We rely on our credit to buy homes, get a credit card, and get a job. A new report by the Federal Trade Commission found five percent of consumers had errors on their report that could lead them to pay higher prices for everyday products like auto loans and insurance. Plus, one in five consumers had an error on at least one of their three credit reports. So, when was the last time you checked your credit report?
“These are eye-opening numbers for American consumers,” said Howard Shelanski, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Economics. “The results of this first-of-its-kind study make it clear that consumers should check their credit reports regularly. If they don’t, they are potentially putting their pocketbooks at risk.”
While there are horror stories out there from consumers who disputed mistakes only to have it stay on their account, the Congressionally mandated report by the FTC found four out of five consumers who filed a dispute saw a modification to their report.
A January NewsChannel 5 story I did featuring a Northeast Ohio woman who had her credit report file mixed with another woman’s.
You can get a free report through the website, Annual Credit Report. It is the only free site where you can get a report. The other ones you’ve heard of , perhaps because of the catchy jingle on TV, will charge you fees or enroll you in a free trial program. Use Annual Credit Report to access your reports.
You will have to give your social security number, and answer a series of multiple choice questions. This is to prove you are who you say you are so your information is not released to an identity thief.
Look for mistakes and dispute them
Review the reports carefully. You will have access to three reports, one from each of the three credit reporting agencies. If you want to keep tabs on your credit year round, check one report every four months from Annual Credit Report. For example, check TransUnion in January via Annual Credit Report. In May, check Experian through Annual Credit Report. In September, check Equifax through Annual Credit Report. It does not matter which order you check the reports.
If you find a mistake, dispute it. It’s best to start a paper trail of your dispute so print off any online disputes you file. Some attorneys will even suggest you mail a certified copy of the dispute so you have the paper trail.
The dispute process is explained at the end of the credit report.
If you can’t get the problem resolved on your own, report it to your Attorney General or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is a government agency that recently began regulating and monitoring consumer reporting agencies.
Credit report vs credit score
You will not get your score through Annual Credit Report, and don’t be tricked into paying to get your score. There are dozens of companies that will charge you or enroll you in a free trial to get your score. Be careful with these companies, and understand exactly what you are signing up for before you give out your credit card information.
You may be able to get your credit score for free if a company runs your credit to determine your eligibility for a product. Some companies automatically send it to you, and other times you have to ask. If you are denied credit, the company must give you a copy of the score that made you ineligible for the financial product.