It Pays to Check Yours
It Pays to Check Yours
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:
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.
If you find incorrect information in your credit report, the Fair Credit Reporting Act provides a process to have the information removed or corrected:
If you are unable to resolve the problem,
call the State of Maryland Division of Financial Regulation at 410-230-6100.