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TransUnion, Experian and Equifax aren’t the only credit reporting agencies that track your financial performance. Tens of other companies across the country maintain data on your rent payments, check-writing history and insurance claims. Along with traditional credit data, this alternative information is then factored into the decisions made by financial institutions, landlords, employers and insurers.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you are legally entitled to at least one report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. In addition, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that you check your credit report at least once a year to prevent identity theft and ensure your information is accurately reported to the credit bureaus.
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA) made it possible for you to get a free credit report. Through FACTA you can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—each year. You should take advantage of this ability by ordering your credit report and using it to monitor your credit history.
Nothing in the scoring models suggest that carrying credit card debt month to month is beneficial. It is totally possible to establish a good credit score by paying off your credit card on time and in full every month. Don’t plan to pay interest — in other words, don’t pay just the minimum payment — to build your credit score. It won’t help with your score, and it will cost you a staggering interest payment.
Then there are "educational scores," which the credit bureaus produce for you, the individual consumer, to educate you about your creditworthiness. Most free credit scores fall into this category. These scores typically employ the same 300-to-850 scale, but they use proprietary formulas for their calculations that are not the same as the FICO or VantageScores. However, they take similar factors into consideration, so they can give you a ballpark picture of where you're at. More importantly, free scores often come with information about which factors are helping or hurting your credit score. This can give you some idea of what you can do to improve your score.
If you didn't remember to cancel the trial, your credit card would be charged for a full period of the credit monitoring service. These gimmicks still exist, although now most of them offer your credit report for $1, rather than for free. The legitimate website for ordering your free annual credit report doesn't require a credit card and doesn't ask you to sign up for any trial subscription.
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.
Tip: Be cautious of websites that claim to offer free credit reports. Some of these websites will only give you a free report if you buy other products or services. Other websites give you a free report and then bill you for services you have to cancel. To get the free credit report authorized by law, go to AnnualCreditReport.com  or call (877) 322-8228.
A: You need to provide your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. If you have moved in the last two years, you may have to provide your previous address. To maintain the security of your file, each nationwide credit reporting company may ask you for some information that only you would know, like the amount of your monthly mortgage payment. Each company may ask you for different information because the information each has in your file may come from different sources.
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