How Going to Prison Can Affect Your Credit Score
If you’re in legal trouble, or if a loved one is facing a prison sentence, credit scores may be the last thing on your mind. But getting your finances in order before going to prison, or helping a loved one do so, is important.
Credit scores can drop when you’re incarcerated, making it more difficult to access credit when you are released. Let’s take a look at how time in prison affects credit scores and how you can make sure your finances are protected.
What you need to know about your credit and prison:
- A prison sentence will not show up on your credit report.
- Difficulty paying bills or monitoring your credit while in prison can hurt your credit score.
- Consider having a trusted loved one look after your accounts.
- Putting a freeze on your credit can protect you from ID theft while you’re incarcerated.
How going to prison can impact your credit score
A prison sentence can be devastating for you and your family, and it can be easy for a lot of things to fall by the wayside — including bills and financial obligations.
While a prison stint can hurt your credit score, it need not sentence you to a lifetime of bad credit. For one, a prison term will never show up on your credit report. Your credit report is simply a report of your credit history. Prison time will not be mentioned, so creditors will never know if you’ve been incarcerated.
But being in prison can make it difficult to pay bills, including legal fees or fines resulting from incarceration.
“A missed or neglected credit card or mortgage payment that is reported 30 days late, then 60, then 90, can seriously damage a person’s credit score,” said David Reischer, attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com.
Knowing common ways prison can hurt your credit score should help you prepare and avoid any issues. Here are some ways a prison sentence could damage your credit score:
Inability to pay bills
If you’re involved in legal trouble, you may no longer be able to work and earn a paycheck. In addition, immediate financial obligations, like bail or legal fees, can mean that there may not be enough money to pay ongoing bills, such as credit card payments or student loans. Even if you do have the funds to pay monthly bills, it may be impossible to do so from prison. “Generally a prisoner will not have access to telephonic or internet banking while in prison,” said Reischer. Missed bill payments could result in lenders sending your accounts into collections, further hurting your credit score.
Inability to monitor credit
If you’re no longer able to actively monitor credit‚ it may be possible for someone to access and charge your cards, or open fraudulent accounts in your name. By the time you notice and report the behavior, your credit score may have dropped.
Inability to manage derogatory marks
Late payments often have a domino effect — and restricted phone or internet access can make it nearly impossible to contact customer service and ask for forgiveness on a late or forgotten payment. These late payments or overlooked bills become derogatory marks, which can tank your credit.
Tips for protecting your credit while in prison
While managing your credit in prison may be challenging, it’s not impossible. Here are some ways to protect your credit while in prison:
Consider a financial proxy
A spouse, friend or relative, or even a lawyer, may be able to keep track of your finances for you while you’re incarcerated, said Reischer. Of course, the issue is that you’re likely going to have to give this person sensitive information, and there’s a chance they could use this information to open fraudulent accounts.
But if you trust someone, giving them access to your accounts — or opening a joint account so they can actively administer your account while you’re gone — can be a good way to make sure your finances are being well-managed.
Check your credit
Even while incarcerated, it’s possible to check your credit by requesting a free credit report. You can request a credit report by mail from all three credit bureaus, even while you’re in prison.
You’ll need a warden or prison administrator to confirm your name and inmate number to complete the request.
Request a security freeze
It’s possible to request a free credit freeze of your credit report from all three credit reporting bureaus. This can make it virtually impossible for a new card or loan to be taken out in your name, which can limit the potential for fraudulent activity and give you peace of mind.
Find opportunities to keep track of your finances
Whether it’s checking your account information over the phone or having a loved one bring financial documents for perusal during visiting hours, having a plan to keep track of your finances can be a smart strategy.
Have a financial plan in place
If you have time to settle or shape your financial affairs before a prison sentence begins, you should make a plan for how bills will be paid. If you have federal student loans and you are incarcerated, you may still be eligible for an income-driven repayment plan. It might be a good idea to speak with a consumer lawyer, who may be able to give you options to stay on top of your credit while in prison.
Focus on the future
Remember, even if your credit takes a hit, bad credit is reversible. Having a plan in place for how to pay down debts can get you back on track. There may be special business grants and loans available for felons, which can help you jump-start your career once you’re released. Knowing what’s available to you can help you take the best steps forward.
Learn more: What is a credit score?
As you may know, a credit score is a number, based on information in your credit reports, that lenders use to assess your risk as a borrower. Your credit score can determine whether you can open a credit card, how much interest you’ll pay and whether you’ll be approved for everything from an apartment rental to an insurance policy. Some employers even use credit checks when assessing job candidates.
Clearly, your credit score factors into many parts of your life. That’s why it’s important to know your score (you can check your credit score for free through My LendingTree) and keep track of your credit reports.
If you’re going to prison, having a loved one keep track of your finances and the credit in your name can make it easier to pick up where you left off when you’ve finished your sentence.
Remember: Poor credit is not a life sentence
A prison sentence won’t be easy for you or your family. But taking steps now can help protect your credit so you can go on with your life. Use the resources available to you to make sure your finances are being handled when you’re unable to handle them yourself. Being realistic about financial challenges in prison can help you figure out your best course of action.