Its Your Credit - Take Care of It!

Thanks to the Fair and Accurate Credit Act, American consumers can receive a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus-Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You can order your free credit report by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228.

Monitoring your credit report regularly will ensure that you can clear up any incorrect information and prevent identity theft. It is recommended that consumers review their credit reports at least once a year. Being that consumers are now eligible to receive three free credit reports a year, you can actually keep track of your credit report year round by ordering one report at a time every four months. If you are ordering your credit report because you are going to make a large purchase-for example a house or a car-and you want to know where your credit stands, then it is recommended to order all three reports and compare them at least three months before you intend to apply for the loan. Each credit report might contain slightly different information so your credit score could vary by as much 100 points from one report to the next. If you are simply monitoring your credit report to prevent identity theft and other fraudulent activities, then ordering one at a time may be enough.

Reviewing your report

Once you receive your credit report, set aside some time to review it carefully. Eighty percent of credit reports contain errors, and a quarter of those are serious-late payments that do not belong to you, debt that is not yours, or accounts that you did not open. If you do not take the time to correct these mistakes, they can seriously affect your ability to acquire favorable credit terms in the future.

There are four main categories you need to review in your credit report: personal information, account history, public records and credit inquiries.

1. Personal Information

Information contained:
- Full name
- Social security number
- Date of birth
- Current and previous addresses
- Current and previous employers.

Check this information closely and make sure that it is all correct. Common mistakes occur among family members with similar names who reside in the same address. Variations of your name are ok as long as you have previously applied for credit using the variations. Incorrect information can result in another person's accounts reported on your credit report.

2. Account History

Information contained:
- Home loans
- Auto loans
- Student loans
- Personal loans
- Credit cards

Pay close attention to the account numbers, statuses, balances, and payment statuses. Make sure all accounts listed are actually yours.

3. Public Records

Information contained:
- Bankruptcies
- Tax liens
- Lawsuit debts
- Collections
- Other civil and financial judgments

Make sure all of this information is correct and updated. You should realize that certain bankruptcies and other negative information can remain on your credit report for up to 7 years.

4. Credit Inquiries

Information contained:
- Who requested to view your credit report

There are two types of inquiries that you will see on your credit report. Hard inquiries are those that you initiated when you requested your credit report or authorized a lender or credit card company to view your credit report. Soft inquiries are those made by credit card companies that send you pre-approved promotions for their credit card. Soft inquiries are only visible to you. A lender cannot see them when they review your credit report. There is much speculation as to how much inquiries affect your credit score. Soft inquiries do not affect your credit score at all. According to Fair Isaac Corporation, each hard inquiry can subtract no more than five points from a person's score. Often no points are subtracted. Since it is normal for a consumer to shop around for interest rates when applying for a home or car loan, multiple auto or mortgage inquiries in any 14-day period are counted as just one inquiry.

The subject matter contained in our educational publications is for informational purposes only. We suggest that you consult your financial or other advisors when planning for your specific needs or requirements.

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