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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.

There’s a misconception that your credit report is a computer file that sits at a credit reporting agency and gets periodically updated. But it doesn’t quite work that way. When someone requests your report, the credit reporting agency’s computers go to work, compiling information that matches your identifying information with a report that can be scored or provided to the lender, insurance agency or other company that purchased it.
While late credit card and mortgage payments are also starting to tick up, Zandi believes those measures “are simply returning to historical norms.” Looser underwriting and hard-hit consumers in energy patches like Texas and the Dakotas are driving some of that. But there’s a third possible explanation: The weakening predictive power of credit scores as consumers learn how to game the system.
A: You need to provide your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. If you have moved in the last two years, you may have to provide your previous address. To maintain the security of your file, each nationwide credit reporting company may ask you for some information that only you would know, like the amount of your monthly mortgage payment. Each company may ask you for different information because the information each has in your file may come from different sources.
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