Your credit report can affect your financial life in different ways. So knowing what’s on your credit report is important. And it’s actually pretty easy to find out! Since there are 3 major reporting agencies in the US, by reviewing one of your credit reports every 4 months, it’s easy to see what credit activity is being reported about you. Best of all – it’s FREE!
What is a Credit Report?
A credit report is simply a history of your credit life. It lists every loan you’ve ever taken out – for example, car loan, mortgage, personal loan, student loans and even credit cards. It then shows the payment history – how much was paid, was it on time or, if it wasn’t, how late it was, by month for each. All of this information is later compiled to calculate your credit score (which is different than your credit report).
Whenever a lender requests to look at your credit history, they will most likely pull your credit report from 1 of 3 credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian or Transunion. These agencies pretty much dominate credit reporting in the US.
How do You Pull Your Credit Report?
Before you do anything, make sure you are on a secure internet connection – NOT on a public Wi-Fi! To be extra cautious, make sure the computer you’re using is also protected against viruses and other malicious programs.
Pulling your credit report is easy! – just go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Once you’re on the site, click on the tab that says “Request Yours Now!” and follow the instructions. You’ll then be asked some personal questions – your social security number, for example. In this case, it’s ok to provide this. If you don’t provide this information, the credit agency won’t be able to confirm who you are. Once they confirm who you are, you’ll have the option to choose which of the 3 agencies you’d like to view the report from – you can pull all 3 at once or, my preferred way, pull 1 every 4 months.
Then, ta-da! Your credit report will show up. You can now view it online and/or save it as a pdf file for your records.
As an alternative, you can also request a copy of each credit report by mail by filling out this request form and mailing it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
For more details on how to get your reports, you can check out the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau page on the topic.
Check for Errors or Signs of Potential Identity Theft
As you review your credit report, you’ll see a list of all your credit accounts – my latest credit report still shows a car I financed back in 2002! As you review this list, look for inconsistencies. These could be signs of a clerical error or potential identity theft. If you see any inconsistencies, contact the credit reporting agency (they have instructions on the report) and work to have it corrected. Here are examples of some inconsistencies to watch out for:
- Something noted as paid late when it was really paid on time
- Accounts listed that you do not remember opening
- Credit inquiries from companies that you didn’t expect to see listed
If all looks good, then you’re all set! – for the next 4 months anyways.
Why use AnnualCreditReport.com?
Once upon a time, in 2003, an amendment was passed to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The feds said that consumers had the right to view their credit reports and so required credit reporting agencies to give consumers access to their credit reports for free at least once each year. And so, in 2005, www.AnnualCreditReport.com was born. To learn more about its history, check out the Wikipedia page.