Have you checked your credit report recently? I have. In fact, I pulled my Equifax credit report (for free) just last week.
Care to guess what I found? Absolutely nothing. Or at least nothing out of the ordinary. Just my boring report. But, when it comes to credit reports, boring is good.
Today, I want to walk you through the process of requesting your credit report and reading through it to be sure that everything is in order.
Requesting your credit report
As a reminder, you’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) per year. You can request your report(s) by visiting annualcreditreport.com and jumping through a few simple hoops.
You start by entering your personal information, including your name, address, and Social Security number. From there, you’ll be asked to choose which report(s) you wish to receive. I went with Equifax.
Recall that, if you’re interested in protecting yourself against fraud, it’s probably best to spread these out and request one every four months. Otherwise, if you request all three at once, you’ll be flying blind for the rest of the year.
Related: I’m offering free credit report reminders to help you stay on track.
You’ll then be asked to verify your identity by answering a few questions gleaned from your credit report. Things like where you’ve had loans, how much your mortgage payment is/was, etc. The sort of thing that you will know but a fraudster (hopefully) will not.
Now just dodge any upsells (like offers to sell you your credit score; see below) and you’ll be able to view your report. Once it pops up on your screen, I recommend printing it out or saving it as a pdf. That way you can refer back to it in the future.
Reviewing your credit report
Your credit report will contain a detailed listing of your accounts (both open and closed), a rundown of any recent credit inquiries, an overview of potentially negative items (if any), a summary of your personal information, etc.
The order in which this stuff is presented will likely vary by bureau, but the nuts and bolts are the same. For Equifax, my report opened with a brief table summarizing our accounts, balances, and limits.
Next, it went into mortgages. We paid off our mortgage a few years ago, but we still have a number of items listed there from numerous past refinances, etc. All are correctly listed as having been paid on time and ultimately closed.
After mortgages, the report moved to installment accounts. That section is completely blank as I’ve never had an installment loan, and neither has my wife. See? I told you. Boring. 😉
And then “revolving” credit accounts. This section lists a combination of open and closed credit accounts. Most were quite familiar, but a few were somewhat cryptic. For example, “UNIVERSAL CD CBNA” — what the heck is that? Oh yeah, that’s my old AT&T Universal card. Okay, moving on…
I have a few “hard” credit inquiries showing on my report from things like last summer’s spate of credit card applications and our transition to DirecTV — yes, they check your credit when you sign up for new service. And I have some routine “soft” inquiries from things like periodic reviews by existing creditors.
Finally, toward the end of the report are sections for “Negative Accounts,” “Collections,” and “Public Records.” All of these were (rightfully) blank. And then it closed out with personal information, including a list of past addresses and a summary of my employment history.
Correcting errors on your credit report
Hopefully, your credit report will be nice and boring, just like mine. If you run across any errors you’ll need to correct them. Each bureau has their own process but, for the most part, you’ll need to contact them by phone or mail, or via an online form.
More often than not, the discrepancies will be fairly innocuous. For example, you may have closed an account but it’s still listed as being open. Not a big deal, but you might as well have it corrected.
But sometimes… Well, sometimes you’ll discover bigger problems. Maybe a creditor mistakenly reported you as having been delinquent when you weren’t. Or perhaps there’s an account there that you don’t recognize.
In these cases you’ll definitely want to file a dispute, and you might also want to place a fraud alert on your account. The latter is especially important if you think you might be a victim of fraud, though you might consider going further and placing a “freeze” on your report.
Related: Here are some tips for dealing with identity theft.
If you need to get in touch with them for any reason, here is a listing of credit bureau contact info, including links to their forms for disputing incorrect information and/or placing a fraud alert on your report.
Once you file a dispute, the credit bureau will have 30 days to respond. And if they can’t substantiate the disputed information, they’ll have to remove it.
So, dear readers, I’ll ask again… Have you checked your credit report recently? If so, what did you find? If not, I urge you to go do so sometime soon.