Some people say “ignorance is bliss” and “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Those mantras do not apply when it comes to your credit report and the information contained in it. Banks and other financial institutions use the information on these reports to decide whether or not you get a loan, mortgage, credit card, or, in some cases, a job. It’s in your best interest to know what’s going on in your report.
People didn’t always have access to their credit reports. In fact, it wasn’t until the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act was passed in 2003 that the three major credit reporting bureaus were required to provide one free credit report every twelve months.
Now, because of the situation in the world, you can actually get a free credit report each week at the time of this publication. Here’s how to get your free credit report.
Annualcreditreport.com is the only valid website to get your free credit reports. You can choose one report or all three reports (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). Since we don’t always know which report an institution will pull, I recommend pulling all three reports together.
Confirm your identity
Once you select the report(s) you want, you will need to confirm your identity with each of the credit bureaus. The information they pull comes from publicly available information. Beware, though, if you have a long credit history because they could ask you questions about a loan or an address from twenty years ago.
Save your report
After you’ve confirmed your identity and you can see your credit report, be sure to save it. You can print it later but, depending on the length of your credit history, it could be really long. Also, I haven’t found a need to actually print the entire report. But if you want to, you can. Repeat these steps until you’ve accessed all of the reports you want.
Scan the reports for errors
One of the biggest reasons to pull your credit report is to look for errors. These errors can cost you money in higher interest rates, denied credit, and not getting a job you applied for. Generally, negative items on your report stay on for 7-10 years depending on the type of information. According to Equifax, negative items such as missed payments stay on for seven years, while bankruptcies stay on for ten years.
It’s also important to look for accounts that aren’t yours which would indicate identity theft. I don’t recommend waiting until you pull your credit report to look for these things, but look while you have the report in hand.
Each bureau has a different way for you to dispute errors on your credit report. Here are the links to that information for each bureau:
Items you’ll want to dispute include accounts that do not belong to you and negative items appearing past the 7-10 year mark. If it’s an account that isn’t yours, you may have luck contacting the creditor directly. However, this may be the time to put your identity theft policy into use.
Also, be aware that if you make payments on or in some way reaffirm an old debt, that clock starts again. I found that out the hard way when I got a call about a 14-year-old debt. I made a payment on it and that restarted the clock.
By the way, if you get a call like that, have them send you the information in the mail about it. Do not reaffirm it until you have received information in the mail (creating a paper trail) and have verified the debt yourself.
Purchase identity theft insurance
If you’re not in the habit of checking your reports regularly or your bank accounts, you’ll want to purchase identity theft insurance. This is also a good purchase so that you’ve got monitoring in case someone tries to open accounts in your name or any other activity you didn’t authorize. The protection isn’t expensive, but I believe it’s as necessary as any other insurance.
The company I use is LifeLock. They offer monitoring and alerts, identity restoration if you are a victim of identity theft and $1 million in protection which includes coverage for lawyers and experts to restore your identity. I get an alert via email when there is new activity using my information. I can confirm it’s me or alert them that it’s not me and they can take over from there. It’s easy and simple to use and rates start at $8.99/month for the first year. Like I said, very affordable.
Take advantage of this time to get your free credit reports and make sure all of the information is accurate. You can pay a credit repair service to do this for you or you can do it yourself. It doesn’t matter either way. Which option you choose is based on the amount of time you have to dedicate to this.
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