What type of information does my credit report contain and how important is it that I check it?

A consumer’s credit report contains a variety of financial and personal information that is often sold to creditors, insurers, and employers. Credit reports may be used to evaluate applications for everything from credit cards and insurance benefits to jobs and home rentals. In order to curb inaccuracies and fraud, Congress passed an amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requiring each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies to provide consumers who request it one free credit report every 12 months. The reports can be especially beneficial for seniors who are often victimized by fraud. 

Because each of the three nationwide credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and Trans Union, are required to supply one free report every 12 months, some financial planners suggest that consumers stagger their requests so they are able to view a report every four months. Experts also remind consumers that reports from each bureau may vary due to different information sources. 

Consumers may obtain their free credit report by dialing 1 (877) 322-8228 or visiting http://www.annualcreditreport.com. There are some misleading sites that also claim to provide a free credit report, but do not. These sites provide you a free report only after you sign up to buy other services. Some of these misleading sites have names that are similar to the free sites or are slight misspellings of the free site. To help you ensure you use the correct site, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests that you use the link on the agency’s website http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports to order your free credit report.  

You may also mail a request to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Reports requested online are available immediately, while phone and mail requests take about 15 days to be processed. 

For more information see: Federal Trade Commission, The Federal Trade Commission’s Information on Free Annual Credit Reports, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports (last visited June 9, 2015).