Your Credit Report
- and how to get it (free!)
A credit report is a statement of your credit history. It is usually obtained from one of the 3 nationwide credit bureaus in the US - Equifax, Experian or Transunion. These are private agencies that collect and collate information on individual and company credit and maintain a database of the borrowing and repayment histories of millions of people.
Your credit report will typically contain the following information:
- Personal data (your name, including previous names or aliases)
- Address (including previous addresses)
- Lines of credit (credit cards, mortgages, loans, basically any kind of credit issued to you)
- Age of each credit line i.e. how long you've had
- Credit limits for each type of credit line
- Outstanding balances on each credit line
- Record of delayed payments, if any
- Bankruptcies, if any
and so on.
You don't have to do anything to script your report. It gets built automatically, as you live your life. Good credit habits result in a healthy report. Whenever you obtain a credit card or loan, spend money or make a payment, the transaction gets reported to the credit bureaus and your credit history gets updated.
What is important, however, is to monitor your report regularly to ensure there are no inaccuracies. Your name should not be misspelt, your current and previous addresses should be correct, and most importantly, your credit lines and repayment history should be correctly reported. An inaccuracy (for example missing out on a credit card you possess) can harm your credit history and lower your credit score. More importantly, regular monitoring of your report ensures protection against possible
If you see suspicious activity (e.g. expenses you never made), take action urgently.
You must obtain and check your credit report at least once a year. And you must obtain it separately from each credit bureau to reconcile any differences between the three agencies. If you find a discrepancy, write to the credit bureau. They will verify your claim and make the correction, usually within 30 days.
How do you obtain your report? You can either order it from one of the credit bureaus directly (by phone or over the web) or from any number of companies that provide additional value added credit-related services (the report itself yet comes from one of the 3 bureaus).
The government allows every individual in the US with a valid
social security number
to obtain his or her credit report FREE once a year from each of the 3 bureaus (i.e 3 reports). You can order any time of the year. And you need not order all 3 reports at the same time. You can space them out - but only 1 report per year per agency. You MUST use this facility to check your credit history. Think of it as the equivalent of an annual health exam.
The ONLY website from where you can order your free credit history is
. This site is jointly supported by all 3 credit bureaus and allows access to reports from any of them. Do NOT be misled by any other website offering free reports. They would typically dangle the 'free' carrot only to get you enrolled in their credit monitoring services (usually for a monthly subscription fee). Do NOT go to the websites of the credit bureaus directly either. They will, of course, allow you to buy the report, but for a fee (they are for-profit companies too). If you want the government-mandated free report, go to the 'offically' designated website only.
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