With the official start of spring less than a week away, many people will soon be embarking on a deep cleaning of their homes, getting rid of some of the winter's accumulated clutter, clearing out the cobwebs and letting a little more light and fresh air into their homes.
If you're in the cleaning mode, consider adding another task to your list of springtime chores: giving your credit report a thorough going-over. Getting a copy of your credit report and checking all the information on it for accuracy could provide you with the opportunity to get a better credit score (if there’s incorrect, damaging information on it). It could also help you a problem with identity theft before it goes too far. There are three basic steps to cleaning up your credit report.
There are three major credit reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion---and under the terms of the U.S. Fair Credit Reporting Act each is obliged to give you a free copy of your credit report each year. You can get all three at once, or, if you want to be especially vigilant, request one report from a different agency every four months. You can immediately download a copy of your credit report at the annual credit report website, which has been specifically set up for that purpose. Be prepared to supply basic personal information, including your name, address and social security number, and also your previous address if you have lived in your current location for less than two years.
You can also download a form to request that your credit report be mailed to you or call 1-877-322-8228 and ask that a report be sent. You should receive your report in about two weeks.
Review your account history. You should find records of all the credit accounts you’ve had over the past seven to 10 years. The listings should include the name of the lender (credit card company, mortgage company, auto lender, etc.), the amount you borrowed and the current status of the account—whether you’ve paid it off, or what the current balance is.
These records will also reflect whether or not you’ve paid your bills on time or if you’ve had late or missed payments.
Look for credit inquiries. When you apply for a loan or a credit card, the lender will request a copy of your credit report and those inquiries stay on your report for two years.
Credit inquiries can be important. When thieves steal your identity, they frequently apply for credit cards or loans using your name. Make a note of any credit inquiries and/or credit or loan applications you don’t recognize.
If you find incorrect or suspicious information on your credit report, you should take steps to correct them immediately by contacting the credit reporting company that prepared that report:
There are separate websites and phone numbers for reporting if you believe someone has used your identity to get credit or if you suspect some other fraudulent activity on your account:
The credit reporting companies will put a fraud alert on your account, which lets potential lenders or creditors know that they must take extra precautions to verify the identity of anyone trying to obtain credit under this account.
Even if you don’t find any problem areas, cleaning out your credit report can provide some peace of mind because you know that no one is attempting to hijack your credit. You may also find that getting rid of any incorrect negative information could help increase your credit score over the long run.