Your credit reports are records of how responsible you are with borrowed money. Lenders use your report to decide if it is good business to lend you money and to determine how much interest to charge. The more certain the lenders is that you will repay the loan, the more likely it will be approved and the lower the interest you will pay.
Land lords can use your reports to determine if you are likely to pay your rent on-time. insurance Companies (in some States), and Employers, (with your written permission), can examine your reports on the theory that people with good credit are more likely to act responsibly.
Your credit Reports are created by, owned by and maintained by three private companies called credit bureaus or credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and Transunion. They sell your credit History to those who wish to evaluate your credit - worthiness. [Note: there are others, but these are the three major ones. We plan on discussing the others in the future.]
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (F.C.R.A.) allows you to receive one free credit report from each of the three bureaus once every 12 months. There are three ways to acquire your reports: (1) On-line at www.annualcreditreport.com (All one word. Type exactly into the address bar. Do not click on a link to go to this address.; (2) By phone: 877-322-8228; (3) by mail: Annual credit report request service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta GA. 30348-5281. [Note: the reason you do not click on a link is due to the volume of fraud and rerouting. Fraudulent pages can look almost identical to an official page except a small detail.] You can also call or write the Bureaus:
P.O. Box 105314
Atlanta, GA. 30348
Ph. # (866) 349-5191;
P.O. Box 2002
Allen, TX. 75013
Ph. # (833) 796-8634; and
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA. 19016-2000
Ph. # (800) 916-8800
A copy of the Mail Request Form can be found in some of your prison library's or by mailing a letter requesting one from the address above. Beware, [prisoners] may not be able to get their reports sent to a prison address. You may be able to have them sent to your home-of-record and then mailed to you by a family member, or have a family member go online for you. [Note: Rather than denying a prisoner their credit report the Credit Bureaus may require you to prove your identity by providing a copy of your prisoner ID and a letter with Official Letterhead stating you are incarcerated.]
You may also get free copies of your reports if: (1) you were denied credit in the last 60 days; (2) You are unemployed and plan to seek employment in the next 60 days; (3) You are on Public Assistance; (4) You are a victim of fraud or identity theft and have filed a police report. You can contact the credit bureaus for more information on how to get your extra free reports.
Your credit reports will contain the following: (1) Personal information; (2) public records; (3) Credit accounts; (4) Medical Debt Information [Note: Due to HIPPA Laws, there is extra scrutiny here and this is easier to have removed or not placed in your credit file at all.]; (5) Hard and soft inquiries.
Negative Information such as charge-offs, collections, liens or judgments, will remain on your report for seven years. bankruptcies and un-paid tax liens will remain for ten years. [Note: Student loans are legally not required to be removed if the debt is owed to the United States. They can stay on your report until paid, removed another way, or permanently stay.]
Positive Information such as when the terms of a lending agreement have been met, open accounts in good standing, closed or paid accounts, will remain for as long as 30 years depending on bureau policy.
MEDICAL DEBT is listed as "medical payment Data"
A Hard inquiry occurs when you ask for a loan and a lender asks for your reports, or when an insurance company or your employer ask for it, and these inquiries may remain for two years.
A Soft Inquiry occurs for promotional purposes, such as a credit card issuer wants to send you an offer. These inquiries appear on your copy of your report but not in those sent to others.
What is not Included in your report? (1) Checking, Savings or Investment Accounts; (2) Income; (3) health information; (4) Driving record; (5) race, gender, religion or national origin; (6) business activity (unless you are personally liable for a debt); (7) political affiliation; and (8) Credit Score. [Note: Experian now includes your credit score with your credit report for free.]
You are allowed to add a 100 word statement to your report to explain extenuating circumstances or to note your disagreement with items in your report. You may be able to add more than one statement, but each Bureau has it's own policy: Experian - up to 10 statements but you must call them first. (888)-397-3742; Transunion - One dispute statement and one general statement; Equifax - One Statement only.
You may have accounts marked as "closed by consumer", but neither that nor the statements will affect your credit score.
When you receive your credit report, carefully check all entries for accuracy. Ignore simple typos that don't affect the information. [Note: refer to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, because simple typos can be cause to have an item removed from your credit report, but once they fix the error it can be placed back on your report. Sometimes they do not, however.]
Look for accounts that Don't belong to you, pre-marriage spousal information which is adverse to you, adverse information from a piggy-back account (when you are the authorized user and not the primary card holder), and out-of-date or incorrect negative information.
Payment histories may differ between reports because some lenders do not report to all three bureaus, or may report at different times.
If you find an error, call that bureau immediately and follow up in writing. If your goal is to have something removed from your credit report you should first contact the company that provided the information to the Bureau. For example, you may see a delinquent charge from staples on your credit report. They will have contact information where you can call or write them. This should be your first step, and send the letter via certified mail with a tracking number, because they have 30 days to respond. We will have another section just for this in the future.
If something is corrected in your credit report than you will receive a free corrected credit report. For those without access to the internet or toll free numbers you can use the snail-mail. Include in all your correspondence your redacted social security number, and credit report file number (if you have received a credit report). Each Bureau has its own credit file number so it is important to ensure you have the right one when corresponding with them to avoid any delays.
When planning on a large purchase, such as a car or home, get your credit reports early so you have enough time to correct any errors if you do not already have an updated one. The last thing you want is any last minute surprises when you are ready to close the deal.
Are you a victim of identity theft or fraud? You may: Initiate a fraud alert with the credit bureaus. It will last for 90 days and any new activity, including your own, is researched and reported. As a further measure, you can request an extended alert which lasts for seven years, and potential creditors will be required to contact you before they issue new credit in your name. This alert allows you two free copies of you or credit reports in the next 12 months.
Just call either of the three bureau's to place an alert. That Bureau will contact the other two for you.
You can also place a credit freeze on file. A credit freeze goes further by locking-down your reports. In order to view your reports, a lender or other party would need to ask you to unfreeze your account. This request tips you off to any un-authorized inquiries and prevents new accounts from being opened without your permission. A small fee may be charged to un-freeze your report, depending on the state you live in.
Contact each credit bureau individually to request a credit freeze or unfreeze.
This article was written by S. Robinson and edited by Power of Our Voice staff