Your credit report says a lot about you. It contains your entire financial history, including outstanding debt, debt in collection and payment history.
Three major credit reporting agencies (CRA) — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — compile all that information, which is then used to generate a credit score. That all-important score can determine what interest you’ll be charged on a credit card or loan, your insurance premiums or whether you’ll get a job.
Because mistakes in the reports can be so costly, a 2003 federal law mandated that everyone is entitled to a free copy of their credit report every year from each CRA by making a request online at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228. While a Social Security number is required for identification, there should be an option where the Social Security number is “masked” on the returned report.
Besides spotting errors, checking your credit report for accounts you never opened can alert you to possible identity theft.
Yet, as important as it is, a 2015 Bankrate.com study found that over a third of American adults report they’ve never reviewed any of their credit reports. The figure is even higher for senior citizens, at 44 percent.
For those who reviewed their reports, a 2015 Credit.com survey revealed that 10 percent found an unknown collection account, and 9 percent discovered a late payment they didn’t know about.
That’s why Pauline and Richard Osborn called, requesting their free credit reports from all three CRAs in May, but only received those from Experian and TransUnion. The Port Charlotte couple is concerned that the Equifax reports “may have been mailed and possibly in the wrong hands,” and asked for my help.
Hours after I contacted Equifax, Pauline reported a company representative called, saying they couldn’t find their request, but would send the reports out immediately. An Equifax spokesperson later wrote me and “verified that the process to request the annual free credit report using the 877-322-8228 is working properly when the consumer selects the Equifax option.”
I suggested to the Osborns that rather than requesting all three CRA reports together, they begin staggering one CRA request every four months during a 12-month period. Since most of the information is common in each company's report, it allows you keep an eye on your information throughout the year, rather than at one point in time.
What should you be looking for?
Make sure your personal identifying information is correct, that you recognize all the accounts in the report, and that payments and outstanding balances are accurate. Also verify whether there’s any old negative information remaining on the report. The Federal Trade Commission explains a CRA can continue to list negative information for only seven years, and bankruptcy information for 10 years.
Requesting credit reports won’t hurt your credit score. You also have the right to dispute inaccurate information in your credit report for free.
For how-to guides on disputing errors, and tips for building and keeping a good credit score, as well as which credit cards offer free credit scores, go to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Website at www.consumerfinance.gov. Then click ‘consumer tools’ and ‘credit reports & scores.’
The CFPB supervises the nationwide credit reporting agencies. Complaints against a CRA can be submitted on the Website, or by calling 855-411-2372.
David Morris is the Sun’s consumer advocate. Contact him c/o the Sun, 23170 Harborview Road, Charlotte Harbor, FL 33980, email [email protected] or leave a message at 941-206-1114.
© Copyright (c) 2017, Charlotte Sun, source Newspapers