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CREDIT REPORT CAN EASE FEAR OF ID THEFT

Here's a look at what the readers have been asking lately:

I recently received a letter from my bank stating that my name was part of a security breach, and the bank issued me a new debit card with a new number. Should I be concerned about identity theft?

You're probably perfectly fine - it sounds like the bank caught this pretty quickly, and your old debit card number, which may have gotten in the wrong hands, is no longer active. What I would do, though, is keep a close watch on your account. You should also pull a copy of your credit report regularly if you're not already doing so. You can get one free copy from each of the three major credit bureaus each year from annualcreditreport.com.

If you're still worried, you can call each of the three credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on credit report. That requires a lender to contact you prior to issuing credit in your name.

I was recently charged over $100 in overdraft fees on debit card purchases of less than $10. I thought the charges would be declined if there weren't sufficient funds. Shouldn't I have had a choice?

You jumped the gun a little bit. Before July 1, banks could automatically opt you into their overdraft protection programs, which means that you did have a choice - you probably just didn't know about it. Because you didn't opt out of that protection, the bank was within its rights to cover your charges and then tack a fee onto your account.

But as of July 1 for new accounts and Aug. 15 for existing accounts, banks can no longer automatically opt you in; instead, the default option is no overdraft protection, and you have to opt in if you want the service. That means if you don't opt in - and personally, I don't think you should - your card will get declined if you don't have enough money in your account to cover the charge, and you'll be able to avoid a fee. Just keep in mind that overdrafts triggered by check or automatic payments will still be covered by the bank for a fee.

My credit score has gone down over the past two years even though I have never missed a payment and have paid off my credit cards. The only other difference in my life is that I was laid off from my job in 2007 and have not been employed since. Does unemployment affect your credit score?

Filing for unemployment - or being unemployed - doesn't hurt your credit score, at least not directly. What does hurt your score is missing payments, running up credit card balances or becoming delinquent on your debts.

But it sounds like that hasn't happened in your case, so I'm wondering when the last time you pulled your score was, whether you've been looking at the same score - from the same source - all along, and whether you're pulling it at the same time each month. There are a few different scores available, and they can vary a bit. Aside from that, where you are in the monthly bill-payment cycle can mean a difference in your score, because if you have a large balance, your debt-to-credit, or utilization, ratio will be higher, even if you're planning on paying it off in full at the end of the month.

The other thing I would look into is whether you've closed any cards, or whether the terms of your cards or loans have changed - the credit limits, for example - and whether there are any errors on your report. All of these can bring your score down.

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