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Talk about a mouthful of a post title!  I promise though, I’ll explain what it is and why it might make sense for you, if you’re planning on getting in on the travel hacking game.

Credit Bureaus

Most people know about the credit bureaus.  There are 3 major bureaus that track well, just about everything about you – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.  Different creditors report information to different bureaus (many times they report to all 3), and different credit issuers (banks) pull information from different bureaus, sometimes depending on what state you live in.

As an example, Credit Sesame, which is a great place to get a free idea of your credit score (note I do get a small referral bonus if you sign up through my link), uses Experian to provide you with your credit score.

Secondary credit bureaus

ida logoID Analytics (IDA) and Advanced Resolution Systems (ARS) are two other companies that track information about your credit (cue tin foil hat).  My understanding is that they mostly keep track of how many credit applications you have made.

The only credit company that I have seen that uses them is US Bank.  So here’s what happens in a typical travel hacker application for a US Bank credit card (like the Club Carlson Visa or the FlexPerks card):denied

  1. You fill out the application
  2. US Bank processes your application and sees that, because you’ve already read and followed the Basics, your application looks great
  3. Then they check with IDA or ARS and find out that you have 20 credit cards already and they’re like wha-huh?!?!?
  4. APPLICATION DENIED!

The part that stinks about it is that unlike most pending or denial decisions, there’s really nothing that can be done.  If you try to call the reconsideration line, the US Bank analyst will basically just tell you that because of information from IDA or ARS, your application was denied, and to try to take it up with them.

Freezing IDA / ARS

Fortunately, it’s very easy to freeze your reports from IDA / ARS.  I was not that familiar with the concept of freezing your credit report, but it’s not uncommon.  Typically, some reasons that you might want to freeze your credit report are if there is something bad on one of the bureaus, or if you have (or suspect you have) been a victim of identity theft.

Thankfully, I personally haven’t had to deal with that, so I don’t have personal experience, but if you freeze your report (something the credit companies are legally obligated to allow you to do), then anybody who asks for a credit report about you from that bureau will just get a blank report.

If you freeze one of the “Big 3”, then that can cause you to be denied for credit.  Scenario would be that you freeze your TransUnion credit report, then try to apply for a car loan from a dealership that pulls TransUnion.  They see that you have no credit, so they deny your application (or charge you the highest interest rate)

But IDA and ARS are more secondary bureaus.  Credit issuers do not ask them for information as a primary source (at least not that I’ve found or heard of).  So going back to our example from before:

  1. You fill out the applicationapproved
  2. US Bank processes your application and sees that, because you’ve already read and followed the Basics, your application looks great
  3. Then they check with IDA or ARS and find no information about your last several churns (or any information at all!)
  4. APPLICATION APPROVED!

 

How to Freeze IDA / ARS credit reports

It’s actually pretty easy to freeze these reports.  Just googling for it will give you tons of information.  The steps I took (complete with form letters) came from an article on the website Travel with Grant.

The basic idea is that you send them a letter telling them you want to freeze your report, and provide them with some basic information (Driver’s license, SS card, etc.) and after a few weeks, your report is frozen.  The exact rules of how you send in the information vary by state (in Ohio, I could fax or send by mail).  For questions,

  • ARS –  800-392-8911 (Opens at 8AM EST)
  • IDA – 866-248-7344 (Opens at 8AM PST)

One note – faxing actually didn’t work as when you fax a driver’s license it makes it very hard to read.  The customer service rep actually warned me about that but I tried it anyways.  I got a nice letter in the mail telling me that my faxed driver’s license was unreadable and telling me to resubmit, so I ended up just mailing the copies in.

A few weeks later I got a letter in the mail confirming that my reports had been frozen, along with a PIN in case I ever want to unfreeze them.

Aftermath

I applied for the Club Carlson Visa as part of my very first churn, and was approved as it was my first credit card application in quite some time (so my IDA / ARS had nothing bad).  A few months later, Carolyn tried to apply for the same card and was denied because we had not frozen these reports.  We then froze these reports

Recently I applied for and was approved for the US Bank FlexPerks card and was automatically approved!  So there’s another data point that freezing these reports works, and is just about mandatory if you want to get any US Bank cards if you already have several cards.

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