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Your credit score affects whether you can get a loan or credit card, as well as what interest rate and other terms you'll get. It can also affect whether you can rent a home, get a job, or get insurance. Your credit score is a number that is based on information from your credit report. Your credit report, is a record of whether you pay your bills on time, what debt you have, where you've lived, whether you've been sued or arrested, and other information. Creditors report your payment and debt information to credit reporting companies, which then put together credit reports that other creditors can look at when deciding whether to give you credit. There are three major credit reporting companies in the United States: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Because your credit score is based on your credit reports, it is important to check your credit reports regularly, tell the credit reporting companies if any information is wrong, and fix your credit if necessary. Read on to find out how to:
Because your credit score is so important in getting loans, credit, and housing, it's important to check your credit reports regularly to make sure they are correct and complete. Checking your credit reports will also alert you to identity fraud because you'll see if someone has opened accounts in your name or if late payments have been reported for purchases you didn't know about.
You can get one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). All three credit reporting companies collect credit information, but different things may show up on the different credit reports. You can monitor your credit for free by getting free copies of your credit report. There are two common ways to do this:
In addition, you can get a free copy of your credit report:
To order a free credit report, go to Annual Credit Report or call 1-877-322-8228.
Annual Credit Report is the only authorized source for free credit reports. Other companies and websites may offer “free” credit reports or credit scores, but often they charge hidden fees, try to sell you something, or collect your personal information to sell. While Annual Credit Report requires you to give certain personal information to request your free credit report, it will not call or email you to ask for personal information. If you get such a call or email, it is probably a scam.
For more information on checking your credit report, visit the Federal Trade Commission's Free Credit Reports and the CFPB's Getting A Credit Report.
If your credit report has wrong information, you can dispute the error so that it is fixed. Here is how to dispute an error:
First, write a letter to the credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) that have the wrong information to ask them to fix the information. Include all of the following:
You may use the Federal Trade Commission's sample dispute letter to credit reporting companies and attach a copy of your credit report with the wrong items circled. Send the letter by certified mail or priority with tracking, and keep a copy of the letter and receipt. You may also submit your letter of dispute and supporting documentation online by going to the websites of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). While you may submit your letter of dispute online through the three major credit reporting agencies, they may use this as an opportunity to try to sell you services that you do not need to purchase in order to correct your credit report. You do not need to purchase these services.
Second, write a letter to the information provider that gave the wrong information to the credit reporting companies. This might be a store that incorrectly billed you for something, a landlord that incorrectly said you were late on your rent, or some other person or company. If the information provider's address is not listed on your credit report, contact the information provider for the address for submitting disputes or notices of error. Include the same information as in your letter to the credit reporting agencies. You may use the Federal Trade Commission's sample dispute letter to information providers and attach a copy of your credit report with the incorrect items circled. Send the letter by certified mail or priority with tracking, and keep copies for yourself.
Credit reporting companies must investigate all disputes, usually within 30 days, unless they consider your dispute frivolous. They will forward your dispute to the information provider, who will then investigate your dispute and report back to the credit reporting company. If the information provider determines that its information was wrong, it must correct that information with all three of the major credit reporting companies.
Credit reporting companies must tell you their investigation results in writing. If they delete or correct any information on your credit report, they must give you a free copy of your updated credit report. You may ask them to send a notice of the correction to anyone who got your credit report in the last six months.
If you cannot get the disputed information corrected or deleted, you may ask the credit reporting companies to add a statement noting your dispute in your file and in future credit reports.
For more information on disputing errors in your credit report, visit the Federal Trade Commission's Disputing Errors on Credit Reports and the CFPB's Disputing Errors On A Credit Report.
Here are some tips on how to fix your credit and improve your credit score:
If you need help fixing your credit, contact a non-profit credit counseling service that can help you for little or no cost. You can also check with your employer, credit union, or housing authority to see what no-cost credit counseling programs may be available.
It takes time to build up or fix your credit. Unfortunately, there are a lot of fraudsters preying on consumers who want to fix their credit. Avoid any credit counselor or company that promises quick-fix credit repairs, promises to hide your bad credit history, requires upfront payment, or tells you to dispute accurate credit report information or to give false information to creditors.
Here are some resources to help you find a reputable credit counselor:
If you believe a consumer reporting company, creditor, or credit counselor has violated the law, you may file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office. The Office uses complaints to learn about misconduct. However, we cannot give legal advice or provide legal assistance to individuals. For information on how to find an attorney, see Attorneys/Lawyers.
You may also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.
For more information about credit scores and credit reports, visit the Federal Trade Commission's Credit Scores and the CFPB's Credit Reports And Scores.