Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Credit Report Basics

According to the Federal Trade Commission, everyone is entitled, by law, to one free credit report from each credit bureau per year. You may have heard advertisements on TV for free credit reports on websites such as freecreditreport.com or creditreport.com, but the only real free website provided by the government is AnnualCreditReport.com. The rest only provide you with free credit reports after you sign up for paid services. I highly suggest you check your report every year. It won't take you that long, but it'll give you peace of mind that the information used to determined your credit score is correct. There are 3 national credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Just after graduating from college, I applied for a new credit card in hopes of more rewards and a higher credit line than my Bank of America Student Visa Card (this was recently upgraded to a Platinum Plus Visa). Not long after, I received a letter informing me that I was rejected. I knew my credit history was short, but I had never made a late payment, carried a balance, or gone over the limit. Out of curiosity, I checked my report.
It turns out that my report was lumped together with someone else's, so there were several other credit cards showing up on my report that were not mine. I gave the credit agency a call and got those removed from the record.

If you have already used up your free credit report for the year, and somehow get rejected by a lender, you can still get your report for free. As a measure to protect consumers, a rejection gives you the right to access your report at no cost to you.

So What's on My Credit Report?
You'll find basic personal information like name, social security number, current and previous addresses and date of birth. Variations of your name that this report is associated with will also appear. Additionally, your report will show:
  • all of the accounts and the type of accounts you have (mortgage, installment loan, flex spending, or revolving credit). 
  • the status of each account, such as balance, payment history, and credit limit. 
  • A record of requests for your credit history. This section shows the companies or creditors who made requests to review your credit history.
I suggest printing out reports from all 3 companies first before checking carefully. Staying too long on one site might initiate a time-out on the other sites, making it impossible for you to get the rest of the reports. The credit bureaus will give you links or phone numbers to dispute your information.

Please note that the report doesn't give you your actual credit score. That, you'll have to buy from each credit agency or at myFICO.com.

Why Should I Bother Checking?
Although, your free credit report does not provide your score, as I mentioned earlier, it's definitely worth taking a look at every year. Your credit score from each agency is BASED ON the information provided in these reports. Like me, you may find accounts that don't belong to you or an inaccurate reporting of information. You may even find signs of identity theft or fraud.

If you've made a mistake in the past or had to close an account for some reason that will affect your credit history and cannot get it erased from your credit report, there is the option of making a 250 word statement on each of your accounts, letting the lender know the reasoning behind it. For example, if you decide to close a retail "in store" credit card account because you have already received the discount and have too many cards already, you can note that in the report for potential lenders to take into consideration. Try to keep your records as spotless as possible. Whether you want to get a loan, apply for a credit card, or even get a job, you'll need your report to be up to date.


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