Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Your free credit report

Under the provisions of federal consumer law, if you want to obtain a free credit report from one or all of the big three credit reporting companies, go to AnnualCreditReport.com. Period.
If you want a free credit report from Experian -- one of the big three -- and the possibility that the company will sign you up for a credit report monitoring service with a monthly fee, go to Experian's FreeCreditReport.com website. Likewise, FreeCreditReportSource.com; FreebieCreditReport.com;FreeCreditReportsInstantly.com and a host of other similarly named websites will all also "give" you your "free" credit report, but you could wind up paying extra for credit services you may not want. Confused? That's not surprising.
A year ago this month the federal government finished rolling out the free annual credit report provision of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA).The provision says you are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax; Experian; and TransUnion.
Along with your personal identification information -- Social Security number, birth date, name, recent addresses and employers, etc. -- your credit report is a sort of fiscal fitness report on your credit habits. It names your credit accounts, identifies them by type and tracks balances, credit limits, payments, available credit, open-or-closed status and other information that reveals how well or how poorly you pay each account. The report also documents credit requests and notices of liens, judgments and other "derogatory" remarks, remarks from the consumer, and other information.
When you apply for credit, the creditor takes a look at your credit report, among other documents and data, to determine if you qualify for credit and to determine how much credit it will grant you.
It's a good idea to keep tabs on your credit report before you apply for credit to avoid surprises, to correct any mistakes that could adversely affect your application, and to take steps to improve your credit whenever possible. An unblemished credit report not only gives you fast access to credit, you also pay less in interest than you would if your report contains blemishes.
Under the federal law's provision, official, free access to your credit report is available through a single website, AnnualCreditReport.com; by phone, via (877) 322-8228; by mail (Annual Credit Report Service, P.O.Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281); or by filling out the official "Annual Credit Report Request Form" available on the Federal Trade Commission's website.

The FTC warns consumers to beware of "impostor" websites, those with enticing names that pose as "free credit report" websites but which are questionable marketing gimmicks designed to enroll you in credit report monitoring and other credit services in exchange for granting you your "free" credit report. Selling credit report monitoring services is a legitimate business, though consumer advocates say the services are of dubious value.
"While consumers may be offered additional products or services while on the authorized website, they are not required to make a purchase to receive their free annual credit reports," the FTC says.


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