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Your credit report affects many aspects of your life. A variety of organizations may check your credit report to make important decisions about you; a bank may review your credit report before approving you for a mortgage or car loan; a landlord may check your credit report to decide whether they’d like to rent to you.
Your credit report is a record of your credit history, outstanding balances and other information that reveals how responsible you may be with money. It is prepared by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, the three major credit reporting agencies. Similarly, your credit score can affect your eligibility for credit. It is a three-digit number that shows how likely you are to repay debt, and it is determined using information on your credit report.
Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the major credit bureaus every 12 months. You may also obtain a credit report if you are denied credit, insurance, or employment, if you’re unemployed and plan to search for a new job within 60 days, are on welfare or have found inaccuracies in your report.
By requesting a free copy of your credit report, you can rebuild and maintain good credit and save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in interest over your lifetime. Here’s how to get your free credit report, read it and spot scams.
5 steps to get your free credit report
1. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com
AnnualCreditReport.com is a government mandated website, which can give you the chance to request your credit reports for free every 12 months from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Once you get to the homepage of the website, simply scroll down and click “request your credit reports.”
2. Fill out the form
The form will ask you for personal information such as your legal name, Social Security number, and current address. If you have lived at your current residence for less than two years, you’ll need to provide your previous addresses as well. Rest assured that AnnualCreditReport.com begins with “https,” meaning it’s a secure website and will protect your personal information from hackers.
3. Select which credit report you’d like to see
You have the right to a free copy of your credit report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion once a year. Select which credit report you’re interested in. While you can get all of your credit reports at once, doing so is not recommended.
Here’s why: The information you may find on your credit report may differ depending on the credit bureau you select. By staggering your report requests during a 12-month period can help you keep an eye on how complete and accurate the information is on all your reports.
4. Answer several questions
Once you choose a specific credit report, you’ll be directed to that credit reporting agency’s website. From there, you’ll be asked some questions so that the agency can confirm your identity. You can expect to answer questions such as “which lender do you currently make mortgage payments to” or “which of the following is a current or previous employer?”
5. Wait for your credit report to be delivered
You may receive your credit report immediately and can print it out if you’d like.
If you don’t want to go online to obtain your credit report, you can fill out and mail in an Annual Credit Report Request form to the Annual Credit Report Request Service. You can also call 1-877-322-8228.
Do not contact the three major credit reporting companies, as they only provide free reports online via AnnualCreditReport.com, mail or phone.
How to spot credit report scams
Unfortunately, credit reports scams do exist. There are many imposer sites that have terms such as “free report” in their names and websites that misspell AnnualCreditReport.com on purpose. Some of these sites will direct you to other sites, which attempt to collect your personal information or make you buy something.
If you get an email, pop-up ad or phone call from someone who claims they are AnnualCreditReport.com or any of the three bureaus, refrain from clicking on any link or replying. It is likely a scam that you can report to the Federal Trade Commission by emailing [email protected]
Keep in mind that AnnualCreditReport.com and the credit reporting agency will never send you an email asking you for your personal information.
What you’ll find on your credit report
While the formatting and reporting of information may differ from agency to agency, all credit reports feature the same types of information. This information includes:
- Personal information: While personal information such as your name, address, date of birth, employment information and your Social Security member is included on your credit report, it does not affect your credit score.
- Trade lines: Trade lines are your credit accounts. Any time you take out a mortgage, auto loan or another credit account, lenders will report on it. They’ll provide the date the account was opened, your credit limit, your account balance and your payment history.
- Credit inquiries: The credit inquiries section of your credit report is a list of every organization that has accessed your credit report within the last two years.
- Public record and collections: Public record information such as any civil lawsuits or bankruptcies you may have had are also included on your credit report.
Be sure to review all of this information to make sure that it’s up-to-date and accurate. If you find any errors, dispute them as soon as possible.
Using the information on your credit report
After you receive your credit report, you’ll get an overview of your financial history. You can review past and current accounts and other information influencing your creditworthiness.
If your credit is suffering, there are ways you can improve it:
- You can open new accounts: By opening new accounts, you can give yourself multiple opportunities to build up a history of timely payments.
- Make on-time payments: Consistent, on-time payments show that you can handle debt responsibly in the future.
- Keep your credit utilization low: Your credit utilization ratio is how much of your credit card limit you use. If possible, use less than 30% of the total credit available to you.
- Avoid negative financial situations: Bankruptcy is one example of a negative financial situation that can take a serious toll on your credit report.
Keep in mind that boosting your credit score can take time, so be patient. By making an effort to improve your financial habits, you can build a strong credit history and increase your score. This can increase your chances of getting approved for a loan and help you lock in lower interest rates or favorable terms on your mortgage, car loan or another financial product in the future.