How To Work With Credit Reporting Agencies

The credit reporting agencies often seem like a big bad wolf that guards your financial information.  A bank can ask - and be given - a credit score that tells everything about your financial health.  But if you - the consumer - ask any questions, you might lose your head!  

In all actuality, they are far more accessible than they used to be.  The big three -- Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax -- are only as good as the information they are provided.  They aren’t perfect and errors do appear on credit reports.  In order for consumers to monitor and correct such errors, laws have come into being in recent years to allow consumers easier and cheaper access to their own data.  This also helps consumers monitor against such fraud as identity theft.

  1. One of these recent laws now allows consumers to receive an annual report for free.  You will see plenty of companies offer to sell you your credit report.  You can get one for free by calling (877) 322-8228.  You can also go online and request one from Annual Credit Report.  If you would rather do it by mail, you will need to go online and request the form here and mail it to the address below. 

    Annual Credit Report Request Service
    P.O. Box 105281
    Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

  2. It’s best to request your annual report from one consolidated source such as this rather than each individual agency.  This gives you a more complete picture.  Each of the big three agencies are an entity unto themselves.  They don’t have to share information with each other and make things match.  In addition, lenders aren’t required to report to all three – or even one.  Often a lender will report to one or two agencies.  Because of this, you should check all three to make sure there aren’t any errors.  Overlapping is okay and an omission isn’t necessarily an error.  It may just mean that the lender doesn’t report to any agency.  
  3. If you do discover an error, you should request - in writing - that the agency look into the problem.  By law, they have a limited amount of time to resolve the issue.  During this period, they will adjust the report to reflect what you say it is.  If they find that you are correct, it will be adjusted permanently.  At this point you should receive a free copy of your correct report.  If they find the lender is correct, they will revert back to the previous information.  When you make your request, be polite, detailed and provide any backup information that pertains to your situation.  For example, a copy of a cancelled check showing payment in full would be good.  
  4. If you are looking for additional information, including a sample dispute letter, be sure to check the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s website.  They can also provide clues to your credit score and they have full contact information for the big three reporting agencies.    

It’s not as scary as it used to be to deal with the big three.  It’s a good idea to use the free information has been offered to you and check your credit report regularly.


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