Obtaining Your Credit Report
Your credit report is an invaluable tool that creditors, employers and even potential landlords use to evaluate your ability to pay your bills and track your history of bill paying. You should examine your credit report at least annually to verify that all of the information that it contains is correct and up-to-date.
You can obtain your credit report by using one of several methods. You can request a report over the phone, mail in a request to the credit reporting agency (bureau), or request a copy of your report online.
Everyone is able to receive one free credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and Trans-Union. To retrieve your free annual credit report, you can visit the site with which the federal government partners, annualcreditreport.com .
In addition to being able to obtain a free report annually, you can also retrieve a free report if you've recently been denied credit. Furthermore, you can always pay for your report at any time. Fees vary by package and usually average about $10. This fee doesn't usually include your FICO credit score, for which you may have to pay extra.
Reports may be obtained by mail, telephone or Internet from each of the following credit reporting agencies:
Equifax P.O. Box 740256 Atlanta, GA 30374 (800) 865-1111 www.equifax.com
TransUnion P.O. Box 2000 Springfield, PA 19022 (800) 888-4213 www.transunion.com
Experian P.O. Box 2014 Allen, TX 75013 (888) 397-3742 www.experian.com
Checking Your Report
Once you've received your report(s), check it over carefully for inaccuracies. Note any accounts that may reflect inaccurate balances, past-due payment history, delinquent status, or with which you are simply not familiar. Any information that doesn't look right to you can be disputed easily via a simple online application or letter that can be mailed to the credit reporting agency.
Pay special attention to accounts with which you may not recognize. If there are credit card accounts that you know you don't have, whether or not there are balances on them, they must be reported as quickly as possible. These accounts might signify that your identity or Social Security number has been jeopardized. In addition, known credit accounts that reflect incorrect balances might also reflect identity theft.
Disputing Incorrect Items
If you ordered your report online, there will be a built-in application that comes with the report which will let you dispute erroneous credit information. Items that are in question can be disputed by simply clicking a "dispute this item" link that will be located near each item on the report. If there are numerous errors, all of the disputes will be filed in one convenient step. Upon receiving the dispute, the credit reporting agency will launch an investigation for each item in question. You can expect to receive a response from the credit reporting agency within 45 days when a dispute is filed online.
If you prefer, you can mail your disputes directly to the credit reporting agency(ies). The FTC recommends mailing your dispute as opposed to filing it online because you will be able to provide the credit reporting agency with more information and documents that will strengthen your dispute.
When contacting the credit bureau, you will need to include your name, address, a copy of your credit report with the items in question circled prominently, a list of the items in question, including the creditor's name, balance and type of item, and the reasons in which the items in question are not accurate--incorrect balance, suspected fraud, or a previously paid off debt that isn't reporting as current. Also include copies of any documents you might have which prove that the information is incorrect, such as credit card statements or letters from creditors. Mail this packet to the credit bureau. The bureau will have up to 30 days from the date that they receive your dispute letter to process and investigate your dispute. You will be contacted by mail with the results of the investigation during that time frame.
If you suspect fraudulent activity on your report, you may indicate that you would like a security fraud alert to appear on your report. This will prevent new accounts from being opened unless you are directly contacted and special procedures are taken.