Q: What is a credit score? And can I get one for free when I obtain my annual free credit report?
A: A credit score is something different from your credit report. Annualcreditreport.com defines a credit score as a complex mathematical model that evaluates many types of information in a credit file. A credit score is used by a lender to help determine whether a person qualifies for a particular credit card, loan, or service. Most credit scores estimate the risk a company incurs by lending a person money or providing them with a service -- specifically, the likelihood that the person will make payments on time in the next two to three years. Generally, the higher the score, the less risk the person represents.
Unfortunately, there is a cost associated with obtaining your credit score. You can purchase a credit score by contacting one of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies. Prices may vary.
Equifax - www.equifax.com
Experian - www.experian.com
TransUnion - www.transunion.com
You can also purchase a credit score when you request your free annual credit report through www.annualcreditreport.com.
Q: Where is the best place to obtain my free annual credit reports from the three credit reporting agencies?
A: Everyone in the U.S. is entitled to receive a copy of their credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies once a year. These agencies are Experian, EquiFax and TransUnion. The best place to obtain your free credit reports is at www.annualcreditreport.com.
AnnualCreditReport.com is a centralized service for consumers to request annual credit reports. It was created by the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
You may have seen advertisements for another website called www.freecreditreport.com. This site will provide you with a credit report for free, however, they also enroll you in a program called "Triple Advantage Credit Monitoring" which costs $12.95 per month. The first month of the program is a free trial, but if the membership is not canceled after that point, you will see a $12.95 charge appear on your credit card statement. Freecreditreport.com explicitly states on their website that "ConsumerInfo.com and Freecreditreport.com are not affiliated with the annual free credit report program."
Q: Should I order all my credit reports at one time or space them out over 12 months?
A: It is entirely your choice whether you order all three credit reports at the same time or order one now and others later. The advantage of ordering all three at the same time is that you can compare them. (However, you will not be eligible for another free credit report from the Central Source for 12 months.) On the other hand, the advantage of ordering one now and others later (for example, one credit report every four months) is that you can keep track of any changes or new information that may appear on your credit report. Remember, you are entitled to receive one free credit report through the Central Source every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion - so if you order from only one company now you can still order from the other two companies at a later date.
Q: What should I do if there is something incorrect on my credit report?
A: If you disagree with information that is on your credit report, you should dispute this information. Credit report agencies are governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FRCA) that permits them to list positive information on your credit report indefinitely. Generally, information will remain on one's credit report for 10 years or so. Accurate negative information, such as a late payment or an account turned over to a collection agency, can remain on your credit report for seven years. Bankruptcies may remain on your credit report for up to 10 years. Unpaid tax liens may remain for up to 15 years.
Investigations may take up to 30 days and an investigation of information in a free annual credit report may take up to 45 days. In order to dispute items follow these steps.
Step One: Tell the consumer reporting company, in writing, what information you think is inaccurate. Include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. In addition to providing your complete name and address, your letter should clearly identify each item in your report you dispute, state the facts and explain why you dispute the information, and request that it be removed or corrected. You may want to enclose a copy of your report with the items in question circled. Send your letter by certified mail, "return receipt requested," so you can document what the consumer reporting company received. Keep copies of your dispute letter and enclosures.
When the investigation is complete, the consumer reporting company must give you the results in writing and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. This free report does not count as your annual free report. If an item is changed or deleted, the consumer reporting company cannot put the disputed information back in your file unless the information provider verifies that it is accurate and complete. The consumer reporting company also must send you written notice that includes the name, address, and phone number of the information provider.
Step Two: Tell the creditor or other information provider, in writing, that you dispute an item. Be sure to include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. Many providers specify an address for disputes. If the provider reports the item to a consumer reporting company, it must include a notice of your dispute. And if you are correct-that is, if the information is found to be inaccurate-the information provider may not report it again.
For additional information and a sample dispute letter, visit the Federal Trade Commissions website at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/crdtdis.htm.
Elizabeth Kudwa is the Business Reference Librarian at the Capital Area District Library located at 401 S. Capitol Avenue, Lansing, MI 48933. Contact her at 517-334-1522 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.