Your credit report is a comprehensive record of your credit history. It may include the date credit accounts were opened, the amount, balance owed, status of the account, your payment pattern, and date of the last activity, as well as public records, such as whether you have been sued, been subject to a tax lien or filed for bankruptcy.
Creditors regularly report this information to credit bureaus. If you have defaulted on a loan, that information may remain on your credit report for up to seven years. A bankruptcy may remain on your report for 10 years. You should check your credit report at least once a year, or before making any major purchases that require financing. Once you receive your credit report, check to see that all information is accurate and that no one is using your name and credit for fraudulent purposes. If you find any information that is inaccurate or obsolete, you have the right to have that information corrected or removed.
You may obtain a copy of your credit report for free. Everyone is allowed one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus. Additionally as a result of COVID-19 and the increase in scams, free weekly online reports are available weekly through April 2021. To learn how to obtain your free credit report under federal law, visit AnnualCreditReport.com.
Here is the contact information for the three major credit reporting bureaus:
- TransUnion LLC: (800) 916-8800; TransUnion.com; P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016
- Experian: (800) 200-6020; Experian.com; P.O. Box 2002, Allen, TX 75013
- Equifax: (800) 685-1111; Equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374
If you believe that information on your credit report is inaccurate or outdated, you have a right to dispute that information. Your dispute will be investigated by the credit reporting agency. There is no charge for this service. Even if you do not suspect that any information on your credit report is inaccurate or outdated, it pays to periodically check.
Credit Reporting Errors
Steps for correction:
- Get a copy of your credit report and review it. It is free.
- Determine if any items in the report are inaccurate or outdated.
- Write to the creditor and all three major credit bureaus explaining the problem with the item.
- Send all letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep a copy of the letter and of any other documents you send.
- Keep all your original documents, especially receipts, sales slips, and billing statements.
- Be persistent. It may take more than one letter to correct a credit problem.
- Within 30 days, the credit reporting agency must investigate your claim and update or delete any inaccurate item. The credit reporting agency must notify you that the investigation has been completed, as well as provide you with a revised report.
- In some cases, the reporting agency may maintain that the information is correct. If this happens, you are entitled to provide up to a 100-word statement explaining why you believe there is an error and that statement will be included in your future credit reports. Below is the contact information for the three major credit reporting agencies.
- TransUnion: (800) 916-8800; TransUnion.com; P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016
- Experian: (866) 200-6020; Experian.com; P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013
- Equifax: (866) 349-5191; Equifax.com; P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374
Credit Repair Scams
A good credit report is one of the most important bargaining tools a consumer can possess. Yet, for a variety of reasons, some people develop a poor credit history. If so, they may become targets for con artists that prey on the consumer’s desperate need for a good credit history by promising to restore their credit.
Many of these con artists call themselves credit repair companies and advertise that they are able to “Erase bad credit! 100% guaranteed” or provide a “Fast and easy way to get rid of bad credit history.” They charge from $50 to $1,000, or more, to “fix” a credit report. Most of the time, companies that promise such appealing offers will simply take your money and do little or nothing to actually repair your credit.
How to protect yourself:
Realize that there are no easy or quick ways to repair negative, but accurate, credit history. Only time and diligent attention to prompt payment of credit balances can repair it. This is true even if past credit problems were due to illness or unemployment or some other factor beyond your control.
- Be wary of any company that asks for money in advance to restore your credit.
- Before paying any money, contact the Attorney General’s office or the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been lodged against the company.
The Federal Credit Repair Organizations Act prevents a for-profit organization from charging or accepting upfront fees for “credit repair.” The law also mandates that a credit repair organization give you a copy of your “Consumer Credit File Rights Under State and Federal Law.”
It is equally important to know what a credit repair organization cannot do. Organizations are prohibited from making false claims or promises about their services, charging before the promised services have been completed, and performing any services until you sign a written contract and have completed a three-day waiting period. During this time, you can cancel the contract without paying any fees. Ultimately, anything a credit repair organization can do for you legally, you can do for yourself at little or no cost.