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How to Review Your Credit Report and Credit Score

The first step in learning about your credit report is to order copies from the three major credit bureaus and read these reports carefully. Because there can be differences between the three major national credit bureaus, you should order your report from all three. You are entitled to one free copy of your report every year from each of the three major bureaus, but you must order from the centralized request service, and not from the individual credit bureaus. Ordering directly from the individual credit bureaus also puts you at risk of unintentionally signing up for an expensive subscription service, described later. The safest way is to order from the centralized request service:

The ordering process may be more difficult online because you will be asked security questions based on information in your report, which some people find hard to answer.

For your free annual report from each credit bureau, you can order all three at the same time, or stagger the three throughout the year. You need to provide your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. If you have moved in the last two years, you may have to provide your previous address.

The credit bureaus are also required to give you an additional free copy of your report if:

  • ● You have been denied credit within the past sixty days;
  • ● You are unemployed and will be applying for a job within the next sixty days;
  • ● You are receiving public assistance;
  • ● You have reason to believe that the file at the credit bureau contains inaccurate information due to fraud; or
  • ● You have requested a fraud alert.

For free reports based on these reasons, contact the credit bureau directly: Equifax at 800-685-1111, www.equifax.com; Experian at 888-397-3742, www.experian.com; Trans Union at 888-916-8800, www.transunion.com.

You can also purchase a credit report. Federal law limits this to $13 per report, and in some states the maximum is even less. Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont residents can get an additional free report.

Getting Your Credit Score (as opposed to seeing your full report). Your free credit report will not include your credit score. You have to specifically request your score, you may need to pay for it, and it may not even be based on the same scoring system as the score that your creditors use. Some credit card lenders and educational websites will provide you with a credit score for free, although it might not be the most commonly used type of score.

If a creditor rejects you or charges you a higher price for credit based on a credit score, it must give you a copy of that score and related information. Mortgage lenders are also required to give you information about your credit score for free. When you get your score, you will be sent the top four factors that most affect the score.

Beware Credit Monitoring and Other Subscription Products. Avoid monthly or annual subscription packages sold by the credit bureaus for credit monitoring or identity theft protection. They provide limited value, are not as effective as security freezes at preventing identity theft, and are expensive and over-priced. You can sometimes find credit monitoring and other services available for free. Sometimes subscription plans are advertised as being initially free, but after a time become very expensive, so be careful what you sign up for!