What is a Credit Report?
A credit report includes information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. Nationwide consumer reporting companies sell the information in your report to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting a home. Your credit is very important in determining how much you can borrow, the interest rate and the terms. With your permission, it may even be considered by potential employers.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) with respect to consumer reporting companies. The Department of Banking and Finance does not have state supervisory authority over credit reporting agencies; therefore, issues or complaints regarding these companies need to be forwarded to the FTC.
Credit reporting agencies gather information about consumers and sell that information to creditors, employers, insurers, and other businesses. There are three main national credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. All of the creditors you deal with will report your information to at least one of these agencies. View contact information for the three primary credit reporting agencies.
Your credit report cannot be viewed by anyone who does not have a legitimate need for viewing it. Credit reporting agencies can provide information only to the following types of requestors:
- Creditors who are considering granting or who have granted you credit
- Employers considering you for employment, promotion, reassignment or retention
- Insurers considering you for an insurance policy or renewing an existing policy
- Government agencies reviewing your financial status for government benefits or employment
- Anyone else with a legitimate business need for the information, such as potential landlords
What kind of information is on my credit report?
The four basic types of information collected are:
Your identification and employment information:
- Social Security number
- Date of birth
- Current and previous addresses
- Telephone number
- Current and previous employers
Payment History: All of the credit accounts you have had within the past 10 years appear on your credit report.
Types of credit accounts:
- Bank and retail credit cards
- Bank loans
- Finance company loans
Information collected on these:
- Your name and account number
- Date account was opened or closed
- Amount borrowed and amount still owed
- Credit limit
- Timeliness of payments
Inquiries: A list of people who have requested your credit report other than you, including:
Lenders within the past year
- Potential employers within the past two years
Public Record Information:
- Judgments, including child support judgments
- Tax liens
- Criminal convictions
Most of this information, as well as information on your various credit accounts, will be on your report for seven years. Personal bankruptcies will be reported for 10 years. Correct information, even if it negatively reflects on you, cannot be removed by anyone.
How do I get my free credit report?
Each consumer reporting agency which compiles and maintains files on consumers on a nation-wide basis shall furnish to any consumer who has provided appropriate verification of his or her identity two complete consumer reports per calendar year, upon request and without charge.
Consumers in 11 Southern states (including Georgia) are eligible to request a free comprehensive disclosure of all the information in their credit file from all three national reporting agencies once every 12 months.
To receive this free report, you must go to a single central source, www.annualcreditreport.com (where you can view an online copy) or call the central request line at 1-877-322-8228. If you prefer, you can also go to the FTC web site and print out an Annual Credit Report Request Form, to be completed and mailed to this address:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5281
As a Georgia resident, you were already entitled by the Fair Business Practices Act to two free credit reports from each reporting agency per year. To request the second of your free annual reports, which would be sent to you by mail, contact the three main national credit reporting agencies directly.
Also, if you are denied credit on the basis of information in a credit report, you may subsequently obtain a free copy of your report from the credit bureau that supplied the initial report. If you are the victim of identity theft, you can call any one of the three credit-reporting agencies to request that a fraud alert be placed on all three of your files and a copy of each current report be sent to you.
The credit bureaus may vary in their method of providing your additional free credit report(s), and the report you receive from one of the bureaus (as well as your credit score) could be different from the others. Each collects its own data, and they do not necessarily receive the same information from your creditors. It is important to review your credit report from each bureau to ensure that the information is accurate and there is no fraudulent activity attributed to you.
What if I find errors on my credit report?
Since credit information is collected from a variety of sources, errors do occur. It is important to check your credit reports periodically and address errors immediately. Serious errors could affect your ability to obtain a loan, insurance or even a job or could affect your credit rating, which in turn would mean that you might have to pay a higher interest rate when you borrow money.
If you find errors on your report, you can dispute them at no cost. Details on how to dispute an error are included with your credit report, but basically you should notify in writing the consumer credit reporting company (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion) as well as the person or company who provided the information of the error. Be as detailed as possible, providing copies of documents as needed. Send your letters via certified mail, return receipt requested and keep a copy for your records.
The consumer credit reporting company must investigate your allegations within 30 days and will notify you of the result. More information on this dispute process, as well as a sample dispute letter, is available from the FTC's website.
Common errors to look for:
Information about you
- Look for misspellings of your name or errors in your birthdate or Social Security number.
- Make sure the same loan is not listed more than once.
- Look for omissions, such as the fact that you paid off a delinquent account or resolved a legal matter.
- Make sure accounts that are closed are actually listed as closed.
Information that is on the report that is not about you
- Look for "mixed" information, such as information about one of your family members (e.g. Joe Smith, Sr. on the report for Joe Smith, Jr.).
Information about you that is very old and should be removed
- Look for old addresses, employers or a previous spouse's information.
Fraudulent Credit Report websites
Have you ever received an unsolicited e-mail or an Internet pop-up ad offering free credit reports? Be very cautious, as many of these online operators are using such offers to collect your personal information and use your identity for fraudulent activities. Here are a few words to the wise:
- There is only one source for your free credit reports - www.annualcreditreport.com. You can make your request on-line, by phone or by mail. The Federal Trade Commission launched two new videos to make it clear that the only authorized source to get a free annual credit report under federal law is AnnualCreditReport.com. The videos are available at www.ftc.gov/freereports and www.YouTube.com/FTCVideos. They highlight the differences between AnnualCreditReport.com and other sites that claim to provide “free” credit reports.
- If you get an e-mail offering a free credit report, call the company instead of clicking the link.
- Be skeptical of unsolicited e-mail offering credit reports, especially from unusual e-mail addresses that have numbers, misspelled words or a foreign domain.
- Verify the company’s name, address and telephone number.
- Signs of a scam include misspellings or grammatical errors in the letter, or an area code that does not match the zip code of the company.
- Search Network Solutions online to determine who owns the web site.
- Legitimate companies will not ask for your personal identification number (PIN) for your bank account, your passport number, or the three-digit number on the back of your credit card.
- Only use secure web sites when giving out any personal information online. A secure site will have “https” at the beginning of the web address.
- Always check credit card statements for any unauthorized charges.
If you have been a victim of this type of scam, you may report your experience to the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection.
You may also file a complaint with the FTC. Due to the number of complaints they receive, they cannot treat your case individually; but they may use your information for purposes of a national investigation. Their contact information is:
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
Phone: 877-382-4357 or (TTY) 866-653-4261