The Credit Check Situation

For the last week, there have been numerous reports of individuals who have opened Electric Orange checking accounts and after sixty days have had a credit check run on them. Here’s a typical example of such a report at Consumerism Commentary. In some cases, apparently, after this credit check, the Electric Orange account is closed. To me, at least, this is rather ominous behavior as initial descriptions of the account indicated that there would be no credit checks, so I began investigating.

First of all, from their FAQ:

Do you pull my credit if I apply for Electric Orange and the Overdraft Line of Credit?
Yes. As part of your application, ING DIRECT will obtain information about you from a consumer credit reporting agency (a “hard pull”) to confirm that you are eligible for Electric Orange.

So, indeed, the standard practice for people who sign up for an Electric Orange account is that they check your credit report with a hard pull. A “hard pull” generally means about a -5 on your credit score that lasts for about six months, then goes away. MyMoneyBlog has an extensive explanation of hard pulls versus soft pulls.

So where did the idea that ING did not pull one’s credit come from? The story that I have been able to piece together is that when ING first sent out press releases for the account, their official policy was to give everyone a $1,000 line of credit without a credit check. Most of this initial information was sent out in January 2007 and was posted on various banking sites that post press releases and such.

Sometime shortly thereafter, ING changed their policy for new accounts. I spoke to a customer service representative at ING who basically said that this change happened a few months ago, implying that it was likely in February or March 2007. The change stated that ING did have the option to run a credit check at their discretion. Now, the policy is as stated above.

Why did they make this change? I have read many, many reports of people signing up for Electric Orange, immediately “overdrafting” their checking account, and using the overdraft protection as another credit card, which was not the purpose of the account at all – it was intended as an occasional protection against overdrafts. I would strongly speculate that this behavior warranted the change in policy from ING.

What can we learn from this? First of all, know what you’re signing up for, no matter what. If you read a four month old press release on a product, sign up for it without reading the documentation, and find out that things have changed, you’ve made a bad move. Don’t rely on second-hand information ever – investigate for yourself. Blogs like these are meant to get you thinking and point you in the right direction, but you have to do the investigation yourself.

Second, you need to ask yourself if a credit check like this is an issue for you. The credit protection offered by this account is exactly what I want. I’ve overdrafted once in my life and it was due to a mathematical error – but it ended up costing me almost $100 to deal with. With Electric Orange, it wouldn’t cost me a thing other than a few cents in interest. Plus, the account balance itself earns a 4.00% APY. My credit is stellar, so I’m not bothered by the credit check, but if your credit is poor or you’re sweating every single point on your score, this could be an issue for you.

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