Credit reporting agencies (aka credit bureaus) are responsible for collecting consumer credit data that businesses then use when assessing a person’s ability to meet certain financial obligations:
- A bank, for example, might use a borrower’s credit score to determine what interest rates to charge. The lower the score, the greater the risk of not being paid back. As such, that lender would likely charge a higher interest rate.
- Many landlords use credit scores when interviewing apartment candidates. Those with lower scores may have to pay larger deposits or higher rent to qualify for a new lease.
This is why monitoring your credit score is important.
How to Get a ‘Free’ Copy of Your Credit Report
Fortunately, getting a hold of your credit report is incredibly easy — especially if you go through one of the three-biggest credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
To get started, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Free Credit Report page. Be sure to have the following details on hand to verify your identity:
- First and last name
- Mailing address(es)
- Social Security number
- Date of birth
Under U.S. consumer law, every American is allowed one free credit report per year — from each of the three major bureaus. This means you don’t have to choose one reporting agency over another.
In fact, you shouldn’t rely on any single report since your score will likely differ among the three bureaus.
Comparing Your Credit Score Among Agencies
Your credit score should be roughly the same — from bureau to bureau — but it probably won’t be exact. There are several reasons why:
- Each credit reporting agency collects information in slightly different ways, meaning that scores can vary somewhat — even if it’s the same person.
- Lenders, creditors, and businesses send information to these reporting agencies at different times. It’s possible that Equifax could be working from a more recent snapshot of your financial history than TransUnion.
- All three of the major credit bureaus use their own internal algorithms when determining a person’s score. Even if the starting information is identical, the final result may differ.
- It could be that the credit reporting agencies are tracking the same person — under different names. This sometimes happens with marriages or adoptions. Still, mistakes like this are quite rare since Social Security numbers are unique.
Because of these potential differences, it is vital that you do request credit reports from all three agencies. Mistakes or blemishes could go undetected for years if you only have access to a single report.
This is particularly true if you’re one of the 16.7 million Americans who fall victim to identity theft every year.
How to Clean up Mistakes on Your Credit History
Requesting free reports from all three of the major credit bureaus provides you with the most complete snapshot of your financial history. If there are mistakes or blemishes on your report, it is critical that you work to correct them as soon as possible. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay unnecessarily high interest rates when borrowing money — assuming banks lend to you at all.
The moment you spot anything out of the ordinary, call that lender, creditor or merchant immediately to figure out what the problem is. Be sure to keep your bank or credit card issuer in the loop, as well.
You’ll also need to contact all three of the reporting agencies, since they’re the ultimate gatekeepers of your credit history. You can jump straight to their respective homepages by clicking the links below:
Some mistakes can be fixed with a few simple phone calls. Others might take weeks or months to resolve.
That’s assuming you’re trying to “fix” mistakes.
Your credit score might also be low if you’re carrying a lot of consumer or corporate debt. For tips on paying loan balances and climbing out of debt, be sure to check out the following resources:
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