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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.
While multiple hard inquiries can increase score drops, particularly for those who are new to credit, credit-scoring agencies recognize the importance of rate shopping. As a result, multiple inquiries for student loans that occur with a 14- to 45-day window (depending on the type of credit score) only count as a single inquiry when your score is being calculated.
The Government of Canada offers a free publication called Understanding Your Credit Report and Credit Score. This publication provides sample credit report and credit score documents, with explanations of the notations and codes that are used. It also contains general information on how to build or improve credit history, and how to check for signs that identity theft has occurred. The publication is available online at the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. Paper copies can also be ordered at no charge for residents of Canada.
Credit scores are three-digit numbers created using the information in credit reports. That information is used to try to predict how likely you are to pay your bills on time. While you have only three credit reports (at least from the major, national agencies), there are many different types of credit scores that can be calculated based on your credit information.
There are three main companies that compile credit reports: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They typically don’t share information with each other, and the data each one collects and reports may be different as a result. That’s why it’s a good idea to review your reports with each of these agencies so you know where you stand. You can get your credit reports free once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com and access two of your free credit scores with updates every month, here on Credit.com. Checking your scores will not harm them in any way, nor will looking at your reports.
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.
Disclaimer: Editorial and user-generated content is not provided or commissioned by financial institutions. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and have not been approved or otherwise endorsed by any financial institution, including those that are WalletHub advertising partners. Our content is intended for informational purposes only, and we encourage everyone to respect our content guidelines. Please keep in mind that it is not a financial institution’s responsibility to ensure all posts and questions are answered.
From initial reports, it appears that the UltraFICO Score will primarily be offered as a second-chance score. For example, “One use case is that a lender would invite a consumer who is in the process of applying for credit to participate in the UltraFICO scoring process,” said David Shellenberger, senior director of scores and predictive analytics at FICO.
If an individual submits an application for credit, an insurance policy or rental property, creditors, insurers, landlords and select others are legally allowed to access his credit report. Employers may also request a copy of an individual's credit report as long as the individual agrees and grants permission in writing. These entities typically must pay the credit bureaus for the report, which is how credit bureaus earn money.
A free Credit Sesame account utilizes information from TransUnion, one of the major national credit bureaus. Upgrade to a premium Credit Sesame plan for credit report info from all three bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. With full access to your credit history from each bureau, you’ll have a complete, comprehensive look at your credit activity.
When you open a new line of credit, a few immediate changes are usually made to your credit report. Most instantly, a new hard inquiry will probably be added to your report, and your average age of credit history could drop. Due to these factors, opening a new account is likely to drop your credit score in the short term. However, as you begin to diligently pay off your bills, the additional on-time payments, the higher number of total accounts and your now-growing age of credit history will likely outweigh the initial downsides, and your score can benefit in the long term.
The most popular credit scoring system in the United States is based on the FICO (Fair Isaac Corp.) range. This scoring range starts at 300 as the poorest score and goes up to 850 as the highest range possible, or excellent credit. Specifically, bad credit ranges from 300 to 629, fair credit ranges from 630 to 689, good credit ranges from 690 to 719, and finally, excellent credit which ranges from 720 and to 850. Other popular credit score range formulas exist, such as the VantageScore, which is what TransUnion, our credit score provider uses. It too ranges from 300 to 850. Checking your credit score with Credit Sesame is easy and can be done every month to see how your credit is performing.
Your credit score won’t be affected by placing your loans into deferment, forbearance or using a hardship option, as long as you make at least the required monthly payment on time. But interest may still accrue on your loans if you’re not making payments, and the accumulated interest could be added to your loan principal once you resume your full monthly payments.
After you’ve taken advantage of your annual freebies, use a personal finance site for frequent, ongoing credit monitoring. Monitoring your scores and reports can tip you off to problems such as an overlooked payment or identity theft. It also lets you track progress on building your credit. NerdWallet offers both a free credit report summary and a credit score, updated weekly.
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.
When ordering your credit report online, be sure to spell annualcreditreport.com correctly. You will then avoid being misdirected to other websites that claim to offer free reports, but only with the purchase of other products. While the authorized website may offer you additional products, you are not required to make a purchase to receive your free credit reports.
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.
Too many “hard” checks of your credit can ding your score. For example, if you apply for several credit cards at once, several credit inquiries will appear on your report. Too many credit checks (as well as applying for/opening too many accounts) can give the impression that you’re a credit risk. Apply for new credit accounts sparingly, to limit the amount of credit checks you may incur.
2. First Premier – The bank claims to want to offer people a second chance when it comes to their finances, but its fee structure and fine print prove the exact opposite. First Premier charges you a $95 processing fee just to apply for a credit card. Then it levies a $75 annual fee on the credit cards and most cards only come with a $300 limit. You’re paying $170 for a $300 credit line! The APR is a painful 36%. In year two the annual fee reduces to $45, but then you’re charged a monthly servicing fee of $6.25. And to top it all off, you’ll be charged a 25% fee if your credit limit is increased. Stay away from this card! Use the $170 it would take to open the card and get a secured card instead.
When you sign up for your free Credit.com account, you get your credit report card that tells you how you’re doing in the major areas of your credit score. Your Vantage score, like your FICO score, is a joint venture of the big three credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. The Vantage and FICO scoring models are the scores that most lenders use to evaluate you when you apply for a new credit card, a mortgage, and other types of accounts.