No matter what your financial goals are, knowing your credit score, how to read your credit report, and how to address errors on the report will help you take the steps necessary to achieve your goals. Use the following information as a guide to become more knowledgeable about your credit.
YOUR CREDIT REPORT
Your credit report is available free of charge at annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.
By law, you are allowed to order one free copy of your report from each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies (Experian, Equifax and Transunion) every 12 months.
You may order your reports from all three agencies at the same time, or order one from each company at different times throughout the year.
If you order your credit report directly from the agencies, rather than through annualcreditreport.com, there will be a charge each time.
YOUR FICO SCORE
These factors determine your FICO score:
- Payment History 35%
- Amount Owed 30%
- Length of History 15%
- New Credit 10%
- Types of Credit 10%
REVIEWING YOUR CREDIT REPORTS
When reviewing your credit reports, be sure the following information is current and correct:
- Name (including middle initial, JR/SR, maiden)
- Social Security Number
- Current and Previous Addresses
- Phone Number(s)
- Date of Birth
- Marital Status
- Employment Information
- Verify all accounts listed are accurate and belong to you
- Double check account balances
- Make sure accounts you closed voluntarily are correctly labeled as “closed by consumer”
- Confirm accuracy of negative entries
- Ensure negative entries aren’t duplicated
- Verify zero balances for settled accounts and bankruptcy discharges
- Be sure no negative information older than seven years is listed (except as permitted by law)
DISPUTING CREDIT REPORT ERRORS
If you find inaccuracies or need to dispute an entry, each credit reporting agency has a link on their website to initiate disputes.
- Equifax com 1-800-685-1111
- Experiancom 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnioncom 1-800-916-8800
You may also lodge disputes by mail, if you prefer. Here is an example of a dispute letter.
Creditors have up to 45 days to respond to disputes. The credit reporting agency will notify you of the outcome. If the dispute is successful, check your credit report(s) again at 30 & 60 days to ensure the changes are reflected accurately.
TIPS TO MAINTAIN GOOD CREDIT
- Pay every bill, on time, every month – by far the most important factor
- Keep credit utilization (the amount of available credit you use each month) under 25%
- Keep unused accounts open – unless there are fees attached
- Address any judgments or liens
- Address all credit report errors
Remember, your credit is in your hands. It’s up to you to take the initiative to monitor your credit and watch for errors, inaccuracies and fraud.