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Unexpected credit card concerns: How to protect your credit score

By Aaron Gilchrist - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Maintaining a good credit score takes a lot of financial discipline.  Experts will tell you not to apply for more credit cards than you can really afford to pay off but what do you do if a card issuer just opens a line of credit for you without even asking?

Opening and closing credit cards can have a negative impact on your credit score. Jessica Fullerton has impeccable credit, but the reward she recently got wasn't one she wanted.

When it comes to money management, NBC12 Producer Jessica Fullerton considers herself pretty skillful. She has a credit score to beat the band and tries to handle her money responsibly. Hence the trip to her Wachovia branch to open a savings account.

"She suggested a money market, so I opened one and that was that. She just sent me on my way," said Jessica.    

A week later, Wachovia sent Jessica a new visa credit card.

"I took it to the bank and was like, what's this?  I didn't apply for this," she said.    

Jessica says the bank rep went back through the money market transaction, and all the fine print, and couldn't find anything indicating a credit card would or could be issued.

"She was on the phone with the credit card people when I was in the office. And the best explanation that they could give her was that she has excellent credit, that's why we sent it to her," Jessica said.

The bank canceled the account and destroyed the card, but for a woman with a sparkling credit report...there was a problem.

"You always read about when you close credit cards, it can harm your credit score and that's what I was most concerned about," Jessica said.

"On the surface, it sounds very unusual," said Credit counselor Bruce McClary, Clearpoint Credit Counseling.

McClary says what happened to Jessica doesn't happen as often as it used to, but when a bank sees a chance to improve its portfolio... It might jump at it.

"When you get those kinds of offers, they're dangling a big carrot out there in front of you and they're hoping that you're gonna come in, charge some things up, pay the interest rate they're asking you to pay and those kinds of things," said McClary.

Wachovia wouldn't talk about Jessica's specific case, but in a statement said: "We do not issue credit cards to any customer unless the customer applied for... the card and was approved for it... if a situation arises where a customer claims to have never applied for... a card, we promptly investigate the issue and, consistent with the customer's request, close the account.  When the account is closed, it is reported as a voluntary closure, which has a minimal impact on fico scores...."    

McClary agrees. If you don't actually activate the card, your credit should be okay.

"In situations where you get credit card offers, if you don't activate it, still check it out with the bank to make sure that nothing shows up on your credit report that indicates any activity surrounding this account," said McClary.

If activity does show up on your credit report, McClary says you have a valid complaint to lodge with the credit bureaus to have the activity removed.

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