If you’re in the mood for spring cleaning – and who isn’t itching to do it after such a long, hard winter - one thing to remember this year is to clean up your credit report. If you’d like to get a new car or home this spring, checking your credit in advance is a smart idea. Even if you’re not in the market, it’s still a good idea to stay on top of your credit to make sure your financial reputation and identity are protected. Here’s some helpful information on how to get your free credit report, and what to do if you find any errors.
Why is it Important to Check your Credit Report?
Staying on top of your credit is important for a number of reasons:
- Errors on your report can lower your credit score and prevent you from being extended credit or prevent you from getting the best terms
- Unfamiliar accounts or purchases could be a sign of identity theft
- If you need to fix errors, it can delay your credit or loan approval
- Some prospective employers check your credit before extending a job offer
How to Check your Credit Report
You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every 12 months thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to request a free copy of your credit report. Your credit score is comprised of different information including payment history, length of time your accounts have been open, types of credit in use, and how much you owe. See what else goes into your credit score at MyFico.
How to Dispute Errors on your Credit Report
If you see an error on your credit report you need to file a dispute to get it removed, which can help increase your credit score. When the credit bureau receives your dispute request, it can take a month or longer in some cases to contact the information source, which is why we urge you to start the process before you apply for a loan or credit. Three different credit bureaus report your credit history to Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO), which is where the term "FICO Credit Score" originates. Here are the three bureaus contact information:
- Phone: 800-888-4213, click here for information about filing a dispute online with Transunion.
- Phone: 888-397-3742, click here to file a dispute online with Experian.
- Phone: 800-685-1111, click here for credit report assistance from Equifax, including online disputes, freezes and fraud alerts.
- Inaccurate information about another person with a similar name but different social security number
- Accounts in your name that you didn’t sign up for, or accounts that you closed that state they are open
- Inaccurate late or delinquent payments on accounts you paid on time
- Incorrect balance amounts on account
Click here to read more about common credit report mistakes from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
A good rule of thumb is to pay all of your credit debt on time and watch out for your debt to credit limit ratio, which is calculated by how much of your credit limit you use. For example, if your credit limit is $1,000 and you are using $500 of that available limit, you would be using half of your credit, giving you a 50% debt to limit ratio. This article explains more.