Although your credit score only consists of three digits, it’s a complicated and often times exasperating part of your financial life. While it can be challenging to understand exactly how your credit score comes to be, it’s much simpler to request and review your credit report.
A credit report is essentially a file on you, your accounts and your payment history. It’s the information used to determine your actual credit score. This collection of data usually begins when you first apply for a credit card, loan, insurance, lease or job.
It’s important to establish and maintain good credit because:
- A credit report is a record of where you work and live, how you pay your bills and whether you’ve been sued, arrested or have filed for bankruptcy.
- Employers can legally look at your credit report if you sign an authorization form when you apply for the job. Employers can look at your credit report to gauge your personal integrity and financial honesty. You can refuse to sign the form, but consequently, a company may assume that you have something to hide. This means your application and chance of employment could be dismissed.
- Banks, insurance companies and landlords look at your credit report for similar reasons. They’re looking at your ability to pay off debt and paying your debts on time.
How to request your credit report
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction (FACT) Act allows you to get one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies – that’s three free reports each year!
The national credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and Trans Union – must provide a single point of contact so you can get reports from all three national credit reporting agencies with a single Internet request, telephone call or mail form. Free annual credit reports are available to all consumers through the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
You have the option to order all three free credit reports at the same time, which allows you to compare the information in each report, or you can choose to order your free reports at different times throughout a 12-month period.
To get your free annual credit report, go through the FTC’s website at www.annualcreditreport.com, call (877) 322-8228 or write: Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA, 30348-5281. Keep in mind that www.annualcreditreport.com is the only authorized source to get your free annual credit report under federal law, while sites like freecreditreport.com charge membership fees to view your credit report.
Reviewing your credit report: a checklist
When you receive your credit report, take some time to closely review the information it contains:
- Check all accounts and account numbers to make sure all accounts listed are yours.
- Make sure all outstanding balances are accurate.
- Make sure all past due amounts are correct.
- Make sure all dates showing the last activity on each account are correct.
- Make sure no entries appear more than once.
- Make sure all court and public records, if any, are accurate.
- Make sure all personal information (name, address, Social Security number, etc.) is correct.
If you find an error, the credit reporting agency or the creditor reporting the information must investigate and respond, generally within 30 to 45 days. Use the following contact information to report errors directly to the credit reporting agency:
- Equifax: (800) 685-1111, www.equifax.com
- Experian: (800) 397-3742, www.experian.com
- TransUnion: (800) 888-4213, www.transunion.com
If you suspect identity theft, you may need to place a fraud alert on your credit report, close compromised accounts, file a complaint with the FTC or file a police report. For more information, visit the FTC’s identity theft website.