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7 sneaky ways lenders might scope you out

It used to be that the only thing a bank or other potential lender would look at before deciding whether to offer you credit was your credit report and score. Not anymore.

By Stacy Johnson Feb 2, 2011 2:09PM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.

 

You've checked out your credit score and gone to AnnualCreditReport.com for a free look at your credit history. Now you know there's nothing in your background that could make a lender queasy when it comes to granting you credit, right?

 

Wrong. They don't call this "the information age" for nothing.

While it's definitely a good idea to monitor your credit history and score, don't believe for a second those are the only sources your bank has for checking up on you. They could be trying to figure out what you make, whether your house is worth less than you paid for it, and whether you were recently laid off, among other things.

 

Check out the following news story for a few clever and paranoia-inducing ways your bank might be scoping you out, then meet me on the other side for more.

If you watched the video above, you now have the down and dirty. But those aren't the only ways your bank could be peeking under your sheets. Here's a recap from that news story, along with additional techniques some banks and other companies use:

 

Checking your checking. ChexSystems is a clearinghouse for bad banking behavior. Or, to use their corporate-speak, "The Chex Systems, Inc. network is comprised of member Financial Institutions that regularly contribute information on mishandled checking and savings accounts to a central location."

 

Have you bounced a lot of checks or walked away from an overdrawn account? Santa's not the only one who's making a list and checking it twice. If you want to see what ChexSystems might have on you, you can order a once-a-year free report here.

 
Even if you've never bounced a check, getting a free annual report is a good way to make sure nobody else has opened an account with your Social Security number.
 
Giving you a "behavior score." As I mentioned in the video above, a behavior score looks at the money going into and out of your account. Behavior scores are another product of Fair Isaac, the company that invented credit scoring.

 

While your credit score is all about credit, your bank-deposit behavior score is all about cash -- it's used by your bank to track your deposits and withdrawals.

 

Accumulating a big balance? Maybe it's time the bank contacted you with some financial planning advice, or offered you a loan. Direct deposit recently stopped? That could be a sign you just got laid off.

 

Seeing if you're upside down. While the nation's ongoing housing slump has forced many Americans to stop regarding their houses as piggy banks, your lender still might.
If you've checked home prices in your neighborhood lately, you know how easy it is to use sites like Zillow to find out what they’re worth. And mortgages are public record. So it's not hard for your bank to find out if you're among the millions of homeowners who owe more than their house is worth. If so, red flag. If you own your home outright? Credit offers.

 

Checking your income. There's nothing in your credit history or score that in any way references your income. But that doesn't mean a computer program can't try to figure it out.

 

Information already in the hands of credit bureaus -- like how much credit you have, how big your mortgage is, and how well you've done paying your debts -- can be used to estimate your income. And the Federal Reserve recently started to allow credit bureaus to furnish these estimates to banks in order to satisfy new requirements that credit card issuers show their applicants have the ability to shoulder the payments.

 

Low income estimates might impact your ability to get a credit card, while high estimates may result in more offers for one.

 

Receiving reports on changes in your financial status. If you have an account in collection, a bank or collection agency can get information as often as daily from credit bureaus. If collection agencies know your financial situation is improving, they'll pursue you more ardently.
 
Finding out how rich you are. As with your income, there's nothing in your credit history indicating how much money you have.  But also like your income, that's no reason credit bureaus can't use computer modeling to try to figure it out. Paying more than the minimum on your mortgage or other debts? Paying off big loans with lump sums of cash? You must have some money somewhere.

 

And if you've ever gotten a friendly check-in call from your bank's investment department, you already know they're keeping an eye on your savings balances.

 

Seeing if you pay your rent on time. RentBureau is a company that collects and distributes payment information from property management companies for use in screening potential tenants. Credit bureau Experian recently purchased the company and is starting to include that history in credit files. Their website points out the advantages:
  • Establish or rebuild your credit -- You can now make your continuous on-time rental payments count toward establishing or rebuilding your credit.
  • Qualify for what you deserve -- If you were previously unable to qualify for a lease or credit product due to a thin credit file, you will now be able to demonstrate past rental payment history.

Left unsaid on the RentBureau site is the opposite side of that coin: A poor rent history could damage your file and your credit history.

 

While all this snooping around may seem unsettling, it obviously offers benefits to those properly playing the credit game. And those not so lucky are finding that the information age is making it harder to hide.

 

At least they're not checking your Facebook pics to see the clothes you're wearing and where you're vacationing… or are they?

 

More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:

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