Checking your annual credit report is the same idea as getting a yearly physical with your doctor. It’s a chance to check up on the health of your finances, make sure everything is on track, and catch early signs of trouble.
But unlike a doctor, you don’t need an appointment to learn how to check your credit report. Anyone can get their own free annual credit report and use it to assess the health of their debts.
How to check your credit report
Everyone actually has three credit reports. That’s one from each of the agencies that tracks consumers’ borrowing habits: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Thanks to federal laws, Americans are entitled to a free copy of their three reports once a year. Each of the credit reports has its own 12-month period before you can get a new free report.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends that you stagger each of your credit reports. You can request one every four months in a rotation, and get more frequent updates on your credit.
Visit AnnualCreditReport.com and fill out a request form with your personal information such as date of birth, Social Security number, and address. You can select which agencies you’d like to get a credit report from.
Your request will be processed and you’ll be able to view your free online credit report on your web browser.
Alternatively, you can fill out this request form on paper. Mail it to the Annual Credit Report Request Service to get a physical copy of your credit report.
What should be on your annual credit report
Once you have your credit report, review it to see if everything looks correct. You’ll want to check to make sure the following items are included.
Your personal information
Your credit report should list personal information for you. Here’s what should be listed:
- Name, including your middle initial and suffix
- Current and recent addresses
- Social Security number
- Date of birth
- Current and past employers
Check to verify that it is completely accurate and free of errors.
Student loans and installment loans
The credit report should list all installment loans you have, including personal loans, student loans, car loans, and home mortgages. This could even include previous student loans that were closed due to a loan transfer.
Check the loan information against your personal records, including the loan servicer, origination and payoff dates, and status of the account. Note that the amounts are correct, including your starting and current balances.
Credit cards and lines of credit
Another debt type included in credit reports are credit cards or lines of credit. Each credit card listed should include the bank or card issuer, the credit card number attached to the account, and the year and month it was opened.
There should also be an overview of the current status of the card. This includes the card’s credit limit, current balance, and the date and amount of the most recently reported payment.
If you’ve had a lender, bank, or other entity check your credit in the past two years, this will be noted in an inquiries section. This will list everyone who’s requested a copy of your report in the last two years.
Some landlords will report tenants’ payment behaviors to credit agencies. If your landlord does this, it can help boost your credit just by paying rent. As always, check that the information being reported is accurate.
If courts have been involved in your credit history, you might also have items of public record included in your report. These public records would include bankruptcies, wage garnishments, and judgments against you.
What shouldn’t be on your free annual credit report
Along with making sure everything that should be included is there, keep an eye out for credit report errors. Mistakes, misreported information, or accounts you don’t recognize can be the first sign of bigger problems.
Your credit score is different from your credit report. Consumers who request a free annual credit report, however, might be surprised to see it doesn’t include your credit score.
Although credit agencies must give you a copy of your report, laws don’t require them to include a credit score.
Incorrect personal information
If your name is correct except for a middle initial, for instance, that could be a simple typo — or it could be a sign that your credit history is getting mixed up with someone who has a similar name (which is called a “mixed file”).
Other personal information, like addresses or employers you don’t recognize, can be a sign of identity theft.
Check for accounts that you don’t own, don’t recognize, or didn’t authorize. These can be a big problem, as they are also a sign of a mixed file or identity theft.
Misreported account information
A big red flag is an incorrect status on one of your accounts. For instance, a loan might be listed as open or even delinquent even though you’ve paid it off, or it could show a higher current balance than you actually have.
Errors of this type can happen if your lender misreported information or if the credit agency didn’t record it correctly. Either way, this can needlessly damage your creditworthiness.
Erroneous payment history
Your credit report will include a credit payment history for each loan or credit card, typically in a coded format. You can cross-check these codes against a glossary from the agency for accurate reporting.
It’s possible that a lender mistakenly reported a late payment or labeled an account delinquent when you’ve actually had a perfect payment history. Make sure your payment history is accurate and you recognize any negative marks.
Lastly, credit reports might include outdated information.
Credit history items should drop off your credit report after a certain amount of time has passed. Once these are removed, they no longer affect your credit score or report.
If you have a past bankruptcy or delinquencies that are over 10 years old, these can typically be removed.
It can be frightening if you see inaccurate information anywhere on your credit report. If this is the case, take action to dispute the credit error and resolve the issue.
Identifying and resolving these issues is the best reason for checking your credit report each year.
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