Unfortunately, identity theft is a very real threat to everyone. Even if you don’t keep an eye on your credit reports every other week, that’s OK because monitoring your score can help you make sure your identity isn’t being fraudulently used - a drastic change in your score can indicate that something may be wrong and help you keep track of how your sensitive information is being used.
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Gina, the most important thing you can do is pay your bills on time consistently – and even then, it takes time. Another important factor is your credit utilization, which is the amount of credit you are using compared to how much you have available. For example, using $10,000 of credit when you have $50,000 available is better than using $25,000 of credit when you have $50,000 available. Here are more tips: How to improve your credit score.
The reason paying off a loan can affect your credit is because it decreases the diversity of your credit in the eyes of lenders. This is similar to what happens when you close old accounts: when the number of credit resources decreases, your credit imperfections –– like missing a payment or two, or going over 30% on your credit utilization –– become more visible.
Chua learned about credit the hard way. He ruined his score by running up debt in college. He read up on how to fix it, went on internet forums, and eventually got his credit into good shape—then he landed a job at consumer credit firm Credit Karma. Even with all that effort, though, the big reason for his success was simple: He didn’t miss a payment for seven years. He also used at most 5 percent of his credit limit, since scores can be hurt by high “utilization rates.”
You can order your free credit reports online from annualcreditreport.com, the only authorized website for free credit reports. This is the only site authorized to issue free credit reports, so be aware of imitation websites that charge unnecessary fees. Be prepared to provide and verify your personal information, such as your social security number and address.
Your credit report will not be the same across all of the three major bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) because not all lenders report to all three. Some might have inputted the data wrong and might show up with errors while others might be perfectly correct. That is why it is important to check your report from all three of the major bureaus at least once a year (which is free) to determine if there are any issues. You cannot make any lender report your credit, so it is important to know the differences between your reports since different lenders pull your report usually from different bureaus.
If you already have a good-to-excellent credit score and a low debt-to-income ratio, you may want to consider refinancing your student loans. When you refinance your loans, you take out a new credit-based private student loan and use the money to pay off some or all of your current loans. (The lender will generally send the money directly to your loan servicers.)
Your credit report includes instructions on how to dispute inaccurate information. In most cases, you have to provide your credit bureau with a written statement regarding the information you are disputing. The credit bureau will then open an investigation with the creditor listed on your report. When the investigation is complete, the credit bureau is required to provide you with a written report of the outcome, as well as an updated copy of your credit report. If the dispute is ruled in your favor, the creditor must provide adjusted information to all three credit bureaus. In cases of identity theft, you should also file a police report.
However, credit scores are usually not the only things lenders will look at when deciding to extend you credit or offer you a loan. Your credit report also contains details which could be taken into consideration, such as the total amount of debt you have, the types of credit in your report, the length of time you have had credit accounts and any derogatory marks you may have. Other than your credit report and credit scores, lenders may also consider your total expenses against your monthly income (known as your debt-to-income ratio), depending on the type of loan you're seeking.
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.
When you order by phone or mail, you will receive your annual credit report via mail within two to three weeks. When you order online, you should be able to access it immediately. You must order your real annual credit report using one of the methods listed above, not directly from the credit bureaus or through any other websites. Note that all the credit bureaus have some type of credit card deal, but all require a credit card and will enroll you in a subscription service that you must remember to cancel in order to avoid monthly charges.
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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.