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Guide to Credit Reports

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Understanding your credit report is a key part of financial planning. You have the right to receive a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax – once a year through Annual Credit The free reports do not include credit scores. You may request your score for a fee at the time of ordering the free reports if you choose to do so.

Your credit report

A credit report is divided into four sections:

Personal identification
Your name(s), your address(es), your employment history and marital status

Trade lines
Your history of handling credit:

  • Creditors and account information
  • Balances and payment patterns for the last 24 to 36 months
  • Accounts in collections
  • Accounts in dispute

Public records
Information about lawsuits to which you are a party, liens or legal claims on your property, bankruptcies, and past due child or spousal support

Who has requested your report for at least the past year and your history of applications for loans or credit

Your credit score

When evaluating your credit for a loan, many lenders will review your credit score.
A credit score is a numerical guide that is representative of lending risk; scores generally range from 300 to 850, with higher numbers indicating a lower risk.
Scores reflect payment patterns with emphasis placed on recent activity. To maintain a strong credit score:

  • Pay bills on time
  • Keep balances low (in relation to the account limit)
  • Apply for and open new accounts only as needed

Negative information, if accurate and timely, cannot be removed from your credit report. Most negative information will remain for seven years. You can, however, improve your report by committing to on-time payments and repaying old collection accounts.

Your rights

Credit bureaus are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, and must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA provides consumers certain rights:

The right to access your reports
You may access free reports through the Annual Credit Report Request Service, or purchase reports directly from the credit bureaus. If you have been denied credit, insurance, or employment because of information on your credit report, you are entitled to a free copy of that report directly from the credit bureau.

The right to accuracy
It is the credit bureau's responsibility to report correct information. If you discover inaccuracies, file a dispute with the bureau. When you receive your credit report, you will receive instructions on disputing information either online or through the mail.

The right to have negative information "age-off"
While positive information can remain on a credit report indefinitely, most negative information will be removed after seven years.

The right to privacy
Only those with a need recognized by the FCRA may access your reports. This is usually a creditor, insurer, landlord or other business.

The right to seek damages
If you believe a credit bureau, a business that provides information to the bureau, or a user of the information contained in your report violates the FCRA, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. You may also have additional rights concerning your credit information under state law.