You’ve probably seen those commercials on TV – the ones offering you a free credit report or credit score. Many of these companies are trying to lure you into signing up for a credit monitoring service that is not free, but federal law does require the three major credit reporting agencies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once a year. The only trusted website to obtain a truly free credit report is www.AnnualCreditReport.com, which is operated by the three credit bureaus. You may also request a report by calling any of the three credit bureaus.
Why is it important to check your credit reports every year? The information contained on your credit report can affect many aspects of your financial life, not just your ability to borrow money. Employers may check your credit report before offering you a job. Insurance companies often factor your credit score into your insurance rates. So, it’s important to make sure the information on your report is accurate and up-to-date. Requesting a copy of your credit report does not affect your credit score.
There are three major credit reporting bureaus, which means you actually have three credit reports. Much of the information contained on these reports is the same, but the reports may vary somewhat based on what lenders have reported to the credit bureaus.
While you can certainly check all three reports at the same time, it might be a good idea to rotate between the three bureaus and check one every four months so that you can more quickly catch errors on your report. It’s also important to check your reports before applying for credit for major purchases, like a home mortgage or car loan.
Once you get a copy of your report, review it for anything you don’t recognize. Any accounts that you did not open or addresses where you have never lived listed on your report can be signs of identity theft. You have the right to dispute any information on your credit report you believe to be inaccurate. Earlier this year, our office was part of a nationwide settlement with the credit reporting bureaus that requires them to make reforms to their practices, making it easier to dispute and correct inaccurate information on your report.
If you believe you’ve been the victim of identity theft and want to prevent further new accounts from being opened, you might to consider placing a “security freeze” on your credit report. This will prohibit any new accounts from being opened using your social security number until you unfreeze your report.
Visit our consumer protection website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org to file a complaint or to learn more about credit reports, how to contact the credit bureaus or how to place a security freeze.