Most of us are aware that our financial health is graded by the big three credit bureaus. They keep track of all of our outstanding debt, whether we've paid on time or not, how much available credit we have, where we work, and several other aspects of our financial selves. The put all this data into their proprietary programs then spit out a credit score to be used for or against you. If the score they assign you is in the high mid 600's and up, then they are probably helping you get a lower interest rate on your debt and therefore paying less money in interest. If your score is heading from 600 on down, then that number is usually working against you. Lenders may let you borrow from them, but they will usually charge you a higher interest rate because you are assumed to be a higher risk.
It used to be almost impossible to find out what your score was, never mind try to find out who actually reported what to the bureaus in your name and social security number. Although getting that information has definitely become easier, the Fair Credit Reporting Act was designed to make it even easier and more fair.
These days, you are allowed one free annual report. This allows you to check your report for errors. Sometimes lenders will forget to send the final data into the bureaus that shows you paid off a particular card or loan. Sometimes you will find a lender or creditor who puts a derogatory remark on your credit report that shouldn't even be there. Occasionally, you will find that someone has stolen your identity. You will find credit cards or loans opened in your name that aren't yours. For some, this is where they find out that someone has hijacked their identity. So it does pay to check it regularly.
You are also allowed free reports if you've been turned down for credit, if you've had problems with fraud or if you're on welfare. If you want to find out what your actual score it, you will usually need to pay for that. You can either pay for one agency's score, or pay to get all three at once.
Because the information contained in your credit history is often used not only to get a loan, but also for employer hiring purposes as well as life and car insurance premiums, it is imperative that the information be as accurate as possible. Credit bureaus have to maintain the information and respond to all disputes in a timely manner.
The act also helps clarify the guidelines for who can access what information as well as how long negative information can stay on your report. For example, an employer or prospective employer has to have your written permission to access your report. But depending on the job you have or are applying for, it is not uncommon for an employer to ask for that information.
A good place to get more detailed information about the Fair Credit Reporting Act is from the following government website. They also list contact information for the three main credit bureaus to assist you in monitoring your financial health.