This article will explain how to get your credit report and what types of information — positive and negative — will appear on your report. We'll also talk about how to fix your credit report when misinformation appears on your credit history.
You've probably seen information about how to get your credit report for free each year. You can run your credit report for free at AnnualCreditReport.com, and it's a good idea to do so at least annually. Reviewing your credit report regularly is very important for several reasons, including identity theft prevention.
This article will explain how to get your credit report, what information appears on the report, and how you can report errors on your report.
Your Credit Report
A credit report is a document that contains a list of your creditors and tracks the financial information that your creditors report to the major credit bureaus. This information includes your payment history (including on-time, late, and missed payment), collections accounts, repossessions, and any judgments that have been obtained against you. Your credit report also contains personal information, such as your name and address.
Creditors provide information to the three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) that compile your credit history data into your credit report. A credit report shows the date each of your accounts was opened or established, the amount of the credit you have for that account, and your current account balance. The report shows both revolving accounts, like credit cards, and installment accounts, such as car, home, or student loans.
Some items will appear on your credit report from one credit bureau but not appear on a report with a different credit bureau. As a result, it’s important to regularly review reports from all three bureaus. Similarly, each bureau will report a credit score, and this might also differ by bureau. Your individual bureau credit scores are separate from your FICO score, which combines the credit scores from all three credit bureaus.
You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every year. It's very important to review your credit reports regularly to make sure that your personal information and your credit history information are accurate. If you find inaccuracies or errors with your credit history, you can take steps to correct them.
Negative Information on a Credit Report
If you have bad credit and a low credit score, you'll likely have many negative items on your credit report. This negative information could include charge-offs for accounts you stopped making payments on. A charge-off typically means that a creditor sent you collection letters and made collection calls, but you still didn’t pay the debt, so the creditor closed your account. This lowers your credit score. It can also make another creditor reject a future request for new credit because they see you have a history of unpaid debt.
Your poor credit may also be a result of collection accounts. When a credit card company or medical provider like a doctor or hospital is unsuccessful in collecting payment within a certain time, they may turn your account over to a collection agency. The agency will then continue collection efforts. Collections accounts also have a negative impact on your credit.
If you regularly max out your credit cards, this can lead to bad credit and a low credit score. One part of your credit score is your credit utilization ratio. This measures how much of your available credit you're currently using. When you max out your cards, your credit utilization is high, and that lowers your score.
Having too many hard inquiries on your credit report can also lower your score. When you apply for credit cards or loans, the lenders will review your credit report and credit score, which is called a hard inquiry. Too many hard inquiries in a short amount of time hurt your credit because they make you look desperate for new credit.
If you've been the victim of identity theft, that may have damaged your credit. Preventing or spotting identity theft is one reason it's important to review your credit report regularly. Look for accounts you didn't open or hard inquiries into your credit that you didn't authorize. You also need to monitor your credit history regularly to see if your credit and credit score suddenly change. All these things may be indications of identity theft.
With the rise in identity theft, many major credit card companies offer credit monitoring services. Equifax and Experian also offer credit monitoring services. If your personal data has been compromised, you may want to consider investing in credit monitoring until your accounts have normalized for a period of time.
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How To Address Poor Credit
No doubt you have seen signs and other advertisements that say “we fix bad credit.” Unfortunately, you should know that your poor credit cannot be “fixed” like a car. If you’re interested in boosting your credit score, there are a few things you’ll need to consider.
One is that inaccurate information can damage your credit history. That’s why it’s important to review your credit report regularly and dispute inaccurate information with the credit bureau reporting it. Beyond that, it is a myth that somehow your credit can be magically fixed without you changing your financial situation. Credit is something you build over time by paying your debts on time, keeping your credit utilization low by paying down debt, and keeping a good mix of credit.
Credit repair services are often scams. Unless there is inaccurate information on your credit report that you can have removed by petitioning the major credit bureaus, the only thing that will “fix” your credit history is building positive credit history over time.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act
If you find errors on your credit report, there is something you can do. The Fair Credit Reporting Act protects consumers from having inaccuracies on their credit reports that damage their credit scores. You can report any errors or inaccuracies you find to the credit reporting agencies by sending a written statement disputing the debt. Your written dispute might state that the balance owed is inaccurate or that you never opened the account.
Once you submit your written documentation per the procedures of each credit bureau, the creditors have an opportunity to challenge the disputed inaccuracies. If the errors are not successfully challenged and are not fixed, then you can hire a qualified consumer protection attorney and sue the credit reporting agency or agencies and the creditors that are harming your credit history.
Victims of identity theft find this to be the most helpful way to rehabilitate their credit. In fact, The Fair Credit Report Act (FCRA) was passed into law partially to deal with damage to the credit reports and credit scores of identity theft victims.
Credit Repair Services
The truth is that credit repair services are often just scams. They will claim they can fix your credit, but unless there is inaccurate information on your credit report, they can't do what they promise. They will make it seem like your credit will be “fixed” or “repaired” and your credit score will increase, but the reality is there is nothing that will fix negative items on a credit report that are accurately reported by your creditors.
Information on your credit report may be negative, but this is not the same thing as being inaccurate. The credit repair service may offer to send the credit bureaus a written dispute of information in your credit report, even if that negative information isn’t inaccurate. In return, you may agree to pay the company for helping to delete the information in your credit file. Once the creditor responds and states that the debt is being reported accurately, the credit repair company will be long gone.
One of the biggest tip-offs that a company is a scam is if they require large upfront fees and pay themselves first before they deal with your creditors. This kind of arrangement typically results in your debt being turned over to a collection agency, if it hasn’t already been referred to collections. Now you have late payments and collection agencies to deal with. As a result, your credit score will be even lower and your credit worse than before you paid the credit repair service company to help you.
To deal with this common scenario, Congress passed the Credit Repair Organization Act (CROA) to regulate credit repair service companies. The CROA requires credit repair services to disclose information to consumers. It also prohibits companies from taking your money upfront before they provide their services. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is working hard to stop these companies. Unfortunately, credit repair companies sometimes pop up and disappear before the FTC can stop them from scamming consumers seeking debt relief help.
As you pay your creditors, you build your credit history and credit score over time. Your credit report and your credit score take work to maintain. There is no magic pill for addressing bad or negative information on your credit report that creditors have accurately reported. Don’t fall prey to scams that offer to wipe your credit clean or fix your bad credit.
Protect your credit by checking your credit reports regularly for inaccurate information or evidence of identity theft. You can also sign up for a credit monitoring service. If you do find inaccurate information on your credit report, dispute it. The process for disputing any inaccurate information is free and the instructions are included in your credit report.