Knowing what’s actually on your credit report is crucial: not only do potential lenders check it before deciding whether you should get a car loan or a mortgage, but it can be one of the fastest ways to find out if you’ve been the victim of identity theft. You can request a copy of your credit report from each of the three main credit rating agencies (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax) once a year, for free. You can also purchase copies throughout the year, if need be.
Getting Your Credit Report
Despite all those commercials full of singing actors that wish they’d checked their credit report a little sooner, there is only one website you should request your credit history from: AnnualCreditReport.com. This site was set up based on legislation from the federal government requiring that the three credit bureaus make it easy for individuals to get copies of our reports. You can typically download your credit report immediately after filing out an online form.
It can be worthwhile to stagger your reports throughout the year: if you request a report from a different credit reporting agency every four months, you can often entirely avoid the need to purchase a credit report or use a credit monitoring service.
Reviewing Your Credit Report
Once you’ve got your credit report in hand, it’s important to review it carefully. It’s not uncommon for errors to creep in and the earlier you can catch them, the easier they are to resolve.
- Check each item on your credit report. While balances may not be entirely up to date — most companies report to the agencies monthly — a balance that is way off base is a warning sign. Keep an eye out for accounts you never opened, as well.
- Gather information on the errors. If you see something that just doesn’t seem right on your credit report, check it out. Get out your account statements and double check names and amounts — it’s not impossible that a company changed names or that your credit card company reported your balance during a period when it was higher than normal.
- Dispute items that are incorrect. You can dispute errors on your credit report online with Equifax here, Experian here and TransUnion on this page. You may not be able to resolve every issue online, but using the online system is often the fastest way to get the ball rolling. If you’re not entirely sure if something is actually an error, it’s generally a good idea to still follow up on it.
- Have the erroneous material deleted. If a credit rating agency can’t verify information belongs on your report, it must delete that information. If the credit agency’s findings is not in your favor, you can request that your version of the dispute be included in your credit report.
- Check your credit report after the dispute is resolved. A credit bureau doesn’t care about making sure your report is up to date nearly as much as you do, so it can be up to you to double check that the situation is resolved.
It’s your report, your access to credit and your life. It may not always be your fault but it’s definitely your problem. Stay active and monitor your credit report regularly.