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.
Credit reports include personal information such as current and previous addresses, Social Security numbers and employment history. These reports also include a credit history summary such as the number and type of accounts that are past due or in good standing, and detailed account information related to high balances, credit limits and the date accounts were opened. Credit reports list credit inquiries and details of accounts turned over to credit agencies such as information about liens and wage garnishments. Generally, credit reports retain negative information for seven years, while bankruptcy filings typically stay on credit reports for about 10 years.
The AnnualCreditReport.com website was set up to comply with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act), legislation that requires the credit bureaus to provide consumers with a copy of their credit report once per year. It is the only official site to get a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
Your payment history comprises the bulk of what calculates your credit score (35%), so staying on time with your credit card, mortgage, auto or student loan bills is imperative to keep your credit score high. Too many late or non-payments can do the worst damage to your score, since it tells lenders that you’re an irresponsible borrower and credit risk.
You should also consider your level of comfort with sharing your financial account information. The UltraFICO is a positive use of such data, Wu said, but other potential applications could be worrying, such as debt collectors accessing this data. And last year’s Equifax data breach proves that consumers should be concerned with how credit reporting agencies collect, store and use personal data.
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.
Only one website is authorized to fill orders for the free annual credit report you are entitled to under law — annualcreditreport.com. Other websites that claim to offer “free credit reports,” “free credit scores,” or “free credit monitoring” are not part of the legally mandated free annual credit report program. In some cases, the “free” product comes with strings attached. For example, some sites sign you up for a supposedly “free” service that converts to one you have to pay for after a trial period. If you don’t cancel during the trial period, you may be unwittingly agreeing to let the company start charging fees to your credit card.