When was the last time you checked your credit report? No matter your credit score it’s always best to stay up to date on your report, if for no other reason to make sure your identity is not being used fraudulently.
Federal Law now requires companies to allow you to access a free credit report each and every year. You can request yours by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. (Do NOT use any of the other companies which may look similar to this, as they are not the correct program and could cost you money).
When you get to the site, click on the REQUEST YOURS NOW button at the top of the page. Follow the steps to request your report. It is wise to request the report from all three agencies. The reason? You may find errors on one but not others.
WHAT IS ON YOUR CREDIT REPORT?
You will find all of your personal information is on your report, including name(s), address, employer and even your social security number. You will also see your current as well as past addresses where you have lived.
The report also lists out every debt you’ve ever had. It will include indicators to show if you paid on time, were late or if there were serious issues with non-payment. You will need to refer to the legend key on each company’s report as they will all reflect this information differently.
Negative items should fall off of your report after seven years. In the case of bankruptcy, Chapter 13 will remain on your report for seven years and Chapter 13 will follow you for 10. This is part of the reason you need to check your report. You need to make sure those negative accounts are removed when the time has arrived.
Just because you have a lot of items on your report does not mean that it is a bad thing. A good report will show solid payment history and long standing accounts. These in turn help increase your score.
WHAT SHOULD I REVIEW?
Honestly. Everything. Make sure your personal information is correct. You should also review the addresses listed as there could be one that is not accurate. If you find any of this information is NOT yours, then you may be the victim of fraud. You will need to address this immediately (we will cover this below).
Once that information is reviewed, it is time to move onto all of the creditors. This can be the part that is not fun. You will see good, bad and sometimes — down right ugly — items on your report. Carefully look at each one. Check the following:
- The debt/loan was really yours (if not – it is possibly identity theft)
- The balance owed is correct
- Open accounts are listed as open (closed accounts with balances due can lower your credit score)
- Items should be removed as the period of time for reporting has ended (such as a bankruptcy or past due accounts that should no longer be shown )
Hopefully, you will find that all items are correct and everything looks good. However, if you find that there are errors, you need to take care of those right away.
HOW DO I DISPUTE ERRORS?
First of all, it is important that you dispute those which you have the right to dispute. Attempting to have items removed which should not be is fraud and could make you end up in hot water!
Each credit reporting agency has it’s own system for reporting errors. You will need to follow their steps in order to ensure that you report it correctly. Failure to do so will make it take even longer to get the issue resolved.
You might have even better luck contacting the company directly to discuss an error. It could have been an honest mistake and one they can correct on their end and then report to the credit agency on your behalf.
The dispute should be addressed within 30-45 days. If you have not heard from anyone within that time frame, you will need to follow up. Once they advise that the change has been made, you should be able to request a new, updated report from them, to ensure that the revisions have been reflected.
One thing to note is that there are disputes that the agencies do not have to investigate if you file directly with them. This includes your personal information, information from public records (such as bankruptcies and liens), and even information provided to them by another agency. It is important to know what they can handle and what they can not (see ConsumerFinance.gov for more details).
I realize that this can seem overwhelming. However, if you plan to take a loan for a vehicle or even a home purchase, negative items on your report can not only influence the lender, but could result in less the optimal interest rates.
*I’m not a financial advisor and I do not work for any of these companies. This is not a sponsored post or credit advice. It’s an informational post on my own experiences with my own credit report and disputes.*