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Your Credit Matters

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YOUR CREDIT MATTERS

Get your free credit report every year

Federal law entitles you to get a free copy of your consumer credit report once a year from each of the big three nationwide consumer reporting agencies.

  • Looking at your credit report every year can help you find and fix any mistakes on your reports early, before those errors cost you in terms of higher borrowing costs or a denial of a loan, apartment, insurance or a job.  Looking at your credit report also can help you find out earlier if you are a victim of identity theft.

Obtaining your credit report is free and easy. You can also get your credit score for a reasonable fee from each of the consumer reporting agencies when you order your free credit report online.

HOW TO GET YOUR FREE ANNUAL CREDIT REPORT

Order your free annual consumer credit report from one central source.  You can use the central source to order your credit reports from all three consumer reporting agencies one at a time or all at once.  You can use any of these three methods to order your free report:

OR

Frequently Asked Questions about your free annual credit report

  • How long until I receive my report? If you request your report online, it will be available to you immediately. If you request it via phone or mail, your report is usually mailed within 15 days of your request.  
  • Is it safe to request my free report? Yes. The personally identifiable information you provide to the consumer reporting agencies can be used only to process your requests, update the databases of the agencies that supply your report and to comply with applicable laws.
  • Should I contact the consumer reporting agencies directly for my annual free credit report?  No. You should order your free annual report from the centralized source.  Don’t be misled by offers to get “free” access to your credit report as part of an expensive credit monitoring service sold by the consumer reporting agencies. You do not have to buy anything to get your free credit report every year.  
  • What about offers for a free credit report from other sites?  Watch out for imposter websites, advertisements, or offers for a free credit report that ask you to buy additional products or services. www.annualcreditreport.com is the only place to get the free annual credit report that the law guarantees to you.  Other websites may be trying to sell you something, or even to steal the sensitive personal information you give when you ask for your report.  If you aren’t sure you are on the right website, order your credit report by phone instead by calling 1-877-322-8228. 
  • Can I use the central source to monitor my credit throughout the year? Yes.  To monitor your credit for free, use the central source to first request your report from one consumer reporting agency.  Wait four months, then request your credit report from a different consumer reporting agency.  Do the same four months later.  If you won’t remember to do this, then order all your reports at the same time once a year.

Where can I get more information?  For more about ordering your free annual credit report, see: Federal Trade Commission  http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/freereports.shtm.

OTHER TIMES YOU ARE ENTITLED TO A FREE CREDIT REPORT

You are also entitled to a free consumer credit report under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in some other circumstances:

  • You can get a free report if you ask for one after a company denies your application for credit, insurance, or employment based on information in your credit report, or takes other adverse actions against you based on this information.  Request your free credit report within 60 days of the adverse action.
  • You can get a free report once a year from each consumer reporting agency if you are unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days.
  • You can get a free report once a year from each consumer reporting agency if you receive public assistance.
  • You can get one or more free reports if you place an initial or extended “fraud alert” on your credit file because of concerns about identity theft. You’ll find more information on your ID theft prevention rights below.

Request this type of free report from a consumer reporting agency:

Equifax
www.equifax.com/fcra

Experian
866-200-6020

TransUnion
www.transunion.com/corporate/personal/factAct.page

How to read your report

Once you receive your report:

  1. Verify that all the information about your identity is correct.
  2. Make sure all accounts, debts, bankruptcies, tax liens or other judgments are yours and do not relate to someone else with a similar name. 
  3. Make sure that accounts or debts are accurately listed as open or closed.  If you have paid off an account or a lien or judgment, it can still show up on your credit report but the report should show that it has been paid. 
  4. Make sure your payment history and balances are accurate. Some accounts may be inaccurately marked as delinquent or in collections.
  5. Verify that any errors you have successfully disputed have been corrected.
  6. Make sure that the information reported by each of the three consumer reporting agencies is complete and consistent.
  7. If you find errors or incomplete information take action to fix your report immediately.

Fixing errors on your consumer credit report

Dispute Incorrect Information with a Consumer Reporting Agency

  • File your dispute in writing with the consumer reporting agency that issued the inaccurate report, and keep a copy of your letter and all documentation for your records. You may wish to send  your dispute “return receipt requested.” Do not send original documents.
  • Be clear about what information is wrong, why it is wrong, and what correction you want.  Your dispute document should include the name of the business or other entity which provided the inaccurate information to the consumer reporting agency.  It should give the reasons for your dispute.  Provide copies of any documents or information to substantiate your claim.  Tell the consumer reporting agency what you want: for the inaccuracy to be removed, or how the information should be changed to make it accurate.  You may want to include a copy of your report with the disputed items circled. For more information and a sample dispute letter, see www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/repair.shtm
  • Be patient but persistent.  You have a right to have errors in your consumer credit report removed.  

Once the consumer reporting agency receives your dispute, it must take certain steps unless it determines that your dispute is frivolous or irrelevant.  The consumer reporting agency must notify the furnisher of the information you are disputing.  The furnisher must investigate and report the results of the investigation to the consumer reporting agency.  If the furnisher determines that the information you disputed was incomplete or inaccurate, it has to notify all three nationwide consumer reporting agencies.  A consumer reporting agency must remove the information if the furnisher does not verify it.  Investigations should usually be completed within 30 days.

When the investigation is complete, the consumer reporting agency must provide you an updated copy of your credit report if the dispute results in a change to your report. If you so request, the consumer reporting agency must send notices of any correction to anyone who received your report in the past six months. You can have a corrected copy of your report sent to anyone who received a copy during the past two years for employment purposes.
If an investigation doesn’t resolve your dispute with the consumer reporting agency, you can ask that a statement of the dispute be included in your file and in future reports. You also can ask the consumer reporting agency to provide your statement to anyone who received a copy of your report in the recent past. You can be charged a fee for this.

To dispute incorrect information, contact one of the consumer reporting agencies:

Equifax:

CALL: Toll-free number listed at the bottom of your online Equifax Credit Report. Have your 10-digit confirmation number found on your report to speak with a customer services representative.
ONLINE: www.equifax.com/online-credit-dispute/
MAIL:

Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374

Experian:

ONLINE: www.experian.com/disputes2/index.html
(Disputes initiated online only)

TransUnion:

CALL: 800- 916-8800
ONLINE: http://annualcreditreport.transunion.com/entry/disputeonline
MAIL: Follow the instructions at www.transunion.com/corporate/personal/creditDisputes/mail.page

You may also wish to dispute information directly with the furnisher, but your rights are still incomplete if this is the only step you take

A furnisher is prohibited by law from reporting information which is in fact inaccurate after it has been notified by the consumer at the address the furnisher specifies for that purpose that the information is inaccurate.  Congress created a new process for you to dispute information that is wrong in your credit report with the person who supplied the wrong information, but only for certain types of disputes.  Congress left it to the Federal Trade Commission and the federal banking regulators to identity which types of credit report errors would be subject to this direct dispute right.  As of January 2008, the federal regulators still had not finalized the rules identifying these types of disputes, making it unclear at best whether a furnisher has to consider your dispute if you file it only with the furnisher and not with the consumer reporting agency. 

Consumers Union recommends that you always file your credit report dispute with the consumer reporting agency.  If you plan to include extensive documentation or information, we recommend that you also file the dispute with the business that furnished the erroneous information.
To dispute information with a furnisher, send a letter and keep a copy for your records. You aren’t required to use “return receipt requested,” but you may wish to. 

Your dispute should include:

  • Your name, account number, and the specific information in dispute;
  • The basis for the dispute;
  • A copy of the credit report showing the information that you believe is wrong.  You may wish to show only your identifying information and the information from the particular creditor or other furnisher that you are disputing;
  • If the bad information came from identity theft, include a copy of any identity theft report or police report that you made to a law enforcement agency;
  • Copies of all supporting documentation required by the furnisher to substantiate the basis of your dispute.

The furnisher is not required to handle a “direct dispute” you file with it until the regulations are finalized.  However, a furnisher is required not to report information that is in fact inaccurate after you point that out using the proper address.  If you choose to file a dispute directly with the furnisher, be sure to also file your dispute with the consumer reporting agency.  Once the consumer reporting agency communicates your dispute to the furnisher, certain legal obligations are imposed on the furnisher.  
  

DON’T TRUST ANYONE WHO SAYS THAT THEY WILL REPAIR YOUR CREDIT RECORD

A credit repair service can’t do anything for you that you can’t do for yourself.  In fact, a dispute filed by a credit repair service is less likely to fix your credit report than a dispute you file yourself, because consumer reporting agencies and furnishers of information are allowed to ignore disputes that are “frivolous or irrelevant,“ and they may treat disputes filed by credit repair companies as frivolous.  The only way to fix bad credit is to get rid of errors and mistakes, then pay your bills on time and wait for time to pass to dilute the effect of any accurate negative information in your credit file.    

DO I NEED TO BUY MY CREDIT SCORE?

Your credit score is different from your credit report. Your credit score is a three-digit number based on your credit history that lenders use to estimate how likely it is that you will pay on time.

A credit score is not included in a consumer credit report – you have to buy it separately.
Frequently asked questions regarding credit scores

  • How is my credit score calculated? Your credit score puts your credit behavior as shown in your credit reporting file into a mathematical formula to predict whether you will pay your bills on time.  The prediction model is developed from data on how often other people who had similar credit behavior paid their bills on time in the past.  Inputs from your credit report include how many credit lines your have, how much you owe, how longstanding your credit relationships are, whether you have opened a lot of new credit accounts recently, the type of credit you use, how much credit is available to you, and how much of your available credit you are using.  The higher the score, the better your credit score.
  • Why is it a credit score important? Your credit score will impact the interest rate you will pay to borrow money. In many states, it can also impact the availability and cost of insurance, such as auto and homeowner’s insurance.   
  • How many credit scores should I purchase? Get all three of your free reports before you decide if you want to pay for more than one credit score.  If your credit reports are similar, you may choose to can order your credit score from just one of the three consumer reporting agencies. 

Security Freezes and Fraud Alerts

A security freeze allows you to control who has access to your credit report and credit score.  A different step, called a fraud alert, tells potential creditors to check with you or at least check the identity of an applicant before opening a new account in your name. 

Want to prevent new account ID theft?  Place a security freeze on your credit report.

  • A security freeze allows you to control who has access to your credit report and credit score.  This makes it hard for a crook to open new credit accounts in your name.
  • Most businesses will not issue new credit in your name without seeing your credit record or credit score.  If you place a security freeze and an imposter applies for credit in your name, a creditor would deny the imposter’s application, preventing that false new account from being opened in your name.
  • When you first place the security freeze, the consumer reporting agency will issue a unique PIN that you can use to “thaw" or lift the security freeze when you want to use your own credit file.
  • If you want a security freeze, you have to request it at each of the three consumer reporting agencies.  If you are not an identity theft victim, you may have to pay a fee to place and lift the freeze.
  • Most states have a law giving consumers the right to place a security freeze.  These laws generally restrict the fees and may give you other protections.  To learn more about using a security freeze in your state, see: http://www.ConsumersUnion.org/SecurityFreeze.htm.  For things to think about in deciding if the security freeze is right for you, see:  http://www.consumersunion.org/pdf/SecurityFreeze-Consider.pdf

To learn more about what you should do if you are already a victim of identity theft victim, see this information from the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17a.htm

Suspect you are or might become a victim of fraud or ID theft?  File an initial fraud alert.

You can file an "initial fraud alert" on your credit file with a consumer reporting agency if you have a good faith belief that you have been or are about to become a victim of identity theft or other fraud.  You can make the request at any one of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies, and it has to notify the other two agencies.  Once you file the initial fraud alert, potential creditors should either call you or take another reasonable step to verify your identity before granting applications for credit in your name. 

An initial fraud alert expires after just 90 days unless you renew it, and it does not prevent consumer reporting agencies from giving your credit report to potential creditors.  Filing the fraud alert triggers a right to a free copy of your credit report.

Already a victim of fraud or ID theft?  File an extended fraud alert.

You can file an “extended fraud alert” with a consumer reporting agency if you have been a victim of identity theft.  You will have to provide an identity theft report made to a law enforcement agency.  You need only notify one of the three consumer reporting agencies.  Once you file an extended alert:

  • The extended alert will be included in your consumer file and with any credit score for 7 years;
  • For 5 years your information will be excluded from prescreened lists that would cause you to receive unsolicited new credit offers through prescreening; and
  • You are entitled to 2 free copies of your consumer credit report from each of the three consumer reporting agencies in the year after you file the extended alert.

Once you’ve filed an extended fraud alert, creditors are required to call or contact you in another manner you designate before authorizing a new credit account. However, the extended fraud alert does not stop creditors from receiving your credit report or your credit score.  If you want to limit access to your credit report and credit score, place a security freeze.

Members of the military on active duty. 

If you are away from your usual military duty station, you or your personal representatives can file an active duty alert with any consumer reporting agency.  This alert works like the initial fraud alert, but is good for a longer time.  If you have this alert in your credit record, potential creditors are required to either contact you or verify your identity before granting credit in your name. The active duty alert also requires consumer reporting agencies to:

  • Include the alert in your file and provide the alert with any credit score generated using your file for a minimum of 12 months;
  • Exclude your information for 2 years from lists compiled by the consumer reporting agency for prescreened offers of credit or insurance; and
  • Alert the other consumer reporting agencies of the active duty alert on your file.

The active duty alert if good for 12 months and can be renewed. For more information, visit the FTC website: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/dutyalrt.shtm.

You may have other rights if you have been a victim of identity theft.

Blocking is a special process to stop information resulting from identity theft from being included in your credit report in the future. To block consumer reporting agencies from using or reporting to others any information that is in your file resulting from identity theft, you must provide the consumer reporting agency with:

  • Proof of your identity (a social security number may be required);
  • A copy of an identity theft report that you filed with a law enforcement agency;
  • What information resulted from ID theft; and
  • Your statement that the information resulting from ID theft is unrelated to any transaction you made.

If the consumer reporting agency grants your request, it must block the information you identify within four business days after it receives your information. The agency has the authority to decline or rescind a block under certain circumstances.

Consumer reporting agency contact information for filing fraud alerts, active duty military alerts, and to request a block of ID theft information



Equifax Information Services
800-525-6285 OR
888-766-0008
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30348-5069
(Fraud alerts initiated via phone and mail only)

Experian
888-397-3742
www.experian.com/customer_service/mail.html

(Fraud alerts initiated via phone and email only)

TransUnion
800-680-7289
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834
(Fraud alerts initiated via phone and mail only)

Your Credit Matters information is provided by Consumers Union as a guide and is not meant to be legal advice.  If you need legal advice, please consult your own attorney.

Prepared by:
Consumers Union Financial Services Campaign
Updated: January 9, 2008