Your credit score is based on a combination of factors and information which is reported about you by 3rd parties to the 3 major credit reporting agencies. The major agencies we are concerned with are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. These three companies are the ones who are responsible for publishing information about you onto your credit report, however they are not the ones responsible for generating the information. A creditor, a collection agency or another company (known as data furnishers) will tell Experian, Equifax and TransUnion what to publish about you, and then the credit bureaus will publish it. They do not perform a thorough investigation into the legitimacy of the information when they initially report it. Only when it is discovered and disputed by you will it be investigated, at which point it may have been damaging your credit for months or years. It is also very common for information to be different on each of your three credit reports, which is like playing Russian roulette every time your credit is pulled if you don’t fix all three at the same time. The reason is because you never know which report your potential landlord, employer or loan provider is going to pull. Let me give you an example:
- You have never checked your credit reports or felt the need to do so, however 2 years ago a credit card account was fraudulently opened in your name, maxed out and never paid on. You have never heard anything about it. The credit card company which was defrauded only reports payment information to Equifax and TransUnion, not to Experian. You have previously been approved for a car loan from your bank about 9 months ago, so you assume your score is good, however you are turned down in the final stages of your employment application and receive a form in the mail stating that a consumer report was used in the negative determination of your employment application. That means that even though your bank pulled your Experian information to verify your credit worthiness for your car loan, your potential employer used Equifax or Transunion and assumed the fraudulent negative credit card entry was valid.
Situations similar to the above are very common, and whether you are turned down for a loan, a credit card application, a job or an apartment it is a huge disruption to your plans and can be a major stress inducing event. Go and check your credit reports right now and then once a month from here on out in order to nip this potential problem in the bud.
The first step to take is to simply obtain a credit report from each of the agencies above. Legally you are allowed to do this for free once per year and also every time you are denied credit or suffer another qualifying negative event based on the results of a consumer report. To get your free reports go to annualcreditreport.com and follow the instructions to obtain your report. This is the official government website for obtaining your free credit reports, and it does not require a credit card or any kind of subscription or trial. Some people are not able to receive their reports from annualcreditreport.com due to problems verifying their identity or other reasons. If you are unable to obtain your reports from annualcreditreport.com, you can either search online for credit report providers or you can contact the credit bureaus directly yourself. Typically you can find providers online which will charge you $1 for your first month of access to your credit reports and to a credit monitoring service, with cost rising to about $30 per month thereafter. Remember, it’s free for you if you can get your reports from annualcreditreport.com, so that is definitely your first choice. If you can’t get them there try a paid provider or contact the bureaus directly either online or by mail and persuade them to provide you with a copy of your report. I always send mail certified, signature required, with a tracking number – and I highly advise you do the same.