Have you checked your credit report lately?

February 02, 2012|Lynn Little

When was the last time you checked your credit report? What does your credit report mean to those who lend you money and credit? Not only does your credit report affect your financial life, it can also affect your career, education and the interest rates that lenders offer you.

By periodically reviewing your credit report, you can see your payment history, understand how your credit is rated, prevent errors from going undetected and prevent delays when you need an accurate credit report.

To order your free credit report, go to Review your credit report from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Trans-

Union), getting one every few months. This keeps you up-to-date on the content and allows you to find any inconsistencies within your financial information as you compare the reports. The three major credit reporting agencies do not share information so one report might not be identical to another. 

A standard credit report contains a complete outline of your financial history. There are four parts to a standard report:

 Personal Information —  your name, spouse's name, address, previous address for the past five to 10 years, date of birth, Social Security number (as well as that of your spouse), addresses of your present and previous employers, and your telephone number.

 Tradeline —  a list of your credit accounts, the opening date, whether you make timely payments, the balance of each account, joint account information and any negative information regarding the account.

 Public Record —  monetary judgments, state and federal tax liens and bankruptcies. This information is found by the bureaus in public records.

 Inquiries — everyone who has viewed your credit report recently. One kind of inquiry is generated when you apply for credit, insurance or a job. Another is a promotional inquiry that is created when lenders ask the credit bureau for a list of people who fit a certain category so they can mail them pre-approved credit offers. A third inquiry type is created when lenders want to review their customers' credit reports to increase credit limits before the holidays. Customers who fit the qualifications will be granted more credit.

If you spot suspicious information you should:

  •  Write a letter to each credit reporting bureau, giving your full name and mailing address, date of birth and Social Security number, and explain what information you think is inaccurate.
  •  Request a deletion or correction
  •  In your letter clearly identify each item in your report that you dispute. 
  •  Sign your letter and enclose a copy of your report with the items in question circled. 
  •  Include copies of documents that support your position
  •  Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested so you can prove the credit bureau received your information.
  •  Keep a log of your efforts and everyone you talk to. 

Make your credit report a valuable asset. Pay your bills on time, review your credit report at least once a year and understand how the credit rating system works. 

For more information on credit reports and credit scores, visit the Federal Trade Commission — and search for credit reports and scoring.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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