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Getting and Understanding Your Free Credit Reports

Audrey M. Jones
Look at your personal credit report.

The information in your credit report indicates to lenders and employers your credit worthiness. Because of this, it is important to check it at least once a year. Reviewing your credit report will show you where you stand in a creditor's eyes and whether any fraudulent activity has occurred in your name.

Getting Your Credit Report

The federal government allows every consumer one free credit report each year, and you can get your children's credit reports as well. You can acquire this report through Annual Credit Report. You can also obtain it directly from one of the three credit agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. If you have already obtained your free yearly report you will be charged for any additional copies.

Note that getting your report differs from getting your credit score. Consumers are not entitled to a free credit score. You will have to request it, but are able to do so through Annual Credit Report. You will be charged a fee for your score.

You will need to provide any company from which you request a report your personal information, including your address, Social Security number and date of birth. Some of the companies may request that you verify an old street address to confirm your identity.

Most times, the reporting agency will provide your report online. You usually can access it for 30 days and print it. If the company cannot verify your identity, it will mail you forms to provide them with more information. Upon completing the forms and returning them to the company, they will mail your report to you.

Credit Reports Explained

A credit report is a detailed listing of the past and current debts, loans and other accounts in your name. It includes credit card, loans and mortgages. Its basic sections cover:

  • Personal Information: This section contains your biographical past and current addresses, date of birth, social security number and any known aliases. It typically includes information for the previous six years.
  • Credit History: This section lists each account separately. It details the lender's name, loan or credit amount, the highest balance you have carried on it, the payment schedule and history and whether it is current, overdue or closed. It may also provide the lender's contact information.
  • Credit Check History: This section consists of a list of all companies, individuals or other entities that have requested your credit report. Some reports affect your credit score negatively because it shows that you are trying to acquire more credit and, likely, more debt. Other inquiries, such as those that you personally request, do not affect your score.
  • Public Information: Despite its name, this section does not contain information visible by the general public. Instead, it contains information discoverable through other means, such as court documents. Bankruptcies, lawsuits and liens are included here.
  • Disputes: This section identifies any credit history entries that you claim are untrue or not due to your spending. Any fraud claims are contained here.

Each section of your report impacts your credit score differently. Of them, your credit history is the most important. Its specifics tell a lender your debt-to-credit ratio and your payment history and are used to calculate your credit score.

Reviewing Your Credit Score

Reading over your entire credit report can be a complex task, especially if you are not sure what to look for. First and foremost, check your personal information. If your name, address and Social Security number are correct, you can turn you sights to your credit history.

Your goal in reviewing your history is to ensure that your credit information has not fallen into the wrong hands. Review each entry separately, ensuring that you can identify the account and that it is one you opened and possess. Also ensure that its credit limit and balance statements are correct. Some credit companies operate under different names; you may know them according to the name of the retail store, but their legal name listed on your report can be something entirely different.

If you note an inaccuracy or a potential fraudulent use, contact the credit agency immediately. They will note your account and investigate your claim. They will either correct the mistake or note that their investigation did not support your claim. You may have to submit more serious claims, such as those about fraud, in writing.

The Importance of Credit Reports

Your credit report impacts whether you receive credit and at the terms you receive it at for several years. Check it yearly to ensure that you appear credit worthy to lenders.

Getting and Understanding Your Free Credit Reports