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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.

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Your score is essentially a 3-digit summary of your credit health. A lender or credit card provider who looks at your credit score will be able to determine right away if you’re a borrower who can be trusted to pay back the money they lend you. Credit scores are calculated from the information in your credit report, a file containing all of your credit and financial activity over the months and years. Lenders will want to know you credit report and score to determine your ability to hold a loan.
Besides imposing no annual fee, the card has other perks, like rewarding me with a $20 statement credit when I reported a good GPA (up to 5 consecutive years), letting me earn 5 percent cash back on purchases in rotating categories, and matching the cash-back bonus I earned over the first 12 months with my account. For me, it was a great starter card, but there are plenty of other options out there.
Score providers, such as the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- and companies like FICO use different types of credit scoring models and may use different information to calculate credit scores. Credit scores provided by the three major credit bureaus will also vary because some lenders may report information to all three, two or one, or none at all.  And lenders and creditors may use additional information, other than credit scores, to decide whether to grant you credit. 

Each of the credit bureaus hard codes their credit reporting systems to look for the “purge from” dates. As these dates hit their 7 or 10 year anniversary they will no longer be reported. Unless you believe that an account is being reported past those time limits, there is no need to remind the credit bureaus that an item is to be removed. It is done automatically. Still, it’s a good idea to check your free credit report each year to make sure that is the case.
Your credit report card is a simple breakdown of what’s on your credit reports, so it’s not as difficult to read as the full version. However, you are entitled to one free annual credit report and you can get the full versions of your Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion reports by going to annualcreditreport.com. You can also get your FICO score from myfico.com.

There are several sections to the report that cover both the good and bad, if needed, of your credit history. At the top of the report, you'll see personal information such as your name, addresses from the last couple of decades or more, telephone numbers, and current and former employers. That's followed by public records that might show a bankruptcy, court judgment or lien.


There are, however, some key differences. One is that, unlike in the United States, where a consumer is allowed only one free copy of their credit report a year, in Canada, the consumer may order a free copy of their credit report any number of times in a year, as long as the request is made in writing, and as long as the consumer asks for a printed copy to be delivered by mail.[10][11] This request by the consumer is noted in the credit report as a 'soft inquiry', so it has no effect on their credit score. According to Equifax's ScorePower Report, Equifax Beacon scores range from 300 to 900. Trans Union Emperica scores also range from 300 and 900.
We always hear that it’s good to diversify. Your credit is no different. The mix of accounts you have—your student loans, auto loans, mortgages, and revolving credit cards make up 10% of your credit score. Creditors like to see this mix because it shows them you’re capable of handling all types of accounts. Want to see where you’re at? Your free credit report card will show you. See it now »

Anyone who denies you credit, housing, insurance, or a job because of a credit report must give you the name, address, and telephone number of the credit reporting agency (CRA) that provided the report. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have the right to request a free report within 60 days if a company denies you credit based on the report.
What is a credit score, and what is the difference among the three credit reporting agency (CRA) credit scores? A credit score is a three digit number, typically between 300 and 850, which is designed to represent your credit risk, or the likelihood you will pay your bills on time. A credit score is calculated based on a method using the content of your consumer file.
A lot of people think that checking their credit score once in a while or just a short period before they apply for credit is enough to get by, and many others don’t even think that far. The truth is that you’re bound to miss a lot if you don’t review at least one of your credit reports on a regular basis. And that’s problematic because what you don’t know about your credit can and will cost you.
Simply put, paying the minimum each month could cost you a lot of money and take forever to pay off. Say you have a credit card with a $1,000 balance and a 14.95 percent interest rate. According to Credit Karma’s debt repayment calculator, if you only paid $25 a month, it could cost you an estimated $393 in interest and take you an astonishing 56 months to pay off.
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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.

In the eyes of lenders, employers, insurance agents, and a host of other people and entities, the state of your credit represents how responsible and even how ethical you are. For example, lenders look at your credit score to determine not only your ability, but your willingness to repay a loan. Insurance companies view an individual with a good credit score as someone who is trustworthy and less likely to commit insurance fraud. Even many employers run a credit check to determine if a candidate is likely to be a responsible employee. (However, it should be noted that employers only have access to a modified version of your credit report which omits some personal information including your account numbers and year of birth.)
Your credit score is not part of your annual credit report, regardless of whether the report was free or paid, so you'll have to order your credit score separately. You can check it for free through CreditKarma.com, Credit Sesame.com, or Quizzle.com. You can also order your credit score for a fee from myFICO.com or from one of the three credit bureaus.

At Credit Sesame we believe that credit checks are vital to your financial well being. This is why offering you this free service is an important part of our company. Our patent pending analyses take a look at your credit history and debt situation to advise you on how much you can save on loans, credit card debt, and your home mortgage. Being aware of your credit score will help you understand your financial standing and give you the ability to know what next steps to take to further improve it.

Fill out your information. You will need to provide your personal information, including your name, DOB, SSN, address, etc. Once you enter your information you click return and your credit report will show up on the screen with the option to print. If you opt to print your credit report, be sure to select the option to only show the last four digits of your SSN when you are filling out your personal info – that way you aren’t leaving your full SSN on any paper that could be seen or stolen.
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 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.
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).
The reporting agencies don’t “judge” your credit.Your credit reports are simply a compilation of the facts that the agencies, or credit bureaus, collected about you. It’s up to individual lenders to decide what they deem as “good” or “bad,” which is why they often use credit scores as well. (Want to know what a good credit score is? This article will explain.)
The system of credit reports and scores in Canada is very similar to that in the United States and India, with two of the same reporting agencies active in the country: Equifax and TransUnion. (Experian, which entered the Canadian market with the purchase of Northern Credit Bureaus in 2008, announced the closing of its Canadian operations as of April 18, 2009).
There are only certain factors that can affect your credit score. Some of those factors are your payment history, credit utilization rate, credit age, account types, and the amount of credit inquiries you have on your account. More importantly, it also matters that type of inquiries that occurred. If it was a simple soft credit check, that Credit Sesame performs, your credit will not be affected. On the other hand, if you have had a hard credit inquiry, for example applying for a loan, will slowly reduce your credit score. Typically, the reduction in your credit score will be minor and rebounds afterwards.
There are, however, some key differences. One is that, unlike in the United States, where a consumer is allowed only one free copy of their credit report a year, in Canada, the consumer may order a free copy of their credit report any number of times in a year, as long as the request is made in writing, and as long as the consumer asks for a printed copy to be delivered by mail.[10][11] This request by the consumer is noted in the credit report as a 'soft inquiry', so it has no effect on their credit score. According to Equifax's ScorePower Report, Equifax Beacon scores range from 300 to 900. Trans Union Emperica scores also range from 300 and 900.
Your credit score uses data on how you’ve handled debt in the past to predict your likelihood of repaying a future loan or credit card balance. The higher your score, the better you look to potential creditors. Your score affects whether you get approved for credit and sometimes the interest rate or other charges you’ll pay. Check your free credit score to see where you stand.
A Credit Privacy Number (CPN) is a 9 digit number that is free and legal to get depending on how you use it. You will commonly find high-level business or government officials and members using this number that allows them to protect personal information for security reasons. You still need to have a social security number, as the CPN number is not a replacement for it. This number is used for business purposes that can allow a business to build credit, while not affecting in any way your current or past credit history. You will still rely on your credit score for personal use and it will determine you ability to get loans and other types of credit once you apply for it.
Lenders use these reports to help them decide if they will loan you money, what interest rates they will offer you. Lenders also use your credit report to determine whether you continue to meet the terms of an existing credit account. Other businesses might use your credit reports to determine whether to offer you insurance; rent a house or apartment to you; provide you with cable TV, internet, utility, or cell phone service. If you agree to let an employer look at your credit report, it may also be used to make employment decisions about you.
Most mortgage lenders use a specific version of the FICO score that may be different than the ones consumers obtain through other sources. However that’s less a function of the fact that a reseller is involved (which is common in the mortgage industry which needs tri-merge reports) and more due to the version of the FICO score that meets Freddie/Fannie guidelines. We wrote about different credit scores in this article: Why Do I Have So Many Credit Scores?
2. Tell the creditor or other information provider in writing that you dispute an item. Many providers specify an address for disputes. If the provider reports the item to a credit reporting company, it must include a notice of your dispute. And if you are correct — that is, if the information is found to be inaccurate — the information provider may not report it again.
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