Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to get a free credit report these days. But we could all stand to make some improvements in terms of how often we check and what we do with the information. So WalletHub convened a panel of personal finance experts for some tips and insights. Below, you can see who they are, what we asked them and how they recommend getting more from your free credit reports.
Most credit counselors offer services through local offices, online, or on the phone. If possible, find an organization that offers in-person counseling. Many universities, military bases, credit unions, housing authorities, and branches of the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service operate nonprofit credit counseling programs. Your financial institution, local consumer protection agency, and friends and family also may be good sources of information and referrals.
Score providers, such as the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- and companies like FICO use different types of credit scoring models and may use different information to calculate credit scores. Credit scores provided by the three major credit bureaus will also vary because some lenders may report information to all three, two or one, or none at all. And lenders and creditors may use additional information, other than credit scores, to decide whether to grant you credit.
Your credit report is a record of your credit activity and credit history. It includes the names of companies that have extended you credit and/or loans, as well as the credit limits and loan amounts. Your payment history is also part of this record. If you have delinquent accounts, bankruptcies, foreclosures or lawsuits, these can also be found in your credit report.
FICO scores are used by many mortgage lenders that use a risk-based system to determine the possibility that the borrower may default on financial obligations to the mortgage lender. For most mortgages originated in the United States, three credit scores are obtained on a consumer: a Beacon 5.0 score (Beacon is a trademark of FICO) which is calculated from the consumer's Equifax credit history, a FICO Model II score, which is calculated from the consumer's Experian credit history, and a Classic04 score, which is calculated from the consumer's Trans Union history.
Especially if you’ve had good enough credit to open an elite credit card with an excellent rewards program, it makes sense that some of your very first credit accounts are collecting dust. It might seem financially responsible to clean house financially and close some of your older or neglected credit accounts, but consider this: your oldest accounts are also your greatest and longest source of credit history. If you close them, the pool of information that dictates your credit score will shrink, making you more vulnerable to credit report dings.
If you have been turned down for credit, employment or insurance you may qualify for a free report. Contact the company that denied you service and request the name and contact information of the credit bureau from whom they obtained your information. You can then contact this credit bureau within 60 days using the information provided to obtain your free credit report.
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The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. The FCRA promotes the accuracy and privacy of information in the files of the nation’s credit reporting companies. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the FCRA with respect to credit reporting companies.