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.”
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Accordingly, the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion created the joint venture company Central Source LLC to oversee their compliance with FACTA. Central Source then set up a toll free telephone number, a mailing address and a central website, AnnualCreditReport.com, to process consumer requests. Access to the free report was initially rolled out in stages, based on the consumer’s state of residence. By the end of 2005 all U.S. consumers could use these services to obtain a credit report.
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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.)
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.
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.
Your credit score has become such a popular character-meter that there are dating services based on them. A 2015 academic study found that “quality in credit scores, measured at the time of relationship formation, are highly predictive of subsequent separations.” The research suggested “credit scores reveal an individual’s relationship skill and level of commitment.”
In the life of a grown-up, there are few feelings as anxiety-inducing as the moment when you get your credit report back, only to find that it’s not nearly as high as you anticipated. But fear not: there are a variety of perfectly good reasons why your credit score has taken a hit, and in this case, knowledge is power. The more you know about how your credit score operates and what can affect in, the easier it will be to get it back up to scratch.
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.
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Only one website is authorized to fill orders for the free annual credit report you are entitled to under law — annualcreditreport.com. Other websites that claim to offer “free credit reports,” “free credit scores,” or “free credit monitoring” are not part of the legally mandated free annual credit report program. In some cases, the “free” product comes with strings attached. For example, some sites sign you up for a supposedly “free” service that converts to one you have to pay for after a trial period. If you don’t cancel during the trial period, you may be unwittingly agreeing to let the company start charging fees to your credit card.