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Are You On File With the Credit Reporting Agencies?

Did you know there's a file on you that lists your personal financial and credit information? Find out how you can view it and get a copy of your credit file.

If you've ever had a bank account, rented an apartment, or owned a credit card, chances are you are on file with one or more credit reporting agencies. Credit reporting agencies, often called credit bureaus, compile and sell your credit information. While there are many local credit bureaus, most of them are either owned by or under contract with one of the three major credit reporting agencies:

How It Works

Your creditors share your credit information with the credit bureaus. The credit bureaus consolidate this information to create your credit profile. The information, in the form of a credit report, may be sold to other creditors who want to do business with you. When you apply for a credit card, for example, the issuer gets a copy of your credit report and reviews your payment history, open line of credit, employment information, and other data. Based on this review, the issuer either approves or denies you credit.

Companies who send you pre-approved offers for credit or insurance also use your credit profile information. These companies don't actually see your credit report. Instead, they are given a list of names and addresses of people who meet their criteria to offer services and products. If you'd prefer not to receive these offers, you can remove your name from the marketing lists of the three major credit bureaus by calling their opt-out line at 888-5OPTOUT (567-8688).

What's in Your Credit Report?

While credit reports don't look exactly alike, each credit bureau lists the same basic type of information.

Personal identification – This information, typically reported by your creditors, consists of:

  • Name

  • Social Security Number

  • Date of birth

  • Current address

  • Previous address for last 5 to 10 years

  • Last reported employment

Public record information – This is legal information reported by local, state, and federal courts. It includes:

  • Judgments

  • Bankruptcies

  • State and federal tax liens

  • Past-due child support

Inquiries – This section of your credit report lists companies and individuals that have received information from your credit profile over the past 12 to 24 months. There are basically three types of inquiries that may show up on your file:

  • Promotional – Pre-approved offers for credit or insurance, listed as PRM inquiries on a credit report

  • Current creditors – Periodic reviews of your credit information for specific purposes, such as raising your credit line

  • Credit bureaus – When you request a copy of your credit report or file a dispute

Credit accounts – Information about your credit accounts includes:

  • Date reported to the credit bureau

  • Name of creditor

  • Account number

  • Individual or joint

  • Date opened

  • Credit limit

  • Terms of account (installment or revolving)

  • Status of account (paid as agreed; 30, 60, or 90 days late; lost or stolen)

  • Balance as of date reported and dates of last activity

How Long is Information Reported?

Certain types of payment history and account status information stay on your credit report for several years after the date of last activity, including:

  • Credit accounts:

    Paid as agreed – 10 years
    Not paid as agreed – 7 years

  • Collection accounts: 7 years

Public record information stays on your credit report for 7 years with the following exceptions:

  • Chapter 7 bankruptcy: 10 years from file date

  • Chapter 13 bankruptcy if not discharged: 10 years from file date

  • Tax liens:

    Paid – up to 7 years from release date
    Unpaid – no time limit

Payment history is not removed from your credit report after you pay an account in full. There may be other exceptions specific to your state of residence. Check with the credit bureaus to find out more.

How Can You Get a Copy?

Under a 2003 amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report once a year. Visit the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website on credit for more information. Not all "free" credit reports are really free, as explained in this FTC article about free annual credit reports. To get a free copy of your credit report, visit the authorized website www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

Some consumer groups are recommending that you order your credit report via telephone or by postal mail. That is because several websites with names similar to the official annual credit report website are imposters. Read the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse article Call Don't Click, which explains the dangers of ordering credit reports online.

Here is the contact information for AnnualCreditReport.com if you prefer not to order over the Internet:

Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
877-322-8228

There are other cases when you can get a free copy of your credit report. If you have been the victim of identity theft, you can receive a free credit report. Also, if in the past 60 days you have been denied credit, insurance, a job, or rental housing, because of the information in your credit report, you are entitled to a free copy. For these types of free credit report, you must contact the major credit reporting agencies listed below.

Equifax

Experian

TransUnion

 

Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374

800-685-1111

www.Equifax.com

Experian
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013

888-397-3742

www.Experian.com

TransUnion
P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022

800-888-4213

www.TransUnion.com

 

Each credit bureau maintains its own database and may not always have the same information as the other two, so it's a good idea to check them all. For a detailed discussion on the Fair Credit Reporting Act, read the related articles in our library.

How Much Does It Cost?

If your are not entitled to a free copy of your credit report, as explained above, you can buy it from the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion). Be aware that each of these reporting agencies will try to sell you a package deal, such as a monthly credit report service. If you just want a copy of your credit report and nothing else, the cost is $10 or less.

It's a good idea to get a copy of your credit report once a year. Stay informed and in charge of your financial health. Request your credit report today, and make sure that the credit information on file about you is accurate.

For more information about credit bureaus, read the related articles in our Knowledge Center Library.

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