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Beware of bad credit traps for migrants

Australia Day is the time when thousands of new Australians are welcomed into the country’s dynamic multi-cultural society, but a national credit repairer says the road to financial success in Australia can be a harsh one for new migrants.

Busy with starting a new life in the new country, many migrants fail to understand how their credit history can have a severe impact on their resettlement.

MyCRA’s CEO, Graham Doessel says he deals first-hand with many new migrants who have struggled to come to terms with a credit system which is far different to the one they are used to, and ultimately their Australian credit rating can suffer.

He says new Australians don’t get enough help to make the most of their finances, and to ensure they are never blacklisted once they become credit-active.

“I am seeing more new Australians caught out with the system here, being banned from new credit – can’t get a home or car loan and often from fairly small amounts in arrears on their credit accounts,” Mr Doessel says.

Australia’s credit reporting system is fairly unique in the fact that it is currently a negative reporting system. There is no way of balancing out a bad credit report with good repayments, and any negative listing remains on a person’s credit file for 5-7 years.

Once an individual is 18 and is credit-active, they have a credit file issued in their name. It is even at this early stage where some new migrants come unstuck. Sometimes in those early stages the credit file can be issued under the wrong name.

“Creditors have been known to mix up names or put someone’s last name as their first name. This could potentially open up a can of worms in terms of correct listing,” he says.

Creditors can also place a default on the wrong person’s file.

“We have a case at the moment where a lady had a default listing placed on her file which was for a male with a similar name. It wasn’t until our client applied for a loan that she found out about the default placed on her file from someone else’s account,” he says.

It is suggested that new Australians make a point of ensuring continuity with their name on any credit they take out and requesting changes to any bills or documentation which come back incorrect.

They should also check their credit file to make sure everything reads correctly.

“It’s actually not just new Aussies who are kept in the dark. Many Australian-born Aussies are unaware they should be checking their credit file regularly and that they can obtain a credit report for free every 12 months,” Doessel says.

Many people are unaware that once an account goes past 60 days in arrears, it will be listed as a default on the person’s credit file for the next five years.

A common reason people can have defaults go unnoticed is after they move house or when they go overseas for extended holidays. They fail to divert their mail, and do not receive the written notification of either the late account, or the creditor’s intention to list the late payment as a default on the person’s credit file.

Identity theft can also occur, with current statistics showing 1 in 6 Australians are currently affected.

“Identity theft is a major problem in this country, and many new migrants are not aware of the frequency of attacks, or the need to safeguard their personal information. They end up with their identities stolen, and credit taken out in their name,” Mr Doessel says.

Sometimes migrants can become victims of identity theft before they even get on the plane. In December 2010, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen warned new migrants of online scams that often leave them without a visa and at a loss for the money they have spent.

“It is vital that people are aware of fraudsters’ tricks before handing over money for immigration assistance which is never provided,” ¬†Bowen said.

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