How can I check my credit report?
Mistakes on credit reports occur frequently. They might be caused by stolen or unauthorized use of credit cards, other individuals with the same name, or a creditor reporting something in the wrong way. Thus, you should check your credit report periodically.
To check your report, call or write any of the three major credit bureaus:
Information Service Center
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Trans Union Corporation
Consumer Disclosure Center
P.O. Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064-0390
When writing, send your full name, including middle initial and generation (e.g., Jr., Sr., II or III); any maiden name; your current address; addresses for the past five years; Social Security number; and date of birth. Sign your request. In the case of Equifax, you must enclose proof of your current address (e.g., a photocopy of your driver's license.)
According to federal law, you are entitled to a free report within 60 days of being denied credit, employment, insurance, or rental housing. Ask which credit bureau supplied the information. You also are entitled to a free report once a year if you are unemployed, on welfare, or believe there are inaccuracies in your report as a result of fraud.
What if there is an error on my credit report?
By law (under the Fair Credit Reporting Act) you have the right to correct inaccurate information in your credit file. You must dispute your report directly to the credit reporting agency.
Tip: Although the Fair Credit Reporting Act does not require it, submit your dispute in writing, along with 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 that you dispute, explain why you dispute the information, state the facts, and request deletion or correction. You may want to enclose a copy of your report with the items circled.
Tip: Send your dispute by certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep copies of your dispute letter and enclosures. By doing so, you can document what the credit reporting agency received.
Tip: Once you have corrected the mistake at one credit bureau, check others, since they do not correct each other's files. Find out the names of other credit bureaus to which the creditor involved reports, and have the information corrected at each of them.
There is nothing you can do to get a credit bureau to remove accurate information from your credit file until the reporting period has expired. Credit reporting agencies are permitted to report bankruptcies for ten years, and other negative information for seven years.
Tip: If you are divorced and suffering the consequences of a credit rating damaged during the marriage, you may be able to obtain relief if the bad credit rating was your spouse's fault and you can prove it. According to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, a lender must consider any evidence you have showing that your spouse---not you---was the irresponsible one.
How can I build a credit history so that I can establish credit?
It may take time to establish your first credit account if you have no reported credit history. This problem affects mainly (1) young people, (2) older people who have never used credit, and (3) divorced or widowed women who shared credit accounts reported only in the husband's name.
Here are some steps you can take:
Check with a credit bureau to find out what is in your credit report.
Tip: If you have had credit before under a different name or in a different location and it is not reported in your file, ask the credit bureau to include it. Although credit bureaus are not required to add new accounts to your file, many will do so for a fee.
Tip: If you currently share a credit account with your spouse, ask the creditor to report it under both names
When contacting your creditor or credit bureau, do so in writing and include relevant information, such as account numbers, to speed the process. As with all important business communications, keep a copy of what you send.
Build a credit history by applying for credit with a local business, such as a department store, or borrow a small amount from your credit union or the bank where you have checking and savings accounts. A local bank or department store may approve your credit application even if you do not meet the standards of larger creditors.
If you are rejected for credit, find out why. There may be reasons other than lack of credit history. Your income may not meet the creditor's minimum requirement or you may not have worked at your current job long enough.
Tip: Wait at least six months before making each new application. Credit bureaus record each inquiry about you. Some creditors may deny your application based on your having too many credit inquiries.
Tip: If you still cannot get credit, ask someone with an established credit history to act as your co-signer. Then, once you have repaid the debt, try again to get credit on your own. Alternatively, you may wish to consider a secured credit card.
Who can see my credit file?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act allows access to your credit file only by the following: those authorized in writing by you, creditors to whom you are applying for credit, insurers, potential employers, and those who have a "legitimate business purpose related to a business transaction involving you."
In addition, government agencies can obtain identifying information about you. This is limited to your name, current and former addresses, and current and former places of employment.
Every time someone requests a copy of your credit report, it is noted as an "inquiry" on your credit file. You are entitled to know who has requested your credit file within the past six months (or two years if for employment purposes). This information is provided when you order a copy of your credit report.
Tip: In addition to checking on the information in your report, review who has seen your file. Credit bureaus must establish procedures to keep anyone without a legitimate business purpose from obtaining your report, but unauthorized access to credit files does sometimes occur.
How can I decipher my credit report?
Credit reports contain symbols and codes that are "Greek" to the average consumer. Every credit bureau report also includes a key explaining each code. Some of these keys decipher the information, while others just cause more confusion.
Read your report carefully, making a note of anything you do not understand. The credit bureau is required by law to provide trained personnel to explain it to you. If accounts are identified by code number, or if there is a creditor listed on the report that you do not recognize, ask the credit bureau to supply you with the name and location of the creditor so you can ascertain if you do indeed hold an account with that creditor.
It is vital that you understand every piece of information on your credit report in order that you be able to identify possible errors or omissions.
Here is a summary of what the various codes mean:
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) requires creditors who report information about accounts to report it in the names of all people with a relationship to the account, including cosigners or authorized users. To help lenders identify your legal liability on all your credit accounts, credit bureaus add a code to each account, termed the ECOA code.
Each credit bureau lists ECOA codes differently, but these are the basic categories:
Individual. You alone are legally responsible. This designation gives you a strong credit reference, assuming a good history. You alone are legally responsible. This designation gives you a strong credit reference, assuming a good history. You alone are legally responsible. This designation gives you a strong credit reference, assuming a good history.
Joint. You and someone else -- often a spouse - are both legally liable. A joint account is equal to an individual account for building your credit history. You and someone else -- often a spouse - are both legally liable. A joint account is equal to an individual account for building your credit history. You and someone else -- often a spouse - are both legally liable. A joint account is equal to an individual account for building your credit history.
Cosigner. You signed loan documents for someone else, to help them qualify for a loan.
Cosigner, primarily liable: You took out an account for yourself, but someone else co-signed for the loan to ensure payment.
Authorized user. You can use the account, and may have a card in your name, but you did not sign the application and are not legally responsible. Because you have no legal obligation, this designation does not help you get your own credit history. You can use the account, and may have a card in your name, but you did not sign the application and are not legally responsible. Because you have no legal obligation, this designation does not help you get your own credit history. You can use the account, and may have a card in your name, but you did not sign the application and are not legally responsible. Because you have no legal obligation, this designation does not help you get your own credit history.
Undesignated. No status was reported by the creditor reporting the account information.
Inquiries. Inquiries, which appear at the end of your credit report, tell you who has seen it recently. They are very important when you apply for credit. Lenders almost always look at how many inquiries you have when evaluating your application. Consumers with "too many inquiries" are often turned down, due to a concern that they are applying for too much credit at one time, that they are on a spending spree, or that there is potential fraud.
The consumer credit laws do not cover inquiries, so once they are on your file there is nothing you can do to have them removed. It's always worth trying to challenge inquiries with the credit bureau, but be aware that many credit bureaus refuse to investigate them. If you have too many inquiries, you may simply have to wait six months before applying for more credit. Inquiries generally stay on credit reports for two years.
Some credit bureaus list inquiries by code, rather than by the name of the company. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that a credit bureau explain all information on your report that you do not understand, so request names for all the coded companies listed under the inquiries section.
If an inquiry is coded "PRM" or "PSC," or has the word "promotional" next to it, it means that a lender has paid the credit bureau to screen suitable prospects for a "pre-approved" mailing. The lender supplies the bureau with a list of names and addresses and a set of credit criteria, and asks the bureau to determine which candidates meet their criteria. The lender then receives from the credit bureau a list of the names that meet the qualifications, and those consumers receive a "pre screened" or "pre-approved" credit offer.
Inquiries noted as "csmr" or "consumer," indicate you have seen your own credit file.
It is the policy of the major credit bureaus not to include promotional or consumer inquiries when transmitting the file to a lender, so review of your own file or pre-screening will not hurt your chances of getting credit.
Tradelines. "Tradelines" is credit-industry jargon for "accounts." Tradelines are the listings of accounts that appear on credit reports. Each account you hold is considered a separate tradeline.