Have you checked your credit report lately? Now might be a good time to do so.
People filed more reports about identity theft (1.4 million, about 25% of all reports) than any other type of complaint made to the Federal Trade Commission in 2021, according to the recently released Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book. And according to credit bureau Experian, identity theft affects about 1 in 20 Americans each year.
Of course, there are other good reasons to check your report: A 2021 Consumer Reports study found errors in more than a third of credit reports. The No. 1 complaint received by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) involves incorrect information listed on consumers’ credit reports.
An incorrect credit report can lead to lenders turning you down for credit or cause you to pay more for loans. Businesses may use the report to determine whether to offer you insurance (and at what rate), whether to rent you an apartment or a home, and whether to provide you with a utility. Employers may use it to make employment decisions about you.
Credit Report vs. Credit Score
A credit report includes information about your credit activity and current credit situation. It lists your name, address, phone number, Social Security number, and birth date. It has information on your current and past credit accounts, payment history, and credit limits. Bankruptcies and overdue child support information might also be included.
However, your report won’t have personal information that’s not related to debt, like savings or retirement account balances, annual salary, marital status, race, religion, or political affiliation. Judgements and tax liens are no longer factored into credit scores, but because they are a matter of public record, a lender or employer might still check this.
A credit score, in contrast, is a number based on the information in your credit report. It is calculated using a variety of factors including payment history, length of credit history, amounts owed, and the number of credit inquiries on your credit report.
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Multiple Reports, Multiple Scores
There are three major U.S. credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You will have a slightly different report at each agency, because not every creditor will report to every bureau.
There are also several different credit scoring models out there, but they are all calculated based on information in your credit reports.
Check Your Report for Free
You should check your credit report at least once a year. Federal law allows you to get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting company by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion all have offered free weekly online credit reports during the pandemic.
To get your credit score, you’ll generally have to pay a small fee.
Checking your own credit report or score does not negatively impact your credit score, but inquiries from creditors or potential lenders may.
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What to Do If You Find an Error
If you find an error on your credit report, start by disputing that information with the credit reporting company. While there are online options to do this, I usually recommend explaining the situation in writing and mailing it in. The CFPB has clear instructions on this process, including a template you can use as a guide.
You can also dispute incorrect data with the “furnisher” – the company that provided the information to the credit bureau.
Once a dispute is submitted, the credit bureau and/or furnisher must investigate the matter. If they correct the information, they must notify all three of the credit reporting companies so that the information can be updated.
Credit Reports and Identity Theft
If the information in your credit report leads you to believe you are the victim of identity theft, then you should visit the Federal Trade Commission’s IdentityTheft.gov website, where you’ll find checklists and sample letters to guide you through the recovery process.
Whether you are getting ready to apply for a mortgage or simply making sure your finances are in order, regularly checking your credit report is a great way to get a complete picture of your personal financial situation.
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