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An award-winning writer, editor and content strategist, Bob Musinski focuses on trends and issues related to credit cards and loans for U.S. News. He also has written dozens of stories for publications such as AAP News, Naperville Magazine and Natural Products Insider. He worked as an editor and reporter for three daily newspapers and an international wire service, where he covered events such as the World Series and Super Bowl and earned a national writing award from the Associated Press. His experience also includes planning and writing annual reports; strategizing, editing and writing for blogs; speechwriting; and strategic messaging development.
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.
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.
When reviewing this section, which contains information such as your name (and variations), current and previous addresses, etc., your main goal should be to make sure your personal information is correct and up to date. Slight variations of an old address or minor misspellings shouldn’t be much of an issue. But if there is an address listed and you have never lived there, or your reports list a version of your name you have never used, you will want to ask the credit reporting agency to investigate. It could mean that your information is mixed up with someone else’s or that someone has tried to use your information fraudulently.
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Some 200 million U.S. consumers have FICO credit scores, while just under 3 million, or about 1.4 percent, have perfect 850s. That’s according to Fair Isaac Corp., the company behind the 28-year-old scoring model used by lenders to predict whether you will pay back a loan. But over the years the number has become much more than that—it’s now an American totem of success or failure, hope or despair, security or risk. While there are competing models, almost anyone with a credit card knows that a number typically ranging between 300 and 850 holds huge sway over their financial life.
Not all lenders pull a credit report from all three credit bureaus when they are processing your credit applications – When you applied for that credit card or auto loan your lender most likely chose to pull only one of your three credit reports. This means that the “inquiry” is only going to show up on one of your three credit reports. The exception to this rule is a mortgage application. Most mortgage lenders will pull all three of your credit reports during their loan processing practices.
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.
Some 200 million U.S. consumers have FICO credit scores, while just under 3 million, or about 1.4 percent, have perfect 850s. That’s according to Fair Isaac Corp., the company behind the 28-year-old scoring model used by lenders to predict whether you will pay back a loan. But over the years the number has become much more than that—it’s now an American totem of success or failure, hope or despair, security or risk. While there are competing models, almost anyone with a credit card knows that a number typically ranging between 300 and 850 holds huge sway over their financial life.
Joint accounts are meant to help individuals who cannot qualify for a loan by themselves. With joint accounts, all of the joint account holders, guarantors, and/or cosigners are responsible for repaying the debt. The joint account, along with its credit history, appears on the credit report for all account holders. When all payments are made on time, the joint account can help build positive credit. However, if someone defaults on payments, all of the joint account holders will see the default on their own credit reports. Depending on the severity of the late payments and negative information, everyone's credit scores could be impacted significantly.
Most of them will eventually make it to your credit reports if you refuse to or cannot make your payments. It goes without saying that most of your traditional credit goes on your credit reports; auto loans, mortgages, credit cards, student loans and retail store cards. The following are some “non traditional” types of credit that don’t make it to your credit reports: utilities, cellular phone service and doctor’s bills. These credit items generally won’t show up on your credit reports unless you stop paying them. Once you stop paying them they’ll likely be sold off to third party collection agencies that will most definitely report them on your credit files. It may take a while, but eventually most will end up on your credit reports.
The only way to rebuild your credit scores is to address why they are low in the first place. Sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many people take a “shot in the dark” approach at rebuilding their credit scores. Or, they are guided by misinformation and/or unscrupulous individuals that promise a better credit score in exchange for a fee. Formulating a plan to rebuild your credit scores is not difficult. Here’s how to do it:

One of the provisions of FACTA, passed in 2003 as an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), was a requirement that each of the three credit reporting agencies provide, upon request, a free credit report every twelve months to every consumer. The goal was to allow consumers a way to ensure their credit information is correct and to guard against identity theft.[2]
The Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students allows you to earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere, every time and no expiration on points. This is a simple flat-rate card that doesn’t require activation or paying on time to earn the full amount of points per dollar, like the other two cards mentioned above. If you plan to do a semester abroad or often travel outside the U.S., this card is a good choice since there is no foreign transaction fee. Students with a Bank of America® checking or savings account can experience the most benefits with this card since you receive a 10% customer points bonus when points are redeemed into a Bank of America® checking or savings account. And, Preferred Rewards clients can increase that bonus 25%-75%.Read our roundup of the best student credit cards.

The Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students allows you to earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere, every time and no expiration on points. This is a simple flat-rate card that doesn’t require activation or paying on time to earn the full amount of points per dollar, like the other two cards mentioned above. If you plan to do a semester abroad or often travel outside the U.S., this card is a good choice since there is no foreign transaction fee. Students with a Bank of America® checking or savings account can experience the most benefits with this card since you receive a 10% customer points bonus when points are redeemed into a Bank of America® checking or savings account. And, Preferred Rewards clients can increase that bonus 25%-75%.Read our roundup of the best student credit cards.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a consumer is entitled to a free credit report (but not a free credit score) within 60 days of any adverse action (e.g., being denied credit, or receiving substandard credit terms from a lender) taken as a result of their credit score. Under the Wall Street reform bill passed on July 22, 2010, a consumer is entitled to receive a free credit score if they are denied a loan or insurance due to their credit score.[28]
You can request a free copy of your credit report from each of three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion® – once each year at AnnualCreditReport.com or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228. You’re also entitled to see your credit report within 60 days of being denied credit, or if you are on welfare, unemployed, or your report is inaccurate.
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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.


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.
Information That You Voluntarily Provide. We also collect non-personal information (e.g., your geographic location, etc.) when you voluntarily provide such information to us. When such information is not combined with any personal information, such information is considered to be non-personal information, as it does not personally identify you or any other user. Additionally, we may aggregate personal information in a manner such that the end-product does not personally identify you or any other user of the Site, for example, by using personal information to calculate the percentage of our users who have a particular telephone area code. Such aggregate information is considered non-personal information for purposes of this Policy.
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 Capital One® Secured Mastercard® offers qualifying cardholders a lower security deposit compared to other secured cards. You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200, determined based on your creditworthiness. Typical secured cards require you to deposit an amount equal to your credit limit, so this card has added perks for people who qualify for the lower deposits.You can also receive a credit limit increase without making an additional deposit after making your first five monthly payments on time. This is beneficial for people who need a higher credit limit and don’t want to (or can’t) tie up their money in a deposit. Also, this card comes with a credit resource center — which is available to everyone — and Platinum Mastercard® benefits that include travel accident insurance and price protection.
FICO® Scores are developed by Fair Isaac Corporation. The FICO Score provided by ConsumerInfo.com, Inc., also referred to as Experian Consumer Services ("ECS"), in Experian CreditWorksSM, Credit TrackerSM and/or your free Experian membership (as applicable) is based on FICO Score 8, unless otherwise noted. Many but not all lenders use FICO Score 8. In addition to the FICO Score 8, ECS may offer and provide other base or industry-specific FICO Scores (such as FICO Auto Scores and FICO Bankcard Scores). The other FICO Scores made available are calculated from versions of the base and industry-specific FICO Score models. There are many different credit scoring models that can give a different assessment of your credit rating and relative risk (risk of default) for the same credit report. Your lender or insurer may use a different FICO Score than FICO Score 8 or such other base or industry-specific FICO Score, or another type of credit score altogether. Just remember that your credit rating is often the same even if the number is not. For some consumers, however, the credit rating of FICO Score 8 (or other FICO Score) could vary from the score used by your lender. The statements that "90% of top lenders use FICO Scores" and "FICO Scores are used in 90% of credit decisions" are based on a third-party study of all versions of FICO Scores sold to lenders, including but not limited to scores based on FICO Score 8. Base FICO Scores (including the FICO Score 8) range from 300 to 850. Industry-specific FICO Scores range from 250-900. Higher scores represent a greater likelihood that you'll pay back your debts so you are viewed as being a lower credit risk to lenders. A lower FICO Score indicates to lenders that you may be a higher credit risk. There are three different major credit reporting agencies — the Experian credit bureau, TransUnion® and Equifax® — that maintain a record of your credit history known as your credit report. Your FICO Score is based on the information in your credit report at the time it is requested. Your credit report information can vary from agency to agency because some lenders report your credit history to only one or two of the agencies. So your FICO Score can vary if the information they have on file for you is different. Since the information in your report can change over time, your FICO Score may also change.

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.[3] 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.

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.
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.
It's rare that a free credit score truly has no strings attached. In the best-case scenario, you get added to the company's mailing list and have to manually unsubscribe if you don't want to be. Worst-case scenario, you enter your credit card and get automatically enrolled in credit monitoring services. This will show up as a recurring monthly charge on your credit card until you cancel it. However, there's usually a small window -- seven or 14 days -- after you get your free credit score in which you can cancel your subscription without being charged for credit monitoring.
The VantageScore was developed by the three credit reporting companies -- Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion -- whereas FICO scores are developed by Fair Isaac Corporation, hence the term FICO. They are two different scoring models, but both FICO and VantageScore issue scores ranging from 300 to 850. A difference between the two is the fact that FICO requires at least six months of credit history and at least one account reported within the last six months in order to be able to establish your credit score, whereas VantageScore only requires one month of history and one account reported within the past two years. You can read on about the further differences between the two here: https://wallethub.com/edu/vantage-score-vs-fico-score/36859/. Furthermore, you can see where your credit stands according to the VantageScore 3.0 model by signing up for a free WalletHub account. To begin, go here: https://wallethub.com/free-credit-score/.
How does information get on my credit report and is it updated on a regular basis?Every month, lenders submit updates on your credit profile to at least one of the three credit reporting companies—TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Since lenders do not necessarily report to all three companies, the information on your credit reports may vary. It is also true that lenders report at different times of the month, a factor that might contribute to slight differences in your reports, and therefore your credit scores, at any given time.
Credit scores are calculated from your credit report, which is a record of your credit activity that includes the status of your credit accounts and your history of loan payments. Many financial institutions use credit scores to determine whether an applicant can get a mortgage, auto loan, credit card or other type of credit as well as the interest rate and terms of the credit. Applicants with higher credit scores, which indicate a better credit history, typically qualify for larger loans with lower interest rates and better terms.
The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® has a straightforward cashback program, ideal if you don’t want to deal with rotating categories or activation. Earn 1% cash back on all purchases; 0.25% cash back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time. The bonus you receive is a great incentive to pay on time each month, which you should be doing regardless of rewards. If you receive a low credit limit, the Credit Steps program allows you to get access to a higher credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time.
FICO does offer a package called Score Watch, which is basically a 30-day free trial. When you sign up for Score Watch, you get a free FICO score and credit report. You will eventually be charged if you don't cancel, however, FICO will continuously remind you over the course of the 30 days that your free subscription is running out, so hopefully you won't end up forgetting.

To make things more complicated, the FICO scores you see are not the same ones that lenders see, although they are very similar. All FICO scores are based on a scale ranging from 300 to 850, with a higher number representing a better score. If you want the most accurate idea of what your credit score is, you should look at all three of your FICO scores -- one from each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax).
To order, visit annualcreditreport.com, call 1-877-322-8228. Or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Do not contact the three nationwide credit reporting companies individually. They are providing free annual credit reports only through annualcreditreport.com, 1-877-322-8228 or mailing to Annual Credit Report Request Service.
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