By Charlestien Harris
It’s the middle of the year, which means it’s time to pull your credit report! As a financial counselor, I often advise my clients to regularly review their credit reports to ensure the accuracy of the information and identify any errors. Having good credit makes it easier to obtain loans for major purchases like cars or houses.
There is only one website authorized by Congress to provide free annual credit reports as mandated by law: AnnualCreditReport.com. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to order a free report from Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. In fact, federal law grants you access to a free credit report from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus every 12 months. Until December 2023, all individuals in the United States can also obtain a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every week through AnnualCreditReport.com. Additionally, everyone in the U.S. can get six free credit reports per year from Equifax until 2026, in addition to the one free Equifax report (plus your Experian and TransUnion reports) you can receive annually.
Here’s what to check when reviewing your credit report:
- Verify the accuracy of your personal information. This step is extremely important as it forms the basis of your credit report. Ensure that your address, social security number, name spelling, date of birth, and other identifying information are correct. I once had a client who wanted to check his credit report and discovered that another person with a similar name (except for the middle initial), a slightly different social security number, and residing in the same state had their accounts appearing on his report. This was negatively impacting his credit score. Credit bureaus must ensure the accuracy of the information they collect about you, provide a free copy of your report once every 12 months, and offer you an opportunity to rectify any mistakes. This is mandated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a federal law.
- Carefully review your payment history to ensure its accuracy. Not all credit bureaus report information simultaneously or with every payment. Some bureaus report annually, bi-annually, or quarterly. That’s why it’s crucial to keep receipts and accurate records of your payment history. In case you need to dispute a record, you can provide supporting documentation. I had to provide documentation for my car payment history when I paid off my last note and received a letter stating that I had missed two payments, along with interest. I knew I had made all the required payments, so I referred back to my payment/coupon book where I had taped my payment receipts. I made copies of them and sent them to the creditor. I received a letter acknowledging the “human” error and confirming that my debt was satisfied. Imagine if I hadn’t kept my receipts!
- Look for signs of possible identity theft. Scrutinize your information carefully to identify potential identity theft. Mistakes on your credit report can be an indicator of such fraud. Once identity thieves gain access to your personal information, such as your name, date of birth, address, credit card or bank account details, Social Security Number, or medical insurance account numbers, they can empty your bank account, make charges on your credit cards, obtain new credit cards in your name, open phone, cable, or utility accounts in your name, potentially steal your tax refund, use your health insurance for medical care, or even impersonate you if they get arrested. That’s quite a list! To be on the safe side, pull your credit report for peace of mind. Identity theft can harm your credit through unpaid bills and overdue accounts. If you suspect someone may be misusing your personal information, visit gov to report it and receive a personalized recovery plan.
- Here’s how you can obtain a free copy of your credit report. You can request and review your free report through one of the following methods:
- Online: Visit annualcreditreport.com
- Phone: Call (877) 322-8228
- Mail: Download and complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form, then mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
In some cases, if you have a major credit card or certain types of accounts with large banks, you may have access to your FICO score. The score is often included with your credit card statement. Personally, I have an account with a large bank that provides access to my FICO credit score and report when I log in.
A credit report summarizes your personal credit history. The information in your credit report can affect your purchasing power and opportunities to secure a job, rent an apartment or buy a house, or purchase insurance. Credit bureaus have been known to sell the information in your report to businesses that use it to make decisions on loans, credit, insurance offers, or rental applications. Some employers even consider credit reports in their hiring process. The strength of your credit history also impacts the interest rates you’ll pay when borrowing money. So, yes, I would say now is a great time to check your credit report for financial peace of mind.
For information on this and other financial topics, you can email me at Charlestien.Harris@banksouthern.com or call me at 662-624-5776.
Until next week – stay financially fit!