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Money & Debt Topics
This content was last updated on 3/1/2022
- What is a credit report?
A credit report is a review of your financial health. It is done by companies called credit reporting agencies. They collect information about you like:
- where you live and work
- how you pay your bills
- if you have been sued or arrested
- if you have filed for bankruptcy
- if you have been evicted from your home
If a car dealer, bank, landlord, credit card company or other business is thinking about doing business with you, they can buy a credit report from a credit reporting agency to see if you are a good risk. Some employers do a credit check on you when you apply for a job.
You must be told if a credit report has been used against you. Anyone who uses a credit report against you – for example, to turn you down for an apartment or a loan – has to tell you the name, address, and phone number of the credit reporting agency that made the report. They have to tell you in writing.
- Can I see what is on my credit report? Does it cost anything?
Yes. You can get a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the 3 major nationwide credit reporting agencies.
- What are the 3 major nationwide credit reporting agencies?
The 3 major credit reporting agencies are:
- Experian https://www.experian.com/
- Equifax https://www.equifax.com/personal/
- Trans Union https://www.transunion.com/
- How do I get a copy of my free credit report?
The 3 nationwide credit reporting agencies have set up one central website, a toll free telephone number, and a mailing address. Use these to order your free annual report.
To order a copy of your free credit report:
- go to www.annualcreditreport.com and follow the instructions
- or call 877-322-8228
- Or fill out the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
When you go to the central website, you can order all 3 free annual reports or just 1 at a time. Remember, you can only get 1 free report from each of the 3 credit reporting agencies in each 12-month period.
UPDATE: Until 2026, everyone in the U.S. can get 6 free credit reports per year by visiting the Equifax website at https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/free-credit-reports/ or by calling 1-866-349-5191. You also can still get the 1 free Equifax report (plus the Experian and TransUnion reports) at www.annualcreditreport.com.
- I saw an ad that offered a free credit report but then they wanted to charge me a fee. Should I do that?
Watch out for ads that claim to give you a free credit report. Some of these offers are not really free. They turn out to be subscription services that cost money. To make sure you get your free copy, follow the steps listed in the previous question.
- What information do I have to give to get my free report?
You need to give them your name, address, Social Security number and date of birth. If you moved in the last 2 years, you might have to give them your previous address. To make sure that it is really you trying to access the report, the credit reporting agency might ask you for some information that only you would know. This could be something like the amount of your monthly mortgage payment.
AnnualCreditReport.com and the nationwide credit reporting agencies DON’T call you or send emails asking for your personal information. If you get a call or an email or see a pop-up ad saying it’s from AnnualCreditReport.com or any of the 3 nationwide consumer reporting agencies, don’t reply or click on any link in the message — it’s probably a scam.
- Are there other ways to get a free credit report?
Yes, under certain circumstances. If you are turned down for credit, insurance, or a job because of information from a consumer credit reporting agency, AND if you ask for a copy of your credit report within 60 days of getting the notice that you were turned down, you have a right to the information for free. Also, if you were turned down or made to pay more because of your credit score, you get a free copy of that credit report.
You can also get 1 free report in any 12-month period, if you show in writing that you:
- are unemployed but plan to apply for a job within the next 60 days
- get public assistance or
- believe that your report is wrong due to fraud
If you don’t meet one of these conditions, you might be charged a fee.
- Why should I ask for a copy of my credit report?
The information in your credit report affects your credit score. This affects if you can get a loan, buy insurance, or get a job. It’s a good idea to check your credit score. Make sure the information is right, complete, and up to date. Ordering a copy of your report can also help you guard against identity theft. Identity theft happens when someone else uses your personal information without your knowledge or permission — like your name, your Social Security number, or your credit card number. If you have had your identity stolen, you can find more information in the Identify Theft section on this website.
- What if the information on my credit report is not right or is missing things?
Credit reporting agencies and whoever gave the information to them both have legal responsibilities for fixing wrong or incomplete information in your report. To protect your rights, you need to “file a dispute” with both the credit reporting agency and whoever gave the information to them. This could be a lender, a collection agency, or other businesses.To file a dispute:
- Send a dispute letter by certified mail.
Tell the credit reporting company — in writing — what information is wrong. A sample dispute letter can be found at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0384-sample-letter-disputing-errors-your-credit-report. Make sure you point out each thing that is wrong. Explain why it is wrong and ask that it be taken off or fixed. Circle the things that are wrong on a copy of the report and mail it with your letter.
All the credit reporting companies have a way to handle disputes online. Online submissions are helpful for small disputes, but don’t always get the same attention as a letter sent by certified mail. A larger dispute – like the report saying you filed for bankruptcy, and you never did - should be sent in writing by certified mail. Make sure you ask for a return receipt. Using certified mail makes it clear that your dispute is important.
- Send documents that support your dispute with your letter.
You can upload, mail, or fax any documents that help explain the mistakes in your credit report. Some examples might be:
• Receipt of a paid bill when your report says it wasn’t paid
• A letter from a company saying that you paid a charge
• A police report
• Samples of your signature if forgery is an issue
• other documents that show the report is wrong
- Keep copies of everything.
No matter how you submit your dispute, always keep copies of everything for your own records.
- Send a dispute letter by certified mail.
- Do the credit reporting agencies have to look into my disputes?
Yes. Credit reporting agencies have to look into the items you dispute. Usually within 30 days. They must send the important data they find to you and send a notice to the organization that reported the information. After the organization gets the notice about your dispute, it has to look into it, review it, and report what they find back to the credit reporting company.
When the investigation is done, the credit reporting agency has to tell you the results. They have to tell you in writing. If something in your report is changed because of your dispute, they have to give you a free copy of your credit report. If you ask, the credit reporting agency also has to send notices about the things they fixed to anyone who got your credit report in the last 6 months.
- What if the credit reporting agency or a creditor won’t fix the information?
If the reporting agency doesn’t accept your dispute after an investigation and won’t make changes, you can ask that a statement of your dispute be put into your file and included in your future credit reports. You also can ask them to give your statement to anyone who got a copy of your report in the recent past. You probably have to pay a fee for this service. If you tell a creditor that you dispute something, they have to add that information any time they report about that item to a credit reporting agency.
- How long does negative information stay on my credit report?
Negative information shows on your credit report for 7 years. Bankruptcy information shows for 10 years.
Even though the information comes off the report after several years, some debts are still owed. For example, if a court entered a money judgment against you, this debt only shows up for 7 years, but the judgment can still be enforced by the creditor for 15 years.
There is no time limit on reporting information about criminal convictions.
- Are there other credit reporting agencies beside Experian, Equifax,and Trans Union that I should check?
Yes. “Specialty” consumer reporting agencies collect and sell reports about your personal information. This can include:
- your work history
- rent payments
- criminal background
They could also have other information from public records like tax liens, civil lawsuits,and bankruptcy.
It is important to know what is in your specialty reports, especially if you are:
- applying for a job
- trying to rent an apartment or home
- applying for a checking account
- buying property
- applying for health insurance
To see a list of which specialty reporting companies offer free copies of their reports and how you can ask for them, go to https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_consumer-reporting-companies-list.pdf