There are three major CRAs – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. These are businesses, federally regulated and independent of each other. Their main customers are NOT you, the consumer, but rather the credit issuers and businesses that rely on the CRA’s information to make decisions about your credit worthiness. The CRAs collect information from various credit issuers. This includes companies that you may already be involved with and those companies who you may be applying to for credit. They may also collect information from public record data sources, such as court systems, tax records, property records, etc. It’s important to understand that CRA’s do NOT verify the validity of the information they collect. By federal law (Fair Credit Reporting Act) they are not responsible for verifying the accuracy of the information they collect. Their main function is the collection and distribution of information about consumers to credit issuers.
There are three federal guidelines that allow you to get a FREE credit report from each of the CRAs.
- If you are denied credit - you can get a free copy of your report to see what the problem is.
- If you think you are an identity theft victim (this is not part of the free annual report program)
- Free Annual Reports: Everyone who has credit in the U.S. is allowed to view their credit reports for free once every 12 months.
In the event that you find fraudulent activity on your credit report, and need to correct it, there are a variety of ways to do so. Each report will have a “report number” and a phone number for the CRA which you can call to notify them the information is inaccurate. We also advise that you follow the telephone call with a written dispute form. Mail it, with any other documentation you have, certified, return receipt requested. Various states have laws that could help you to clear records. It is also necessary that you contact the individual credit issuer or collection agency in writing as well.
Each CRA uses a different format. However the main sections are basically the same.
- Header: This is personal information and includes your name, addresses (both current and former), date of birth, and Social Security Number
- Judgements and Liens
- Bankruptcy information: Depending on the form, this may be part of the 7-year history or a separate section.
- 7-year credit history
- This section includes any accounts that you have held during the last seven years. If the account is closed by you, it should be marked “Closed by Consumer.” The date when the information will be removed from your report may be indicated. Each account should show the name of the company, account number, type of account, date opened, date of last activity, terms of payment, any negative information about the account (overdue notices) and date last reported.
- May also include collection actions
- Inquiries initiated by the consumer actions
- These are inquiries that were started because of an application turned in by the consumer to a credit issuer.
- In that same section, you may find inquiries done by companies with whom you currently do business. These companies are verifying that you remain in good standing with your other creditors.
- Other Requests:
- These are inquiries done by companies that may want to send you a pre-approved credit offer.