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Credit Report FAQ

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About Credit Reports

What is a credit bureau?

Credit bureaus, or credit reporting agencies, are basically clearinghouses for information about a consumer's credit history. When you apply for credit, the credit bureaus provide your credit history information to qualified requestors. There are 3 main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

How do the credit bureaus obtain information?

Credit bureaus collect information from banks, savings and loans, credit unions, finance companies, and retailers about your credit record.

Do all 3 credit reports from the 3 bureaus have the same information on file?

No, because lenders send information to some and not others. Credit bureaus receive more than two billion pieces of data each month, so it's a given that mistakes are going to happen.

Credit reports are available from 3 main reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, and these "big three" do not exchange information with each other. Therefore each of the 3 credit bureaus may have different information about your credit history, depending on who and what was reported to them. What is on one credit report may differ from another. This is why a merged credit report or 3-in-1 credit report has become a popular method for consumers to obtain their credit information. A merged or 3-in-1 credit report basically "merges" the information found on all 3 credit files.

Who can look at my credit report?

The Fair Credit Reporting Act stipulates that lenders to whom a consumer has applied for a loan can view credit reports - for example, credit card companies and financial institutions supplying auto loans and mortgages. But the list continues: landlords, utility companies, phone companies, hospitals, doctors, dentists, insurance companies, credit unions, finance companies, banks, retailers, department stores, credit card companies, car dealers, mortgagers, investigators, lawyers, courts - most anyone who can give the credit bureaus just cause can view your credit report.

How long does information stay in my credit report?

Public records and collection items stay on your report for 7 years with the exception of bankruptcies, which stay on for 10 years. Unpaid tax liens remain for 15 years. Positive information remains indefinitely, although agencies can remove it after 7 years. Inquiries remain for two years.

At what age do credit reporting agencies start recording a person's credit history?

At 18 years of age, your credit is compiled and reported to the credit reporting agencies.

Why should I check my credit report?

Just as you have medical and dental check-ups periodically, so should you check your credit report. Knowing what's in your credit report arms you with the information you need - your credit standing - when trying to secure favorable rates for a mortgage or other loan. Also, if you regularly check your credit report, you can guard against identity theft, one of the fastest-growing federal crimes in the nation.

How often should I check my credit report?

With the explosive growth of identity theft, experts recommend checking your credit report as routinely as you check the weather. That way, when there's a change you don't recognize, you can take steps to halt what could be illegal pilfering of your personal information.

How do I dispute inaccurate information?

You may file a dispute by calling and writing the credit bureau that reported the inaccurate information (send by certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep copies). The bureau will then check with the original source. If this inaccuracy persists, add a statement to the credit report specifying why the item is wrong. This dispute process can take up to 30 days.

What is a public record?

Information on tax liens, lawsuits, bankruptcies and judgments that relate to the consumer's debt obligations. Most public record items are listed for 7 years including successfully completed Chapter 13 bankruptcies. Other bankruptcies are listed for 10 years. Tax liens are listed for 7 years from the date paid.

What are collection items?

Collection items are accounts sent to a collection agency, which are listed in your credit report for seven years from the date the account was 180 days delinquent with the original creditor.

What are inquiries?

Companies that have requested your credit file within the past two years. Companies that inquire for marketing purposes do not affect your credit rating.

How long does it take for a closed account to be removed from my credit file?

The file will be updated in 30 to 60 days, but reportable information stays on 7 years from date of the last activity.

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