Most of us have a credit report reviewed only when we apply for a loan of some sort. But, even though you pay for the report, the creditor is not allowed to show you your own credit report. So, if there is an issue with your credit, all they can tell you is that there is an issue then guide you to the credit reporting agencies.
But, the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) are required to provide you a free credit report every 12 months if you request it.
So why do you need to review your credit report? First, you may be applying for credit in the near future so you may want to see your credit before a lender does to give you an opportunity to correct any misinformation. Lenders rely on your credit history in making loan decisions so poor credit will certainly work against you and may keep you from getting the loan. That means that house you want may then be out of reach.
Second, if you do have a poor credit history, getting your report will give you the chance to contact the affected creditors to see what you need to do to improve your history with them. Your credit history is reflected in a credit score, a 3-digit number that creditors will consider when making a loan to you. A low score can be reflective of a poor repayment history and that again reduces your chance to get a loan.
But creditors may work with you to get outstanding debt repaid thereby improving your score. Third, you want to make sure that all the accounts listed on the report are actually yours. If someone has stolen your identity, they could have used your personal information to borrow money and then not pay the loan. Even though you didn’t open the account, it will impact your credit.
Lastly, you’ll want to make sure that all of your personal information is correct. Is your name on your credit report reflective of your current name if you’ve just married? Is your address and social security number accurately reported, etc? Do the balances owed appear accurate? Review the report in detail to make sure all information matches your records. These reports can be confusing so your banker, CPA or other financial advisor may be able to help you understand the information.
To obtain this free credit report, visit annualcreditreport.com…only this website. Any other website may be a fee-based service or a scam outright. Complete the required information and submit. It’s that simple. Plus, this website is chock full of useful information about your credit history with links to other resources that can help you.
So, what if you do find incorrect information? That same website is a great resource for contacting the credit bureaus. You will want to contact all three of them and possibly place a fraud alert on your credit report if you suspect you’re the victim of identity theft. You may consider freezing your credit report which basically locks it for anyone’s use. That can be helpful if you want to prevent anyone from getting credit in your name but it also means you’ll have to unfreeze it when you apply for credit legitimately.
You’ll also want to contact the creditor with the fraudulent record listed on the credit report to let them know of the fraud then you should file a report with local law enforcement. Keep good records of any correspondence or conversations for ready reference if there is a need later. You can also visit identitytheft.gov. This is a resource provided by the Federal Trade Commission and it offers a free recovery plan plus useful forms.
You can also check out consumerfinance.gov, the website for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If, however, it’s just a simple mistake, you can contact the affected creditor and get the information possibly corrected. Mistakes do happen even in this world of big data. It’s up to you to monitor your information and keep it correct. Stay financially safe.
Frank Freels, Jr. is the senior vice president, security officer of Volunteer State Bank.