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Mistaken Identity

When TransUnion recently pulled my credit report, it showed very old personal information and gave me a credit score of zero. I am 48, have an active credit history, and my other credit reports were accurate.

When I called TransUnion, I was told I'd have to contact all my creditors and have them report the information to TransUnion. How can I fix this situation? -- Cindy Brickley, State College, Pa.

You were misinformed.

The information missing from your report was from major banks, including Citibank and Bank of America, so it should have been included. "This was not an optimal customer-service experience," Steven Katz, of TransUnion's TrueCredit.com, admitted to us.

When Katz and his colleagues looked into your records, they discovered a case of mistaken identity. Your full first name is Lucinda, which you used when applying for your oldest credit cards. But for the past several years, you've been using the name Cindy, and those cards weren't showing up in your records.

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As soon as TransUnion figured out the problem, the credit bureau added the new information and sent out a seven-page credit report that included your credit-card history for the past ten years.

We get a lot of questions from people whose credit reports are missing key pieces of information. That's why it's important to order a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year through Annual-CreditReport.com.

If information is missing, check your statements to see whether the card issuer is using a different version of your name. If you change your name after getting married, contact all of your lenders -- even issuers of old cards you may not have used in a while. And be as persistent as Brickley.

Is my broker safe? I've been reading about E*Trade's financial troubles and am wondering what happens to investorsÕ accounts if something happens to their brokerage firm. I have an E*Trade account. -- J.B., via e-mail

Your money should be safe even if your broker goes bust. Brokers are required to keep their assets separate from their customers' investments. Even when a firm is in serious financial difficulty, it can merge with another company or take other measures to survive, says Stephen Harbeck, president of the Securities Investor Protection Corp. (E*Trade, for instance, has received a cash infusion from an outside firm.)

Brokerage firms are members of SIPC, which works a bit like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., but with some key differences. If a brokerage firm is in trouble, SIPC gets involved if the company has misappropriated customers' securities, says Harbeck. SIPC has handled only six cases in the past four years, and there is no report that E*Trade mishandled assets.

To the extent possible, "We give you exactly what was in your account," says Harbeck. If the investments aren't available, SIPC will give you cash based on your investments' value when the brokerage went under.

SIPC is authorized to use its own funds -- up to $500,000 per account, with a $100,000 limit on cash -- to make you whole should your assets at the brokerage be misappropriated. If no fraud is involved, the assets should be returned to you quickly.

Insurance when you're sick. My father-in-law is a self-employed plumber in Billings, Mont. He's in his mid fifties and had a severe coronary-artery blockage that caused heart-attack symptoms. In 2005, he had a stent put in to open the blockage. He has sought a high-deductible health-insurance policy for years but has been turned down repeatedly. What options does he have? Greg Nowak Marina, Cal.

The availability of health insurance for people with medical conditions varies a lot by state, so your father-in-law should consult with an insurance agent familiar with his local market (find an agent at www.nahu.org).

Tom Tattory, an agent in Missoula, Mont., told us the three carriers in his area have become very strict about heart conditions, especially ones that result in blockages and stents. "It's generally a flat-out denial," says Tattory.

But your father-in-law could still get coverage. In cases like his, Tattory refers people to the Montana Comprehensive Health Association, the state's high-risk health-insurance pool, which must accept people who have certain illnesses or have been turned down by private insurers. Montana's pool offers three plans, which have "comprehensive coverage you'd typically find in other insurance plans," says Tattory.

For instance, the policies have deductibles of $1,000, $2,500 or $5,000; they pick up 80% of eligible medical bills; and they have generous prescription-drug coverage. A 55-year-old would pay $472 per month for a plan with a $5,000 deductible and an annual cap of $7,500 on out-of-pocket costs.

High-risk pools are a good solution for people with medical conditions, but only 33 states have open pools. Some states charge higher premiums than Montana does, offer less coverage or have long waiting lists. To find out about options in other states, contact the state insurance department (the insurance page at Kiplinger.com has links).

Got a question? Ask Kim at kiplinger.com/askkim. Kimberly lankford is the author of ask kim for money smart solutions (kaplan, $18.95).


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