Regularly reviewing your credit reports lets you check for errors that might be lowering your credit scores, and it can tip you off to potential identity theft. Get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting company.
According to a Federal Trade Commission study, one in four Americans identified errors on their credit reports, and 5 percent of Americans had errors that could lead to higher rates on loans or insurance.
An amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.
Now, there are lots of offers out there for “free” credit reports, and some of these actually have a catch; for instance, you might you have to sign up for a credit monitoring service to get the report. While some of these free reports can be useful in helping you establish good credit-building habits, they are not the official reports. This means they can’t guarantee where your credit stands, and they can’t always help you find errors in your reports.
What you can do:
Visit annualcreditreport.com to review free copies of your credit reports. This is the official site (authorized by federal law) where you can get your free annual credit report. (Note: Checking your own credit report doesn’t affect your credit score. Having too many “hard inquiries”—credit checks performed when you apply for credit—can hurt your score.) There are no gimmicks. This one is truly free and you don’t have to worry about sales pitches for monitoring services.
What am I looking for?
You want to check everything for accuracy, including your personal identifying information. Look at all the account information carefully. You’re reviewing the details to look for errors or perhaps identity theft. A fraudster will sometimes get personal identifying information and open new accounts in the person’s name. When you look at your annual credit report, look for new accounts listed that aren’t yours.
If you find errors, such as incorrectly listed late payments, notify the credit reporting company in writing about the error. In addition to your name and address, include the item you’re disputing and any supporting documents, and request that the information be corrected.
If you find an error, this page on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website tells you how to dispute a credit error. If you suspect identity theft, here’s another page on the FTC’s website that will tell you what to do if your identity is stolen.
If your report looks a little confusing, feel free to bring it into your nearest branch and a banker can help you understand it.