Check Your Credit Report
You have a physical check to see if all is
well. How about your fiscal health?
You check with a doctor and dentist
periodically. You also check your insurance needs and update
your will now and then. (I hope!) Then shouldn't you also check
your credit report since so much depends on its accuracy. You
should check your credit report annually, and probably every 6
months because one unsuspecting day, your loan will be turned
down or your creditors will start demanding payment in full for
no apparent reason. And you'll be left standing there wondering
Why can't you assume your report is
correct? That answer and exactly
what you should be looking for is what this article is all
The amended Fair Credit Reporting Act passed
in 1996 enhanced the consumer's ability to protect their credit
report. It did so by establishing laws and rules of conduct to
enable consumers to be their own "credit-doctors." This article
taught you the "how-to". But unless you take the initiative to
care for your report, the law will be nothing more than words in
Why Should I Check My Credit Report?
It's one thing to have bad credit, but it is another to have
errors on your credit report through no fault of your own. The
result, however, is the same-- unless you correct it.
Did you know that you pay a higher interest
rate on you car and mortgage with questionable credit? Were you
aware that insurance companies can turn you down or put you in a
higher risk category with higher premiums if they consider you a
bad credit risk. Consider this: More employers now run credit
checks for potential job selection and/or promotions than ever
before in our history. Can you really afford to loose your next
promotion because of a credit error?
Who can accesses your credit report?
- landlords, utility companies, phone
- hospitals, doctors, dentists, insurance
- credit unions, finance companies, banks.
- retailers, department stores, credit card
- car dealers, mortgagors.
- investigators, lawyers, courts.
- anyone who can offer just cause and/or
has access as a member of a credit reporting agency.
How Can I Get My Report?
Who Ya' Gonna' Call?Credit reports are available from three main
reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Trans-Union. Check
your yellow pages under "credit agency" or "credit bureau" to
see if any subordinate group is available locally. Even if one
is listed, they each get their information from one of the three
national bureaus and the "big three" do not exchange information
with each other. Therefore each of the three may have different
information dependent upon who has reported to them and what was
reported. What is on one report may be different than what is on
- EquifaxPhone 800-685-1111
- Experian (formerly TRW)Phone 888-(888)
- Trans-UnionPhone 800-888-4213
How Much Does it Cost?You
are entitled to a free copy of your credit report within 60 days
of credit turn down if the report causing the decline was from
Equifax or Trans-Union. Experian currently offers a free report
within 30 days of turn down but also offers a free report
annually. Of course, you are entitled to a copy at anytime from
any of the three for a small fee ($2-$8).
Additionally, you can get a joint report from
all three agencies from a number of commercial groups such as
Consumerinfo.com or San Diego based Confidential Credit (Phone
800-443-9342). The cost of these reports are ordinarily higher
than individual reports ($35-$50). These types of organizations
usually offer a credit monitoring service, as well.
What Do They Need?Each
agency will require you to submit your full name, address (for
the last 5 years), phone number, social security number (SSN),
spouse's name and SSN, and usually proof of address (utility
bill etc.). When submitting this information, remember you are
talking to a credit bureau. This means you are talking to anyone
with access to your report.
What's In The Report?
The formatting of each of the three national agency reports will
vary but with each report you also receive a legend or
instructions for interpretation. The legend is very important
because it is how you check your credit report. If you simply
say, "it's too complicated", you will never know what is in your
file. So take a deep breath, go slowly, and take just one entry
item at a time. Reading the report isn't that tough once you
What to check and how to check it.
Things in common.
There are some things common to each report. For example, all
information falls under one of four categories: Personal,
Reported Accounts, Public Record, and Inquiries.
What Am I Looking For?
What you are looking for can be answered in one word--
EVERYTHING! Information which is erroneous, outdated, or
irrelevant should be removed or corrected.
Go through your entire report entry by entry.
Have the credit agency legend by your side in order to verify
coding compliance. Have also a paper and pencil to annotate any
item you find in error. Go slowly! Here are eight items to check
that have caused problems for others:
- Don't assume your personal information is
correct. You could be viewing information from someone
else's report with just a simple error such as: first name
misspelled, missing Jr./Sr., erroneous address, bad zip
code, wrong employer, or any other incorrect personal data.
- Insure marital information is correct.
Are accounts listed as "joint" really joint? Is the report
in compliance with court settlements?
- Outdated information is normally
considered to be any item older than 7 years except for
bankruptcy which is usually 10.
- Closed accounts should not be listed as
open. Accounts you closed should reflect "closed by
consumer". Otherwise it can be assumed that it was closed by
the creditor-- not good.
- Accounts should not appear twice even in
- Incorrect histories such as late
payments, a credit entry you do not recognize, a pre-marital
debt of your current spouse, or other such items need your
- Are there missing reports that would be
beneficial to show a good history, and are profiles, credit
limits, and balances correct?
- A former correction to your credit file
which has since disappeared should be brought to the
What Do I Do If I Find Errors?
It is your responsibility to report errors. At the same time The
Fair Credit Reporting Act offers a great deal of consumer
When notifying the credit bureau of errors,
send your letter certified mail-return receipt so that you have
proof they received it. Many authorities recommend no more than
three disputes per letter and allowing 30 days for a response.
If there is no response, send a second letter. If there is still
no response, send a third with a copy to the FTC.
If after the above, errors still appear, your
next options should be a direct contact with the creditor
involved asking them to correct the error. Obviously you want to
include proof that you are in the right. You should also send a
brief statement to the credit bureau stating the facts behind
the error. It is your right to have a 100 word statement as part
of your file.
Your final two options are extreme but
sometimes necessary. The first is a law suit based upon a
creditor's credit agency's violation of The Fair Credit
Reporting Act (FCRA). The second extreme option is applying for
a new SSN in order to obtain new credit. This step should be
taken only as a final step and should be based on significant
documentation supplied to Social Security Administration.