A credit reporting agency (CRA) is a company that collects information about where you live and work, how you pay your bills, whether or not you have been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. All of this information is combined together in a credit report. A CRA will then sell your credit report to creditors, employers, insurers, and others. These companies will use these reports to make decisions about extending credit, jobs, and insurance policies to you.
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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.
The lesson here is that it’s hard to know exactly what your credit score will be when a potential creditor looks at it (or what score they’ll even look at). Instead of obsessing over a specific number, regularly review your credit reports for accuracy and focus on the fundamentals of good credit like paying down debt, making payments on time, waiting for negative information to age off your credit reports and sparingly applying for good credit.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint, visit ftc.gov/complaint or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
When checking this information, you’ll want to make sure all dates and balances are correct. Dates are especially important because they determine when these items will come off your credit reports. It’s also important to note that while paying a collection account may be the right thing to do and may help you avoid being sued for a debt, it may not boost your credit scores. If you currently have an account in collections, this guide can help you learn more about how to deal with a debt collector.
Alternatively, consumers wishing to obtain their credit scores can in some cases purchase them separately from the credit bureaus or can purchase their FICO score directly from FICO. Credit scores (including FICO scores) are also made available free by subscription to one of the many credit report monitoring services available from the credit bureaus or other third parties, although to actually get the scores free from most such services, one must use a credit card to sign up for a free trial subscription of the service and then cancel before the first monthly charge. Websites like WalletHub, Credit Sesame and Credit Karma provide free credit scores with no credit card required, using the TransUnion VantageScore 3.0 model. Credit.com uses the Experian VantageScore 3.0 model. Until March 2009, holders of credit cards issued by Washington Mutual were offered a free FICO score each month through the bank's Web site. (Chase, which took over Washington Mutual in 2008, discontinued this practice in March, 2009.)Chase resumed the practice of offering a free FICO score in March, 2010 of select card members to the exclusion of the majority of former WAMU card holders.
Credit Sesame will give you your free credit score once a month based on the VantageScore. You can check your credit score everyday but it will cost you. Typically, your credit score will gradually improve over time, so it is best to check on occassion to see a much more significant improvement or decline. If you do choose to check your credit score often you do not have to worry about it affecting your credit score. There are two types of credit inquiries that can happen. Hard inquiries are the types of credit checks that can impact your credit score slightly and is usually done by a creditor. While soft credit checks will not impact your credit score.
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.
A credit report includes information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued or have filed for bankruptcy. Nationwide credit reporting companies sell the information in your report to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting a home.