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It used to be that your credit score was a big mystery, or you had to pay to see it. Now credit card companies can’t wait to show you your score, for free. But those three-digit numbers you get every month aren’t necessarily the ones lenders use. In reality, you have dozens of scores, some based on previous versions of FICO scoring models and others developed by the three big credit bureaus. And your score will vary by the lender’s industry—mortgage, auto loan, credit card, and telecom services.
If you don’t pay a medical bill or a cell phone bill, your account may be referred to a collection agency. Once it is with an agency, they can register that debt with the credit bureau, which can have a big negative impact on your score. Most negative information will stay on your credit bureau for 7 years. Positive information will stay on your credit bureau forever, so long as you keep the account open. If you close an account with positive information, then it will typically stay on your report for about 10 years, until that account completely disappears from your credit bureau and score. If you don’t use your credit card (and therefore no payment is due), your score will not improve. You have to use credit in order to get a good score.
Like credit builder loans, secured credit cards are an easy way to build or rebuild credit history. The application process is the same, but secured credit cards require a deposit between $50 and $300 into a separate account. The bank then issues a line of credit that is typically equal to the deposit, allowing you to build a credit history without putting the lender at risk.

It's rare that a free credit score truly has no strings attached. In the best-case scenario, you get added to the company's mailing list and have to manually unsubscribe if you don't want to be. Worst-case scenario, you enter your credit card and get automatically enrolled in credit monitoring services. This will show up as a recurring monthly charge on your credit card until you cancel it. However, there's usually a small window -- seven or 14 days -- after you get your free credit score in which you can cancel your subscription without being charged for credit monitoring.
Your credit score and credit report are separate from one another. Your report is your entire credit history of all your installment (loan) and revolving (credit card) accounts. Your credit score on the other hand, is a number calculated from your credit history that shows where you stand in terms of credit health. Even though the two are related, you do have to request them separately.
Also, be sure your employers are listed correctly, but don’t be surprised if you see out-of-date employment information. Lenders don’t usually rely on that data, but do investigate if you see addresses that are completely wrong (e.g., you never lived there) or variations of your name you don’t recognize. They could mean your credit information is getting mixed up with that of someone else, or they could be a sign of identity theft.
The latest FTC report shows that approximately 1 in 4 Americans found at least one significant error on their report. What most aren’t aware of or take action on is the ability to dispute credit report errors with the bureaus. First, spot the error on your credit report. Review all of your reports with the bureaus to make sure you have all the information. Next file the dispute with the right bureaus online. Finally, follow up.
If the applicant is declined for credit, the lender is not obliged to reveal the exact reason why. However industry associations including the Finance and Leasing Association oblige their members to provide a satisfactory reason. Credit-bureau data sharing agreements also require that an applicant declined based on credit-bureau data is told that this is the reason and the address of the credit bureau must be provided.

Joint accounts are meant to help individuals who cannot qualify for a loan by themselves. With joint accounts, all of the joint account holders, guarantors, and/or cosigners are responsible for repaying the debt. The joint account, along with its credit history, appears on the credit report for all account holders. When all payments are made on time, the joint account can help build positive credit. However, if someone defaults on payments, all of the joint account holders will see the default on their own credit reports. Depending on the severity of the late payments and negative information, everyone's credit scores could be impacted significantly.
FICO® Scores are developed by Fair Isaac Corporation. The FICO® Score provided by ConsumerInfo.com, Inc., also referred to as Experian Consumer Services ("ECS"), in Experian CreditWorksSM, Credit TrackerSM and/or your free Experian membership (as applicable) is based on FICO® Score 8, unless otherwise noted. Many but not all lenders use FICO® Score 8. In addition to the FICO® Score 8, ECS may offer and provide other base or industry-specific FICO® Scores (such as FICO® Auto Scores and FICO® Bankcard Scores). The other FICO® Scores made available are calculated from versions of the base and industry-specific FICO® Score models. There are many different credit scoring models that can give a different assessment of your credit rating and relative risk (risk of default) for the same credit report. Your lender or insurer may use a different FICO® Score than FICO® Score 8 or such other base or industry-specific FICO® Score, or another type of credit score altogether. Just remember that your credit rating is often the same even if the number is not. For some consumers, however, the credit rating of FICO® Score 8 (or other FICO® Score) could vary from the score used by your lender. The statements that "90% of top lenders use FICO® Scores" and "FICO® Scores are used in 90% of credit decisions" are based on a third-party study of all versions of FICO® Scores sold to lenders, including but not limited to scores based on FICO® Score 8. Base FICO® Scores (including the FICO® Score 8) range from 300 to 850. Industry-specific FICO® Scores range from 250-900. Higher scores represent a greater likelihood that you'll pay back your debts so you are viewed as being a lower credit risk to lenders. A lower FICO® Score indicates to lenders that you may be a higher credit risk. There are three different major credit reporting agencies — the Experian credit bureau, TransUnion® and Equifax® — that maintain a record of your credit history known as your credit report. Your FICO® Score is based on the information in your credit report at the time it is requested. Your credit report information can vary from agency to agency because some lenders report your credit history to only one or two of the agencies. So your FICO® Score can vary if the information they have on file for you is different. Since the information in your report can change over time, your FICO® Score may also change.
When the investigation is complete, the credit reporting company must give you the written results and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. (This free report does not count as your annual free report.) If an item is changed or deleted, the credit reporting company cannot put the disputed information back in your file unless the information provider verifies that it is accurate and complete. The credit reporting company also must send you written notice that includes the name, address, and phone number of the information provider.
To order, visit annualcreditreport.com, call 1-877-322-8228. Or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Do not contact the three nationwide credit reporting companies individually. They are providing free annual credit reports only through annualcreditreport.com, 1-877-322-8228 or mailing to Annual Credit Report Request Service.
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