In today’s banking environment, the decision to offer you a mortgage or grant you a credit card sometimes comes down to one simple thing: your credit score. Based on information in your credit report (no, they are not the same thing), this numerical rating provides an easy way to assess your risk of defaulting on a loan. No wonder, then, that consumers are eager to find out their score – and if possible, for free.
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.
There are several sections to the report that cover both the good and bad, if needed, of your credit history. At the top of the report, you'll see personal information such as your name, addresses from the last couple of decades or more, telephone numbers, and current and former employers. That's followed by public records that might show a bankruptcy, court judgment or lien.
Or does it? America may finally be approaching what could arguably be called peak credit score. This year, the average national FICO number is 700, just above where it stood in October 2006, before the run-up to our most recent financial collapse. The ranks of “super-prime” consumers—those with scores of 800 and up—have steadily increased since 2010, and now number over 41 million, more than consumers with scores of 600 or below.
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The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the three credit reporting bureaus to supply consumers with a free credit report once per year. Federal law also entitles consumers to receive free credit reports if any company has taken adverse action against them. This includes denial of credit, insurance or employment as well as reports from collection agencies or judgments, but consumers must request the report within 60 days from the date the adverse action occurred. In addition, consumers who are on welfare, people who are unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days, and victims of identity theft are also entitled to a free credit report from each of the reporting agencies.
The credit report itself is a compilation of facts about how you manage your credit, and for the most part, it is judgment free. It’s up to lenders, insurance companies or others who review your credit reports to evaluate that information and decide what they think, and they usually do that with the help of credit scores. Of course, the information used to calculate your credit score can be found in your credit report, so you don’t really want to evaluate one without checking the other.
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A: Under the FCRA, both the credit reporting company and the information provider (that is, the person, company, or organization that provides information about you to a consumer reporting company) are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report. To take full advantage of your rights under this law, contact the credit reporting company and the information provider.