Knowing what’s in your credit report is very important. It can help alert you to identity theft before it ruins your credit history, and it can have a significant impact on whether you will be extended credit for a major purchase or for a financial move such as refinancing your mortgage. Credit reports are used by creditors, insurers, and other businesses to evaluate applications for credit. In some cases, they’re even reviewed by potential employers before offering you a job. These credit reports are loaded with information such your bill payment history (including late and missed payments), how much debt you have, and how much credit you have available to you. A positive credit report can mean better interest rates on loans and more favorable consideration from credit card companies.
There are three major credit reporting companies that compile and manage these reports – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Fortunately, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you can order your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies for free once a year. The nation’s consumer protection agency, the Federal Trade Commission, enforces this law in an effort to promote the accuracy and privacy of the information in your credit reports.
When reviewing your credit reports, it’s important to look closely at all of the information provided to ensure it’s accurate. Incorrect information in your report could have a negative impact on your credit history. For example, if you’ve always paid your mortgage on time, but there are missed or late payments noted, you’ll want to contact the credit reporting agency to have the discrepancies remedied.
Checking your credit reports on a regular basis can also help you to spot identity theft. For example, if you notice addresses on your report that you’ve never lived at, or credit card accounts you’ve never opened, there’s a good chance someone could be fraudulently using your identity, and harming your credit history in the process. If you notice anything suspicious in your report that makes you think your identity has been compromised, contact the credit reporting agency immediately.
It’s important to note that the credit reporting companies don’t share information with each other, so it’s possible for the information in one agency’s report to differ from your reports from the other two agencies. Some people prefer to order their free report from all three reporting agencies at the same time to help identify any inaccuracies across them. Other people choose to stagger their free reports, ordering a free report from one of the three reporting agencies once every four months. This strategy can help you to keep closer tabs on your credit throughout the year.
The only website that is authorized to provide you with your free annual credit reports under the Fair Credit Reporting Act is www.annualcreditreport.com. If you’d prefer to order your free reports by phone, you can do so by calling 1-877-322-8228. You can also print out and mail a request form to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You can download the form via this web address: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/manualRequestForm.action.
Once you’ve ordered all three of the free credit reports you’re entitled to annually, you can still order more, but you’ll have to pay for them through the individual credit reporting agencies. However, there are some special circumstances that could entitle you to more than one free credit report from each reporting agency. These situations include having your credit limit reduced, being denied credit, or becoming a victim of identity theft.
No matter what your situation, staying on top of your credit history is a sound and smart way to keep track of your financial health.