Credit report companies sell your information to creditors, insurers and even employers, so it is best to try to keep a good clean report. Your credit score can affect your job applications in addition to your loan rates and credit card approval.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act promotes the accuracy, fairness and privacy of the information held by the credit reporting companies Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You are entitled to a free copy of your report once every 12 months. The only free site to obtain your credit report is www.annualcreditreport.com.
The credit report companies collect and sell your information including:
- Identification and employment information – If a creditor asks, they can get information about your SSN, home ownership, employment history and income.
- Payment history – Your accounts with all of your creditors are listed, showing if you paid on time.
- Inquires – They must keep a record of all creditors who have asked for your credit history within the past year. It’s best not to apply for a lot of cards, as the inquiries could knock you credit score down 5-10 points. There is no penalty for inquiring about your own credit.
What can you do if you’ve already made some mistakes?
First of all, clean up any errors on your credit report. Inform the credit reporting company, in writing and sent by Certified Mail, any information you think is inaccurate. Clearly identify each item in your report you dispute, state the facts and explain why you dispute the information, and request that it be removed or corrected. Here is a sample letter for disputing information.
You can’t dispute correct negative information; only time can erase it. Most information stays on your report for seven years. There are several companies that offer you services to improve your credit, but you can do it on your own just as well. They can’t do away with negative information either.
Here are a few steps you can take to start dealing with debt:
- Develop a budget.
- Contact your creditors. Many of them will work with you and try to work out a modified payment plan.
- Get some credit counseling. If managing your credit seems too overwhelming, consult a credit counselor.
Often, doing it yourself is the best way to repair your credit. The Federal Trade Commission’s “Credit Repair: How to Help Yourself” explains how you can improve your creditworthiness and lists legitimate resources for low-cost or no-cost help.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Even if you’ve done some bad credit practices in the past, present good behavior can make up for a lot, and usually within about 2 years of consistently paying attention to your accounts, you can raise your score back to an attractive level.