Prevent Problems by Staying Informed
Whether you are shopping for a car, applying to refinance a mortgage, switching auto insurance providers, or looking for a new job, the information contained in your credit report can impact the options available to you. The lowest interest rates and most favorable terms are generally reserved for those with excellent credit, and while potential employers cannot see your credit score, in circumstances when applying for a position in certain fields such as finance, sensitive data management or law enforcement, some may request permission to access your reports. With three separate credit bureaus gathering information about you, there is potential for errors or incorrect information to be included, and given that even one error can affect your credit, it’s wise to monitor your reports on a regular basis.
What is in your credit report?
Experian, TransUnion and Equifax are the three credit bureaus which collect information about you that stays in your report for an average of seven to ten years. Your payment history, credit utilization ratio, age and types of accounts you have open, and the number of hard inquiries seeking more credit are tracked regularly. Additionally, public records such as bankruptcies, tax liens and judgements may also appear. A positive history and balanced mix of these factors leads to the best results from the scoring models used by the bureaus. A credit score of 700 or above generally qualifies for more favorable terms and conditions.
What should you look for when checking your reports?
The three credit bureaus gather information about you independently from each other and not all lenders or creditors report to each of the bureaus. Sometimes information is only reported to ONE agency and not ALL THREE, potentially leaving you at a disadvantage if there is incorrect or incomplete data. Let’s say you are applying for a car lease, and they happen to pull the one report that shows you in the worst light. This could cost you more as your lease amount is determined.
It a good idea to check all of your reports and not assume they will be the same. While each report is laid out differently, and they can be a challenge to read, closely review them looking for anything out of sorts or unfamiliar. Common errors include incorrect information about your identity, incorrect reporting of an account’s status, data management errors or balance errors. It’s possible to find accounts incorrectly reported as late or delinquent, closed accounts reported as open, or unfamiliar accounts attributed to you resulting from identity theft. If you find any errors, you can file a dispute with the credit bureau that is reporting the incorrect information. Be prepared to explain in writing what is wrong and include any documentation that will support your claim.
How do you check your credit reports?
You are allowed by law to see your information annually, for free, and this type of self-inquiry will not affect your credit scores. One way you can access it is at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Ideally, you should strive to check your information every four months, on a rotating schedule, so that you can monitor what each of the bureaus has listed. For instance, you could review your Experian report in January, your TransUnion report in May and your Equifax report in September.
Additionally, there are numerous identity theft protection services that can monitor and alert you to changes in your reports and credit scores, helping you to stay aware of potential problems as they arise. Many of these services will provide assistance in resolving any issues from your identity being stolen.
We can do our best to guard our personal information online and in person, but threats lurk everywhere. From accidentally visiting a website that is not secure, falling victim to a credit card skimming machine on an ATM, or simply being in a database that has been hacked, it’s easy for our information to fall into the wrong hands. Beyond that, sometimes mistakes simply happen. You can take steps to avoid unnecessary headaches and protect your credit by paying close attention to the information contained in your credit reports. If you have any questions about how to access your reports or need assistance in understanding what they contain, please contact us.