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Secured cards are a great way to build or improve credit. When you open a secured card, you submit a security deposit that typically becomes your credit limit. This deposit acts as collateral if you default on your account, but you can get it back if you close your account after paying off your balance. As long as you use a secured card responsibly — for example, make on-time payments and use little of your available credit — you may see improvements in your credit score. Unfortunately, in addition to the upfront deposit, this credit-building tool can have extra costs, like an annual fee.

Think of your credit scores like a report card that you might review at the end of a school term, but instead of letter grades, your activity ends up within a scoring range. However, unlike academic grades, credit scores aren't stored as part of your credit history. Rather, your score is generated each time a lender requests it, according to the credit scoring model of their choice.
Your credit report will not be the same across all of the three major bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) because not all lenders report to all three. Some might have inputted the data wrong and might show up with errors while others might be perfectly correct. That is why it is important to check your report from all three of the major bureaus at least once a year (which is free) to determine if there are any issues. You cannot make any lender report your credit, so it is important to know the differences between your reports since different lenders pull your report usually from different bureaus.
The three major CRAs are private, for-profit companies and they don’t share information with each other. That means there can be a mistake on one report but not another. This is why it’s important to review all of them for any errors (more on disputes in a minute). Meaning, when you monitor one report, you need to take a look at the other two as well.
In this part of your credit report, you’ll find bankruptcies, judgments, tax liens and/or collection accounts. One of the most important things to check here is that the dates listed are correct since they may directly affect how long these items will affect your credit. Collection accounts can be reported seven years plus 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor; bankruptcies may be reported for 10 years from the filing date (seven years in the case of Chapter 13); paid judgments may appear for seven years from the date the judgment was entered by the court; and paid tax liens may be reported for seven years from the date they were entered. (Still confused? You can find a full list of how long things stay on your credit report.)
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.
Mierzwinski says that another option to consider is a credit freeze. A freeze would allow you to restrict access to your credit report. Thanks to the recently approved federal banking deregulation law, the three major credit reporting agencies will soon allow you to freeze your credit for free. This law pre-empts states from passing stronger credit freeze laws on their own, though, he says.
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You’ve decided to take the plunge and review your credit reports. (Good call. Credit impacts so many aspects of our lives. It’s important to know where you stand.) The first part — getting your free credit report — should be easy. Just hop over to AnnualCreditReport.com and request them online, by telephone or by mail. Once you have them, the fun begins. You get to read and try to understand all the information the three major credit bureaus have compiled about you. That may seem daunting at first. After all, most reports consist of pages and pages of information. But there are ways to keep your eyes from crossing.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. The FCRA promotes the accuracy and privacy of information in the files of the nation’s credit reporting companies. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the FCRA with respect to credit reporting companies.
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