Your credit report holds valuable information about your financial standing and could determine your ability to secure lines of credit such as mortgages, car loans and student loans. You can request that report yearly for free. Here are a few things to keep in mind when requesting and reading your report.
Everyone has access to their credit report—it’s a good idea to check yours at least annually to keep track of your activity and correct any inaccuracies that may appear. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies—Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®—to provide a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every year.1 The annual credit report request form can be found at annualcreditreport.com. Although large creditors often report information to all 3 credit bureaus, smaller lenders or merchants may only report to 1 credit reporting agency. Get a more accurate perspective by requesting all 3 reports.
While your credit report won’t include your credit score (unless you opt to pay for it), it will include your account history and any delinquencies. Checking your own credit report won’t affect your credit score. Navy Federal Credit Union members have free access to their TransUnion® credit score with our Mission: Credit Confidence® Dashboard.
Review your reports and look for any inaccuracies, such as accounts that don’t belong to you or incorrect contact information. If you come across any errors, your report includes instructions to help you properly dispute them.
Monitoring your credit report could allow you to better build or improve your credit history, a major step on the road to a successful financial future.
Here is a sample report to give you an idea of the information you’ll be reviewing in your credit report:
- Personal Profile: includes your personal information, including legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, current and previous addresses, telephone number, and current and previous employers.
- Credit Summary: a broad overview of your credit status, including the number of open and closed credit accounts in your name, as well as their balances and any delinquencies.
- Public Records: information from federal district bankruptcy records, state and county court records, tax liens and monetary judgments, and in some states, overdue child support records. Public records remain on your credit report for 7 to 10 years.
- Credit Inquiries: a look at who requested your credit score. Inquiries can remain on your report for up to 2 years.
- Account History: specific information for each of your accounts, such as payment history; all positive information remains indefinitely.
Identifying Credit Report Errors
Credit bureaus do their best to compile accurate information on your credit report, but sometimes errors appear. Because errors can mean a lower credit score, it’s important to check your reports regularly. There are two kinds of inaccurate information: flubs and fraud.
Flubs occur because of human error or incomplete information being provided to a credit bureau. Errors can include:
- reports of something you didn't buy or a purchase you didn’t authorize
- reports of amounts differing from what you actually paid
- inaccurate purchase dates
- items not properly identified
- math errors
- missing payments or credits to your account
- accounts mistakenly attributed to you
- reports of applications you didn't fill out
The other credit report error is fraud, in which someone intentionally and illegally tries to mess with your financial status—for example, by opening an account in your name.
In either situation, the best way to correct an issue is to find the source of the error. Of course, you won’t know there's an error unless you check your report regularly. So, request a copy of your report and carefully review all the information it contains. Look for any entries that are mistakenly attributed to you because of confused names, addresses or Social Security information. Check for mixed account information that could be due to identity theft, incorrect payment status, an ex-spouse’s information mixed with yours, outdated information or remedied delinquencies not being reported.
Once you've discovered a possible problem, make sure to gather proof supporting your position that there's an error before you officially dispute it.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, both the credit reporting company and the organization that reported the faulty information are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report. If you find an error on your report, assemble proof that the entry is incorrect and then take these steps to file a dispute.
- Inform the credit reporting company (Equifax®, Experian® or TransUnion®) of the inaccuracy.
Credit bureaus must investigate the item(s) in question within 30 days, unless they consider your dispute frivolous. Disputes can be filed online for all 3 bureaus and also by mail for TransUnion. You’ll need to put together a letter that includes your complete name and address, clearly identifies each item in your report that you dispute, states the facts, and explains why you dispute the information and requests deletion or correction.
Along with this letter, include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. You may want to enclose or attach a copy of your report with the items in question highlighted. If you’re mailing your dispute, send it by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document that the credit bureau received it. Keep copies of your dispute letter and attachments.
- Contact the appropriate creditor or information provider explaining you’re disputing the information provided to the credit reporting company.
Again, include copies of documents that support your position. Many providers specify an address for disputes. If the provider reports the same information to a credit bureau, it must include a notice of your dispute. Request that the provider copy you on correspondence they send to bureaus. Expect this process to take between 30 and 90 days.
In many states, once a dispute has been registered, you’re eligible to receive a free credit report directly from the credit bureau in order to verify the updated information. Contact the appropriate credit bureau to see if you qualify for this service.
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This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.