Many of us could stand to learn more about our own credit. Luckily, the three national credit reporting agencies set out to educate the public in a recent Twitter chat they dubbed "What to Know About Credit."
This August, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax held a credit chat on Twitter. It was hosted by NerdWallet columnist Liz Weston. Weston posed 12 questions, and each of the three credit bureaus answered them on their own Twitter accounts.
We thought it'd be a good idea to go over the credit topics that were covered for all of our readers. However, because they went into detail on 12 different questions, we are going to break the chat down in two parts. Part one focused on more general questions about credit. This is the second part and it will look at questions related to credit reports.
As a reminder, consumers can get a free copy of their credit file every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus. All they need to do is request one at AnnualCreditReport.com.
What are the benefits of using annualcreditreport.com to check my credit reports?
The biggest benefit is that it is free, and you get the information directly from the sources. You request your copy right from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can look for inaccurate or incomplete information by looking at your reports.
What should you look for on your credit reports?
Your credit reports contain personal information, a list of accounts and your payment history, public records, and more. Check them to see if any information is inaccurate, incomplete, or should no longer be in your file. Accounts you do not recognize or did not approve are a big red flag. This could mean that your identity has been stolen.
Auto Credit Express has a guide on how to read your credit reports.
What steps should you take if you find an error on your credit report?
You are going to want to dispute any errors as soon as possible. You can file a dispute online or by mail. Send your dispute to the credit bureau reporting the error, and they will get to the bottom of it. Make sure that your dispute clearly states each item that is inaccurate, incomplete or out of date. It should also formally request to have that information removed or corrected.
If you are disputing information from a specific account, send a similar letter to the creditor. The creditor is responsible for notifying all three credit bureaus if the information turns out to be incorrect.
Can you submit supporting documentation with a dispute?
You can include supporting documentation with a dispute, and you should. Any documents that support your dispute and help prove the information is in error will help.
If you include additional proof, the credit bureau you file the dispute with has 45 days to investigate your claim(s). The bureau will tell you the results of the dispute, and they'll send you an amended copy of your report if any changes were made.
How often are credit reports updated?
The information in your credit files is continuously being added to, updated or deleted. How frequently it is updated depends on the creditor. Each of them reports after the end of a billing cycle, which will vary. Accounts will normally be updated about every 30 days.
If you think you might be a victim of identity theft, what should you do?
There are several things you need to do if you believe you are the victim of identity theft. Unfortunately, Twitter, which has a 140-character limit, is not really the right place to go into detail about this.
However, we have detailed the steps that you should take to recover from identity theft many times before. Here are the basics:
- Call all relevant companies and ask for a freeze to be placed on any account that was affected by the identity theft.
- Place a 90-day fraud alert with one of the credit bureaus and they will alert the other two.
- Get all of your credit reports and check for unauthorized activity and/or accounts. List any purchases or accounts you do not recognize.
- Submit an Identity Theft Affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and get a copy for yourself.
- File a police report at your local police station and get a copy.
With the copy of the affidavit and the police report, you can start undoing the damage that was done. You should close any accounts you didn't authorize, request to have bogus charges removed from your accounts, and submit corrections to the three credit bureaus.
You also might consider signing up for a credit monitoring or identity theft protection service with a reputable company. These services can alert you to any suspicious activity in real time .
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