How often would you say you review your credit reports? Once per year? Once every few years? Never? Although it’s one of the most important stops on the journey to financial health, it’s one many of us skip. There’s always something else that seems more important or the feeling that looking at the report won’t make a difference. Or, for many of us, we might simply forget we even have a credit report.
The truth is, this simple task is one of the easiest ways to work towards a better credit score and to create a line of sight into potential identity theft. A few minutes each year with each of your credit reports can make a massive difference to your daily finances. Here’s why, and how to find a mistake on your credit report that might be damaging your score.
5 Things to Do to Spot a Mistake on Your Credit Report
First of all, you should know that you have three credit reports. That’s one from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs): Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can access these reports for free once per year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
1. Obtain and Analyze All Three Credit Reports
You might think it’s okay to get one of your credit reports and stop there, but it’s imperative that you review all three. That’s because they won’t necessarily be identical to each other.
Lenders aren’t required to submit your payment history and other credit details to all three CRAs. That means each report could show a different list of accounts, requiring you to see all three for the full picture.
What’s more, since each of these reports is generated by different companies, any errors that might occur might only show up on one of the reports. If you really want to be sure that your reports are devoid of mistakes, you’ll have to check all three.
2. Pay Close Attention to Your Personal Information
Checking your personal information is one of the most important things you can do when you review your credit reports. Do not skim past this area.
Look at your social security number and the spelling of your name. These are two breeding grounds for mistakes — and those mistakes can lead to your report showing someone else’s financial accounts.
For example, if two numbers in your social security number are transposed (for example, “39” should be “93”), then that means you have someone else’s social on your report. And that means that person’s accounts will be on your report and will affect your credit scores.
You definitely wouldn’t want to miss an error like that — and it can be easy to do if you don’t read closely.
3. Make Sure All Financial Accounts Listed Are Yours
The next step is to look at each financial account listed to be sure they’re all yours. Don’t be alarmed when you see accounts that are yours but closed. Closed accounts remain on your reports for seven to 10 years.
What you’re really looking for here is whether or not there are accounts listed that you never took out yourself.
Unfortunately, this list isn’t always as easy as it should be. That’s because the lender you know and pay each month could have accounts serviced by someone else. For example, Synchrony Bank and Comenity Bank are common credit card issuers for retail store accounts like Banana Republic and Gap. So if you have a retail credit card and expect to see the store name on your report, you might see Synchrony or Comenity instead.
This is easy to check, though, if you review your billing statements either on paper or online. You should see there if the name of the issuer matches what you see on your credit reports or not.
Now, if you do your due diligence and still don’t recognize one of the accounts listed, that could either be because of an error on your report or a sign of identity theft. That’s why this step is crucial both for your credit score and your financial identity.
4. Review Payment History for Each Account
At this point, you’re nearing the home stretch in reviewing your report, but this is another stop to consider carefully: analyzing the payment history on your open accounts.
Payment history is one of the biggest factors in determining your credit score. This shows lenders how you might handle accounts with them if they approve you — and it’s the reason late payments can be so tough on your score.
Reviewing this section is easy if you never pay late. Simply look under the payments section of each account and make sure the icons under each month say “OK.” If they say “30” or “60,” then a late payment of one or two months is being recorded.
If you know you’ve paid late (with late being at least 30 days after the payment was due), you can compare this section to the payment history you see on your account statements to ensure that they match up. If not, then you can (and should) dispute it just like you would dispute incorrect personal information or an account that’s not yours.
5. Look Out for Notes on Your Report
There is are just one more thing to keep an eye out for on your credit report: notes.
Notes, or statements, can be left at your request. These might include things like saying why you made a late payment or that you have an item on the report in dispute. As with all other sections of your report, make sure whatever you see here is accurate.
And If You Find a Mistake on Your Credit Report …
Don’t let a mistake on your credit report drag your score down. Immediately take action to clean up your credit report so you can go back to your normal life. Here’s how:
- If the error is from reporting by your lender, contact them to make sure they fix it with the appropriate CRA.
- If your account statements are accurate but your report isn’t, contact the CRA showing the error and dispute it with them.
- If you fear identity theft (such as accounts showing up that you never opened), follow the steps on IdentityTheft.gov.
As for how to initiate a dispute with the CRA, make sure you only dispute with the one showing the error. Here’s the contact information for each CRA:
- Equifax online
Mail: P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
Phone: (866) 349-5191
- Experian online
Mail: P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013
Phone: (866) 200-6020
- TransUnion online
Mail (using this form): P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016-2000 (You can also fax this form via (610) 546-4771
Phone: (800) 916-8800
CRAs have 30 days to fix incorrect information on your report, during which you can log into their websites to review the progress of your dispute. If it takes longer than that, follow up with them to ensure that your report is corrected.
If You Care About Your Financial Health, Review Your Report
Regularly reviewing your credit reports is one of the most important things you can do for your overall financial health. Your credit reports unlock the mysteries of your credit score, let you see if there are any reporting errors on your financial accounts, and indicate the possibility of identity theft — that latter of which is a growing problem in our technological age.
It might seem like a large ordeal, but it will get faster each time you do it. That’s because you’ll have a better understanding of what you’re looking for and the benefit of having already seen much of it before. Take the driver’s seat in your financial health and review those reports. You’ll always be glad you did.
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