolete” after seven years (ten years for a bankruptcy) and generally is no longer reported. I should add that the time runs from when the information is first reported. Even if the account is sold or transferred to a new debt collector, the information is not “re-aged” and the seven years does not begin again. If you find obsolete information on your report, dispute it with the bureau and demand it be removed.
Q. I have a common law marriage in Texas. My husband and I will soon be moving to another state. Will we still be married in that state? What if that state does not have common law marriage?
A. As I have said many times before, a common law marriage is no different than any other form of marriage. Once you have a common law marriage you are married, just as if you had a formal ceremony in a church or before a justice of the peace. When you move to another state your status as being married remains intact. To make it easier to prove your marriage, however, you may want to file a Declaration and Registration of Informal Marriage with the county clerk.
Q. I have been married for two years. I’m now getting a divorce. There is no property or custody to fight over, but I would like the wedding ring I gave my wife. It was very expensive and I am still paying for it. Do I need to get a lawyer to have her turn over the ring?
A. In my opinion, you are not going to get the ring with or without a lawyer. Generally, the person who received the ring keeps it after a divorce. The ring is considered a gift to that person. Even if you are paying for it, it is the other person’s property. A lawyer may be able to help arrange a better divorce settlement, but you should weigh the costs of a lawyer against the value of the ring.
Q. My mother died last year. I am the sole beneficiary of her estate. It is worth almost $1million. How much should I expect to pay in taxes?
A. You will not have to pay anything in taxes. The taxes paid on money you inherit are called “estate” taxes, and they are paid by the estate of the deceased. Estate taxes may be imposed by the state or federal government. Texas does not have an estate tax and federal law has a very large “exclusion” before taxes are due. Under current law no federal estate taxes are due unless the estate is valued at more than $5.4 million. In other words, no taxes will be imposed on you or your mother’s estate.


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