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Credit Reports
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 mortgage.

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.

Have 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 or insurance. Even if you are not 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 can have 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. In addition, 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 major 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:

Equifax

  • Phone: 1-800-685-1111
    This is an automated process. You need to follow the instructions and choose “to 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.

Experian

  • 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 entitles 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 law.

TransUnion

IMPORTANT NOTES:

DO NOT USE THE FCRA MAIL REQUEST FORM to order your free report under Maryland law, the form can only be used to order your free report under the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.

All three agencies will ask you for your Social Security number to process your request. It is okay to give it to them in this context; 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 information before giving it to them.

While you are entitled to your free credit reports, credit reporting agencies are allowed to charge you for your credit score.

Some agencies will sign you up for a credit monitoring service when you order a “free” credit report if you do not follow the instructions provided here. Make sure to read any fine print before submitting a request, ESPECIALLY if the request requires your credit card number, because the agencies charge a fee for the monitoring service.

All at Once or Staggered?

You can request your report from each of the three credit reporting companies at once, or you can only order one or two at a time.

If you order all three, you will get the most complete picture of what is being reported about you at that point in time. The companies use different sources, so some information may show up in one report but not another. On the other hand, people who are knowledgeable about identity theft recommend staggering the reports, requesting a different one every two months, which may help you spot suspicious activity as soon as possible.

What's 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.

Correcting Errors

If you find incorrect information in your credit report, the Fair Credit Reporting Act provides a process to have the information removed or corrected:

  • Write to the Credit Reporting Agency, detailing which items in the report are 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 information.
  • If the Credit Reporting Agency verifies the item was accurate, it must mail you a written notice of its findings. If you disagree with 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. That way, you don't have to spend hours tracking down who at “the bank” verified 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.

Additional Copies
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

Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free

 
 

Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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