A clean, accurate consumer credit report is your key to the best rate for that home, car or student loan, and what you'll pay for using a credit card. However, if your consumer credit report is poor or has mistakes made by past lenders, your standing with banks and credit card companies could be compromised. It's important to learn how to get your own consumer credit reports, how to demand changes in your credit report, and how consumer credit reports are constructed in the first place. In this guide, you'll learn:
1. Consumer credit report basics.
2. How to get a free credit report.
3. How to demand changes in your credit report, if needed.
4. Scams and bad deals in consumer credit reports.
Learn the lingo on your consumer credit report statement
Although consumer credit reports can be long and quite complex at first blush, they are not impossible to understand. Besides basic identifying information about you -- employment, addresses and your Social Security Number -- there is a list of your credit accounts, both open and closed. Then information on how often you have asked for credit, and if you owe anything besides ordinary credit, like liens or judgments. All this together creates your FICO, or credit score.
Get your free credit report
As you might imagine, there are dozens of Web sites purporting to provide you with a "free" credit report. Most try to suck you into paying a needless monthly fee for access to your own information. While not illegal per se (they are providing a faster service), most ordinary consumers can wait 30 days for a copy of their consumer credit reports in the mail from the credit bureaus.
Ask for changes in your consumer credit report if you find mistakes
It's good practice to ask for and then carefully review the free credit report you get to find any mistakes, like misspelled names, wrong addresses and, most importantly, accounts you don't remember or loans that appear open but you know are satisfied.
Federal Trade Commission
suggests you do it in writing and even provides a sample letter. Each of the three credit bureaus, Transunion, Equifax and Experian, offers dispute resolution online as well.
Watch out for consumer credit report scams
Watch out for "credit repair" agencies; for the most part, the work they do is simple and not worth what they charge. Some web sites that offer help with your consumer credit report are actually hawking alternative credit cards at usurious rates. Some, too, simply try to gather enough of your personal data to steal your identity outright.
Federal Trade Commission has a page on how you can legally improve your credit
, on your own with no expensive outside help, as well as a good page on how to recognize credit report scams
- Your FICO or credit score can be viewed on your credit report and is a calculation of your credit behavior. Improve your behavior, your score will rise. No one else can quickly raise your FICO score for you.
- If you decide to order a free credit report, lock it away or shred it once you are done reviewing it. Identity thieves would love all that data on you on one page.
- If a past debt is paid, your former lenders will happily provide a satisfaction letter if you request it, or otherwise inform the credit bureau and it will be taken off your credit report.