Check Your Credit History Year-Round, For Free

Statistics show that 80% of credit histories have at least one error. Most of them are minor and inconsequential but some can have an adverse effect on your credit score, often costing your thousands on mortgages and car loans. I believe credit bureaus were so lackadaisical about accuracy because it forced consumers to buy their credit reporting services. You wouldn’t know there’s an error unless you paid Equifax for a copy of your report. Fortunately, federal law now makes it possible for us to police our own records and force bureaus to correct them, all on their dime. Here’s how:

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) lets you request a free copy of your credit report from each bureau every twelve months at AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s been mentioned numerous times before (along with all the scam sites looking to profit off it) but do you regularly check your credit history for errors?

I check my history every four months, rotating among the three bureaus, and one time I discovered the wackiest error of them all. I had an entire credit history, albeit a short one, linked to my own because the other person’s social security number was off by one digit (I had a 6, he had a 0). I had an extra address, a extra monthly landline phone bill, and a credit card I didn’t recognize (he had good credit though, paid off his credit card every month).

To get the data removed, I had to prove I didn’t live at that address during the period listed (I submitted two bank statements listing my actual address plus my cell phone bill for that period!) but it was eventually moved. When I asked the CSR how the heck they linked us, they said that “sometimes it happens.” That was the explanation.

It’s no wonder consumers find an estimated 13 million inaccuracies on their credit reports each year.

Jim writes the blog Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

Comments

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  1. jrlcopy says:

    I had an error, somehow I was 90 days past due on a balance of $0.00, it took a bit to fix.

    • floraposte says:

      @jrlcopy: I bet next time you won’t be late with that $0.00 payment. Maybe you should even send in an extra $.00.

    • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

      @jrlcopy: You weren’t 90 days past due on a BALANCE, silly. You were 90 days past due on making a CHARGE. They can’t make money unless you spend THEIRS. How cruel of you not to understand their point of view. You should make more of an effort to keep yourself in debt, and paying these companies — people like you brought about the bailout.

      (just kidding!)

      • jrlcopy says:

        @verucalise: The funny thing was I had like 20 months of “Paid on Time Balance of $0.00″ Then all of a sudden a Past Due on $0.00, this was on an inactive card that was cut up, melted down, shredded, etc.. lol

        • SpruceStreetPhil - in a new Pine flavor says:

          @jrlcopy: how much interest did you owe them?

          Hmmm, maybe I can start charging my bank, or any company for that matter, on the $0.00 funds I lend them.

    • FLConsumer says:

      @jrlcopy: I actually did send a $0.00 check to a company whose billing system said I was late on a $0.00 balance. Seemed like it worked, no nasty late notices or outstanding balance sheets from them since that happened.

      They didn’t try to cash the check. :( I really wanted the image of that one.

  2. GoldenPolynice says:

    Am I the only one who finds it ridiculous that you had to go through all the trouble to prove that they’re the ones who made a mistake?

    I’m not a fan of frivolous law suits, but if a store or service provider accuses you of buying something when, in fact, someone had stolen your identity, why isn’t the store/business culpable of accessory?

    • Bargaineering.com says:

      @GoldenPolynice: I found it pretty ridiculous that I had to submit all those statements to prove it wasn’t me, rather than putting the onus on the company to prove that it was.

    • jrlcopy says:

      @GoldenPolynice: My whole thinking is, I’m paying a company to be an asshole to me. Whether it be a credit card, cell phone, etc. It seems like some weird reverse domination thing.

      Hit me again, oh yeah, here’s another $50 bucks, do it again!

    • dwasifar says:

      @GoldenPolynice: The reason is that YOU are not the bureau’s customer. The businesses running reports on you are the customers, and they mostly don’t care if the data is inaccurate. Only you do. The bureaus wouldn’t even do as much as they currently do, if the law didn’t force them to.

  3. ultimatecardsfan says:

    I was denied for a very entry-level credit card (I’m 22 now), so I checked my credit report to find that there was an error on my report — to the tune of an entire credit card account with a bank I never had, that was overdue by more than six months, with a more than $3,000 balance.

    The dispute filing stuff you have to go through is a pretty decent hassle, but it got removed from my reports, thank God.

    • Joe S Chmo says:

      @ultimatecardsfan:

      I hope you did not pay for that credit report. My understanding is that if you are denied credit then the credit reporting company must provide you a report free of charge.

  4. Lucky225 says:

    umm one time every 12-months is not ‘year-round’

  5. bohemian says:

    I have never had luck getting things removed or corrected. I had some company that claimed I owed Verizon money that I can not get removed even though Verizon says I don’t owe them anything and have an account in good standing with them right now.

    • wcnghj says:

      @bohemian:

      Send a dispute letter to the CRA in the mail, don’t do it online!

    • probablykate says:

      @bohemian: Contact the company that claims you owe Verizon money and find out how you can prove to them that you don’t. Contacting Verizon or the CRA won’t do you any good if the company that is reporting the debt still thinks you owe it.

  6. Bog says:

    The weirdest “ding” I had was that I had a $275.00 credit balance for a number of months. (I wasn’t paying attention and paid one of the bills twice then didn’t use the card.) Not sure why or how it affected me but it seemed to.

  7. Mantid says:

    Oh, this is great. I’m trying to get a report from TransUnion now, but they are requiring me to prove I’m me by verifying two revolving accounts that I don’t have. What the heck do I do about that?

    (A check at Equifax shows the correct number of revolving accounts attached to me)

  8. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    Hah, I never thought about doing it once every 4 months.

  9. Nighthawke says:

    TransUnion seems to be hell bent on selling me reports instead of giving me the free one. Ideas on who to put the snitch in with so they can get the hammer dropped on them?

    • Traveshamockery says:

      @Nighthawke: Go through annualcreditreport.com, which is the ONLY way to get your free legally-mandated report. It provides a free report, not a free score. You have to pay for scores.

  10. safaribob says:

    Wow consumerist, you really disappoint. This isn’t anything you haven’t already told us a dozen times, and the article is pretty deceptive about the “year round”edness from just looking at it before clicking. This seems like a way to just get more clicks, and I’m sure if a company out there said they offered something year round only to give it tri-annually you guys would get up in a fix about it.

    • TonyEuryale says:

      @safaribob: wait… Consumerist is disappointing? Captain Obvious, to the Obviousmobile! Since Carey’s crappy editing is gone, there aren’t any weekend stories so Ben feels the need to recycle crap first thing Monday morning. At least it’s better than him pimping his TV appearances again. Gawker… please let this blog die.

    • drjayphd says:

      @safaribob and @TonyEuryale: You’ll do well to note that this story was neither (a) posted by Ben (2) posted on Monday. ‘Twas the work of Blueprint for Financial Prosperity (whoever they are), and went up on the Interbutts Sunday afternoon.

  11. 12-Inch Idongivafuck Sandwich says:

    I have a store credit card tied to my credit that is actually my parents card. I figure it’s actually helping my credit since it is always paid off immediately and has a lot of available credit. Eventually I’ll worry about getting it taken off, probably when I pay down more of my own credit card debt.

    • econobiker says:

      @12-Inch Idongivafuck Sandwich:

      Another credit building item is to be put on as an “authorized user” with someone’s good account that is about to be paid off in the next 2-3 months. This is how some credit rebuilding places help raise very bad credit scores. The industry wanted to eliminate this loophole but the government left it open- for now…

  12. Dilbitz says:

    My husband and I tried to get a Target card back in 2004. Even though at the time my hubby had perfect credit, they denied us and we wrote the three bureaus to see what was up. They had him listed as DEAD. When my hubby was a teenager he was an authorized user on his dad’s card, and his dad died in 1996. That card company declared them both dead.

  13. neuman1812 says:

    Um you forgot to mention that every time you check your score you lose 5 points…. Even if its free or you pay for it. The more you check..the more you loose.

    • Anonymous says:

      @neuman1812:

      Um no, checking your own credit (via sites like myFICO) does not affect your score at all. You can check it as many times as you want. Also, annualcreditreport.com does not provide you with a FICO score, it only provides a credit report. There are a few sites that give you a free FAKO score like creditkarma.com, but a true FICO score will cost you a few bucks to obtain. Even then, your score will not change. It only temporarily goes down when a potential creditor does a hard inquiry on your report.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      @neuman1812:
      When you check it yourself through annual credit report or through a credit monitoring web site it is a “Soft” inquiry, and won’t be reported. Therefore it won’t affect your score.

      And 5 points is a generalization, by no means a hard and fast rule.

  14. chrisjames says:

    Regarding credit history errors: it is on the shoulders of the credit reporting agency to investigate any disputes, not the consumer. Though they may need to request further information from the consumer, the very first thing they must do is contact the business that provided the incorrect information. They also need to provide details of their investigations and actions taken, though only after everything is finished. Don’t expect them to jump through hoops, but you don’t have to be bullied either.

    Also, don’t dispute by phone. Send in a letter by certified mail outlining all the details of the dispute, and be sure to name drop: names like FCRA and FTC.

  15. corinthos says:

    Mine’s all messed up with my address history. Its got some guy with the same name as me who lives in California.

  16. econobiker says:

    You can get far more free copies when other entities use credit reports that generate “adverse” information.

    Example: alot of car/vehicle insurance companies use credit reports for a portion of their ratings. If they use information that results in “adverse” findings they are required to let you get a report from the credit report company they used. If you apply for any type of loan and do not get the “best” rate you can get a copy of the credit report on which the loan offerer based their information on.

  17. darkryd says:

    Checks on my credit score shouldn’t count against me, no matter how often they’re done.

    Its just assinine.

    Let me check my credit score as many times a year as I want, please. Plain and simple.

  18. mrosedal says:

    I find the whole credit score thing to be a pile of shit anyway. I mean people are collecting all of this data about me without my consent. And than a whole load of decisions are made based upon this random score. Crazy the world we live in. I think it is a load of crap.

    That is to say I have a very good credit score and take my credit seriously. I think you should be honest to yourself and potential lender so as not to get in over your head, but I shouldn’t have to worry about a credit hit or error ruining my financial status or being charged extra in interest rates.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I once had my DOB changed on my credit file. Equifax explained to me that anyone who grants you credit has the ability to change your credit file. Shouldn’t that be a read-only field?

    Oh and its up to the credit grantor whether or not they care to check your credit report before granting you credit. So if they don’t bother to check any of the details of the credit application, but someone has your ssn, then they might just grant the credit, which will show up on your report. The creditors don’t care, as they just write off the loss. I once put a fraud alert on my file at all three, the next week walked into a store, applied for a credit card and was granted on the spot. Then again, maybe thats why that company is no longer in business.

  20. princesswildflower says:

    Hmmm. Link doesn’t work if you’re outside the US. What to do if you need to check your US credit but are abroad?