Stuck at home in the snow on Sunday, I decided to follow my own advice and check out one of my credit reports. I followed the normal process, visiting the Web site where people can get a free report from each of the three major credit bureaus annually. All went smoothly and, fortunately, there were no unpleasant surprises.
However, I have to admit that each time I download one of my credit reports, I’m always stunned by how many companies have contacted a credit bureau seeking information about me–“prescreening” my credit history to see if I qualify for a new credit card account or insurance policy. You don’t have to have a good credit history to get a prescreened offer; companies often ask for people who fit a certain criteria, and that could be for creditworthy people as well as those with lots of debt or late payments.
There is an easy way to eliminate a lot of these prescreened or prequalified offers. I haven’t taken advantage of this route because, as consumer reporter, I like to know what kinds of promotions are out there. But if you don’t want those offers coming in your mail, then you should consider “opting out.” You can do so by calling the toll-free number: 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit the opt-out Web site. Both the telephone number and the Web site are operated by the major credit bureaus. You’ll be asked to provide certain personal information, including your home telephone number, Social Security number and date of birth. It’s all confidential. You’ll also be given a choice to opt out for five years or permanently.
Should you opt out? The Federal Trade Commission answers that and some other questions in a fact sheet, noting that you may want to continue receiving solicitations if you’re in the market for a new credit card or insurance. Prescreened offers can help you learn what’s available and sometimes the prescreened offers are more favorable than those made to the general public.
If you decide you want to opt out, it may take 60 days before the solicitations stop flooding your mailbox. But be forewarned: The only ones to be stopped are those that use your credit history. There will probably still be plenty of others–from charities, local merchants, professional and alumni groups, etc. In other words, your mailbox will probably never be empty.