With the increase in financial crime, such as identity theft, it's wise to check your credit history at least once a year. You can obtain a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. To order your free annual report, go to annualcreditreport.com, call 877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
A number of years ago, before I knew better, I got myself enrolled in a credit monitoring service to get my free credit report and score. I stayed enrolled for well over a year and received nothing for my monthly fee. No updated credit reports and no more scores. Cancelling was very difficult. I had to navitage a internet and phone maze to finally reach someone who would cancel my membership. In my personal opinion, it’s a lot less hassle to get your credit reports at Annual Credit Report and just pay for your score if you really need it.
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.
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.
It’s a good idea to look into inquiries from companies whose names you don’t recognize. While it’s possible they could be from companies you’ve done business with (if they report under a different company name, for example), they could also indicate fraud like identity theft, which we mentioned can bring down your credit scores. You’ll want to dispute any errors you discover as soon as you can to avoid further damage. Not sure where to start? You can learn more about disputing an error on your credit report by reading this primer.
If, after carefully reviewing your credit report, you still don’t understand all the information it contains, your first step should be to contact the credit reporting agency that supplied it. You should find a report number listed at the top of your credit report. You will want to use that when you contact the CRA as it will make things easier and faster. Contact the CRA using the phone number or address supplied on your report. In addition, you should find an address and toll-free number for the agency on your report. By law, they must provide trained personnel who can help you understand the information in your report.
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Here you’ll find information about any companies that have reviewed your credit reports in the past two years. It’s natural to be concerned about the fact that too many inquiries may hurt your credit scores, but for most people, the majority of inquiries won’t affect their scores. That’s because most of them will be “soft inquiries,” which are generated when the request isn’t related to a borrower’s request for financing. Soft inquiries include those generated for promotional or pre-approved credit offers, or “account review” inquiries generated when your current lenders review your credit. Pulling your own credit report is also considered a soft inquiry.
The Discover it® Secured is a standout secured card that provides cardholders the opportunity to earn cash back while building credit. A cashback program is hard to find with secured cards, and the Discover it® Secured offers 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, 1% cash back on all your other purchases. In addition, there is a new cardmember offer where Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically. This is a great way to get a lot of rewards without needing to do any extra work.In addition to a cashback program, this card provides valuable credit resources such as free access to your FICO® Score and a Credit Resource Center — just note these services are available whether you’re a cardholder or not. Discover also takes the guesswork out of wondering when you’re ready for an unsecured card (aka a regular credit card) by performing automatic monthly account reviews, starting at eight months of card membership.
SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT COLLECTIONS: Collection agencies will often report debts to the credit bureaus in an attempt to collect from the consumer. This is perfectly legal as defined by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The issue here is that, intentionally or not, collection agencies sometimes report to the credit bureaus using a newer “purge from” date despite the fact that this is not allowed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The result of this misreporting is that the collection item will remain on the credit file longer than they should. If that happens, you can dispute the old account.
Even if you feel that you have good credit and are in a good position financially, you should still obtain your individual credit file annually, so you can comb through it and catch any potential problems that the reporting agencies may not have caught regarding identity theft or fraud. Looking for signs of identity theft is just as important as your actual credit report and scores.
We know our credit score sets interest rates on what we borrow, sure. But many may not realize that it also affects what card offers you get, what deposit utilities require, what your insurance rate will be, whether you get that rental apartment, or what your installment plan is for a mobile phone. In our society, it’s a three-digit number that can open or shut doors. Not surprisingly, many hyper-competitive consumers obsess over it. And when Americans obsess over something, they start looking for an edge.
It might have stayed that way had he not charged the cost of a move from New York to Silicon Valley. In 2010, he decided to default on four credit cards, plotting out a high-stakes strategy: He would stop paying his cards and then try to negotiate with issuers just before hitting 180 days of non-payment. Accounting rules require credit-card companies to write off bad debts at that point, and he figured they don’t like doing that.
If it’s been a long time since you checked your credit report, there’s a good chance it contains incorrect or outdated information. Eighty percent of credit reports contain bad information, according to Deborah McNaughton, founder of Professional Credit Counselors. Common credit report errors include wrong birth dates, misspelled names and incorrect account details. It can take 30 to 45 days to get your credit report corrected.
Lenders use these reports to help them decide if they will loan you money, what interest rates they will offer you. Lenders also use your credit report to determine whether you continue to meet the terms of an existing credit account. Other businesses might use your credit reports to determine whether to offer you insurance; rent a house or apartment to you; provide you with cable TV, internet, utility, or cell phone service. If you agree to let an employer look at your credit report, it may also be used to make employment decisions about you.
Look for information that appears outdated or inaccurate. A financial institution may not have reported a payment correctly, for example, or it may have confused you with someone else who has a similar name. You should also look for accounts that you don't recognize. This could be a sign that your identity has been stolen. In that case, you should contact the credit bureau and financial institution immediately to alert them of the problem. Then place a fraud alert on your account so future creditors know to be extra cautious when opening new lines of credit in your name.
Here, you’ll want to investigate addresses you see that are clearly wrong — in another state, for example — 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, which can drag down your scores and cause financial trouble. (You can learn more about the dangers of identity theft and how it can hurt your credit scores here.)
A credit report includes information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued or have filed for bankruptcy. Nationwide credit reporting companies sell the information in your report to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting a home.