At a young age, I quickly learned from my parents the rule of "if you can't afford it, you don't need it."
Taking this lesson with me into my adult life, I prided myself on paying cash for my purchases and only having two debts to my name: a small car loan and a credit card I paid off monthly. I knew later in life I'd need an established credit history, (and this was) the only reason I had these two items.
At 25, with bachelor's and master's degrees, I entered the world with no student loans, unlike many of my fellow classmates. I did double duty working full time and going to school full time and was proud to graduate financially free. I landed my first "real" job as a marketing director before graduation, and I was excited by the possibility of having more money in my monthly budget to afford something other than Top Ramen.
Six months into my new career, I had saved enough money for a decent-size down payment on a newer car. I knew my budget, I knew what I could reasonably afford for a monthly payment and I had picked my reasonably priced "dream car," a 2005 Mini Cooper. I went to my credit union to fill out the loan application. The loan officer assured me I wouldn't have any trouble qualifying for the loan; all of the payments on my current car loan were on time, and I had been a member of the credit union since I was a child, thanks to my parents. As the loan officer finished my application and pulled my credit report, her face had doom written all over it. I'll never forget hearing her say, "Um, there are a few things here I'd like to review with you." In less than 30 seconds, my life was forever changed.
On the screen was my credit report, with line after line of delinquent accounts, charge-offs and judgments. I struggled to not cry. None of these accounts were mine. I frantically asked her if she had entered the correct Social Security number, and upon confirmation, she had. Then the dreaded words: "Looks like you've been a victim of identity theft." The loan officer helped put together a plan of action for me to start disputing these items, and I left the bank with no car loan, utterly humiliated and in disbelief.
Today, seven months later, I've tracked down the culprit: my younger sister. How she got her hands on my information is still a mystery.
Almost weekly, I contact one of the three credit bureaus to follow up for a status on a disputed item. I've successfully had two items removed from all three reports, and still have nine more to go. Until I have all of the remaining items resolved, my dreams of a driving a "newer" car, purchasing a home or even opening a new bank account are down the drain. I look forward to the day when I can once again be financially free, and I now utilize services like free annual credit reports.
-- Sara Marie F.