Getting your credit report
It is very easy to get your own credit report FREE!
For the USA, there are three main credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (formerly TRW). As a consumer, you are entitled to get your own credit report once per year for free. This does not count as an inquiry from a potential creditor and therfore has no effect whatsoever on your credit rating.
There are other services which you can get to make sure that nobody steals your credit. It will also alert you if someone is investigating you! A service like "Credit Watch" will let you know if someone legitimate is looking up your credit - you will also find out if a nosey girlfriend/boyfriend's mother is using her access at her place of employment to 'check you out'.
What is in a credit report?
How to read a credit report.
If you have ever tried to read your credit report, you know they can be many pages long and hard to follow. Regardless, understanding your credit report will make it easier for you to manage your debt and keep track of your various accounts, so learning how to read them is essential.
All major credit-reporting agencies organize their reports into six basic sections that are easy to follow if you understand their purpose. Below are descriptions of the six major sections you are likely to see on your credit report.
- Personal Information - Here you will find your name, address, date of birth and Social Security Number (SSN). Also listed will be any other names that have ever been associated with your SSN (maiden name, married names). Incorrect information could damage your credit, and may even indicate identity theft or other fraudulent activity.
- Public Information - This section will list any judgments that have been made against you. Bankruptcy, liens, evictions, wage-garnishments, and other orders made by the court for you to pay a creditor.
- Credit Summary - Most credit reports include a summary that shows the number of accounts you have, the total amount of credit available to you and how much of that credit you have used. This is a good place to look if you want an estimate of your debt to credit ratio.
- Account History - This section usually makes up about 80% of your credit report and is what most people look for. This section contains detailed information about each account, including when it was opened and if it is in good standing. This section shows if bills were paid on time each month, going back two years or more. When applying for new credit, the information contained in this section will be used to determine someone's credit-worthiness - are they a good payer? A slow payer? A no payer?
- Inquiries - Whenever you apply for credit, the creditor will request your report and that request will show here. It is a good idea to keep the number of inquiries to a minimum, as a high number of them indicate a person with a high credit risk. The good news is that inquiries "fall off" your credit report after two years. Requesting your own credit report is not reflected as an inquiry. You can also find out if somoene is checking your credit. A nosey girlfriend who works in a leasing company and checks boyfriends' credit can have a negative effect on that credit. Find out if someone is checking on you by examining yours!
- Creditor Information - Here you will find detailed contact information for each creditor, including address and phone number, and sometimes website information and a customer service email address. This is useful if you have a dispute regarding information in your own credit report.
Getting Someone Else's Credit Report
Not so simple anymore...
In order to get someone's credit report, you need their written permission. If you are a lender, a company that deals with issuing credit or insurance, a potential landlord or employer you can also obtain a credit report.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act "FCRA" is the law that pertains to the financial matters of others. This is why you can't just pay someplace to look up someone's credit so easily anymore. This federal statute does allow a business to pull a credit report for an individual or a business in certain situations. Use this link to view the FCRA, but it is almost 90 pages long and written in a painfully difficult to fathom government-bureaucrat legalese. An easier-to-read article on the subject written by Jenny C. McCune of Bankrate.com can be found here.