Understanding Your Credit Report
In light of the Equifax data breach, I thought it was a great time to write about the credit report process for those who may have questions about what happened and what you need to do. It is the responsibility of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to keep your confidential credit information secure, however it is OUR responsibility as owners of that information to monitor the credit bureaus and what they are reporting. So let's get to it.
What is it?
Your credit report contains information about your past and present credit transactions. It's used primarily by potential lenders to evaluate your creditworthiness. So if you're about to apply for credit, especially for something significant like a mortgage, you'll want to get and review a copy of your credit report. Your credit report usually starts off with your personal information: your name, address, Social Security number, telephone number, employer, past address and past employer, and (if applicable) your spouse's name. The bulk of the information in your credit report is account information. For each creditor, you'll find the lender's name, account number, and type of account; the opening date, high balance, present balance, loan terms, and your payment history; and the current status of the account. You'll also see status indicators that provide information about your payment performance over the past 12 to 24 months. They'll show whether the account is or has been past due, and if past due, they'll show how far (e.g., 30 days, 60 days). They'll also indicate charge-offs or repossessions.
Because credit bureaus collect information from courthouse and registry records, you may find notations of bankruptcies, tax liens, judgments, or even criminal proceedings in your file. At the end of your credit report, you'll find notations on who has requested your information in the past 24 months. When you apply for credit, the lender requests your credit report--that will show up as an inquiry. Other inquiries indicate that your name has been included in a creditor's prescreen program. If so, you'll probably get a credit card offer in the mail.You may be surprised at how many accounts show up on your report.
There are Errors On My Report. HELP!!!
The Equifax breach is such a huge deal because your personal information could get into the wrong hands and impact what's reported on your credit reports. This is why it's so important to review your credit reports at least annually (I recommend once a quarter or monthly). Under federal and some state laws, you have a right to dispute incorrect or misleading information on your credit report. Typically, you'll receive with your report either a form to complete or a telephone number to call about the information that you wish to dispute. Once the credit bureau receives your request, it generally has 30 days to complete a reinvestigation by checking any item you dispute with the party that submitted it. One of four things should then happen:
The credit bureau reinvestigates, the party submitting the information agrees it's incorrect, and the information is corrected
The credit bureau reinvestigates, the party submitting the information maintains it's correct, and your credit report goes unchanged
The credit bureau doesn't reinvestigate, and so the disputed information must be removed from your report
The credit bureau reinvestigates, but the party submitting the information doesn't respond, and so the disputed information must be removed from your report
You should be provided with a report on the reinvestigation within five days of its conclusion. If the reinvestigation resulted in a change to your credit report, you should also get an updated copy.
How Do I Get My Reports?
Every consumer is entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus. To get your free annual report, you can contact each of the three credit bureaus individually, or you can contact one centralized source that has been created for this purpose. You can order your free annual report online at www.annualcreditreport.com, by calling 877-322-8228, or by completing an Annual Report Request Form and mailing it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
Alternatively, you can contact each of the three credit bureaus:
Experian National Consumer Assistance Center, www.experian.com, P.O. Box 2104, Allen, TX 75013-2104, (888) 397-3742
Trans Union LLC, Consumer Disclosure Center, www.transunion.com, 1000, Chester, PA 19022, (800) 916-8800
Equifax, Inc., www.equifax.com, P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374, (800) 685-1111
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