It Pays to Check Yours
Amanda from Baltimore City was getting ready to buy a house. She checked
her credit report and found that it listed delinquent credit accounts
that belonged to a person with a similar name. Fortunately, she had time
to have the inaccurate information removed so she could qualify for the
A Hagerstown consumer named Maria checked her credit report and found
a credit card account that she paid off years ago was being reported
as a bad debt.
Walter's credit report showed that someone in a different
state had used his name and Social Security number to open
a credit account. He had to file
a police report and put an alert on his credit file.
you checked your credit report lately? Have you ever checked it? You
should, because what's in that report can have a significant impact
on your life. If there's something negative in your report it,
you could be turned down for a credit card, mortgage, job, apartment
Even if you
turned down, the contents of your credit report may increase the interest
rate or premium you have to pay.
And that “something negative” might not even be something you did.
Inaccurate information can appear in credit reports. In a 2004 survey conducted
by U.S. PIRG, 79 percent of credit reports surveyed had errors, such as someone
else's credit accounts showing up in the consumer's report, or paid-off
debts being reported as delinquent. Also, your credit report might reveal that
an identity thief is using your information to open fraudulent accounts. What's
in your credit report is used to calculate your credit score, which is
increasingly relied upon by lenders to determine whether to issue credit
and, if so, what
interest rate you qualify for.
It's a good idea to check your credit reports from time to time,
and especially before applying for a major loan or a mortgage, so you
the Credit Reporting
Agency correct any errors. Fortunately, you can do this for free. The
Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act allows consumers to receive a free
copy of their
credit reports once a year from each of the three Credit Reporting Agencies.
Maryland law gives its residents the right to a free annual copy of their
credit report. This means you can review your credit report six times a year for free
(two free reports from each agency).
How to Request Your Credit Reports
In order to request your free copy under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you
must use the central toll-free number, address or website set up by the three
credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion):
If ordering online, be sure to type in the website address exactly.
There are commercial websites with similar names that may try to get
you to pay a fee for your reports or to buy other products. Also, beware
of pop-up ads, e-mails or telemarketing calls that promise to obtain
your free credit report for you. Responding to these solicitations may
cost you money. Remember to double-check that you are using the federally-mandated
website. To request your reports, you will need to provide personal information
such as your name, address, Social Security number and date of birth.
To order your free credit report under Maryland law, you must contact each
Credit Reporting Agency directly:
- Phone: 1-800-685-1111
This is an automated process. You need to follow the instructions
order your credit report only, not your credit score.” You will
then be given three options, press “4” when prompted to order
the report free under state law.
- Online: www.equifax.com/fcra Click
the bubble for “free state credit file” at the bottom
of the page and fill out the forms as prompted.
- Mail: Send
your request to Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc. P.O. Box
740241, Atlanta, GA 30374.
- Phone: 1-888-397-3742
This is an automated process; the hotline uses the area code of
the phone number you are calling from to determine if state law
you to a free credit
report, so make sure to call from a Maryland area code. Follow
the prompts to order your free credit report under Maryland law.
- Online: www.experian.com/freestate
Follow the instructions for ordering a free copy under Maryland
DO NOT USE THE FCRA MAIL REQUEST FORM to order your free report under Maryland
the form can only be
to order your free
under the Federal
Fair Credit Reporting Act.
All three agencies will ask
you for your Social Security number
request. It is okay to give
it to them in this
they use the number
to link you to the proper credit report.
In other circumstances, it may be unsafe
to give out your Social Security number.
Make sure you
trust the person
or organization requesting any personal
before giving it to them.
While you are entitled to your free
credit reports, credit reporting agencies
allowed to charge you
Some agencies will sign you up for
a credit monitoring service when you
a “free” credit
report if you do not follow the instructions provided
here. Make sure to read
any fine print before submitting a request,
if the request requires your credit card number,
because the agencies charge a fee for the monitoring
All at Once or Staggered?
You can request your report from each
of the three credit reporting companies
once, or you can only
or two at a time.
If you order all three, you will get
the most complete picture of what is
reported about you at that
point in time. The
so some information may show up in
one report but not another. On the
hand, people who are knowledgeable
the reports, requesting a different
one every two months, which may help
spot suspicious activity as soon
in a Credit Report?
Your credit report contains information about how you have handled credit,
such as loans or credit card accounts, as well any bankruptcies, tax liens
or monetary judgments issued against you. It is compiled by a credit reporting
agency, which gets the information from creditors and from public records.
The agencies sell the report to credit grantors, employers, landlords and
others who want to check out an individual's credit history.
If you are not planning to seek new credit in the near future, you may want
to consider placing a “freeze” on your credit report as a protection
against identity thieves opening credit in your name. For information on how
to freeze your credit report, see our identity theft website: http://www.oag.state.md.us/idtheft/freezing.htm.
What about your credit score?
Many lenders will base their lending decisions on your credit score without looking at your underlying credit report. Your credit score is calculated using a formula based on the information in your credit report. Different credit rating agencies and creditors use different criteria based upon what information they consider most important. Unlike credit reports, you are not entitled to your credit score for free. However, if you order the free copies of your credit reports, make sure any incorrect information is corrected or removed, and make efforts to address problems such as late payments. Because your credit score is based on the information in your credit report, removing incorrect negative information may improve your credit score.
The major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) are allowed to charge a "reasonable fee" for you to obtain your credit score from them. If you are interested in obtaining your credit score, you should contact those agencies directly.
If you find incorrect information in your credit report, the Fair Credit
Reporting Act provides a process to have the information removed or
to the Credit Reporting Agency, detailing which items in the report
incorrect and why. Include copies of relevant documents.
Keep a copy
of the letter for your records.
- The Credit
Reporting Agency must, within 30 days, reinvestigate with the company
that reported the
- If the
Credit Reporting Agency verifies the item was accurate, it must mail
you a written notice of its findings. If you
these findings, you may file a brief statement explaining why, which becomes
part of your credit report. Following a dispute, Marylanders
can ask the Credit Reporting Agency to disclose the name, address and telephone
number of each person contacted during the reinvestigation.
you don't have to spend hours tracking down who at “the
adverse information with the Credit Reporting Agency
If you are unable to resolve the problem, call the State of Maryland
Division of Financial Regulation at 410-230-6100.
In addition to a free annual copy of your credit report under the FACT Act, you
are also entitled to a free copy of your report if you are turned down for credit,
insurance or employment because of information in your credit report; if you
are a victim of identity theft; if you are on public assistance; or if you are
unemployed but expect to apply for employment within 60 days. To request a report
under any of these circumstances, contact the credit reporting companies directly:
Equifax, 800-685-1111; www.equifax.com
Experian, 888-397-3742; www.experian.com
TransUnion, 800-916-8800; www.transunion.com