Anyone applying for a credit card, or thinking about buying a new home, should take a look at their credit report ahead of time; it's important to make sure there aren't any errors in the report. The good news is that it won't cost anything to acquire a copy, because everyone's entitled to a free credit report once every 12 months.
In this article, we're going to briefly discuss why everyone is entitled to a free credit report; then we'll explain how to obtain a copy. Finally, we're going to follow up with a discussion of the offers of free credit scores, which are not the same as a report.
On September 1, 2005, a milestone was reached with respect to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Americans in all states are now eligible to receive one copy of their credit report every 12 months. Back on June 4, 2004, the Federal Trade Commission made its final ruling on the rollout schedule and requirements to deliver free reports to consumers. To make things easier on the three national credit reporting agencies - Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion - the FTC agreed to a west to east coast rollout schedule over a nine-month period of time.
The FTC ruling also called for all three agencies to create a centralized service for consumers to request these reports. The website, AnnualCreditReport.com, is the only online service authorized by these agencies for this purpose. The site provides for both secure and private flow of information.
The services of that website allow consumers to request one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three reporting agencies. Consumers don't need to order all three reports at the same time, and the 12-month waiting period applies to each company individually. It's also possible to request a copy of the report over the phone by calling a toll-free telephone number: 1-877-322-8228.
While consumers are entitled to a report at no charge, this offer does not entitle them to a credit score. The difference is subtle, but worth mentioning. A credit report is a file that outlines an individual's payment patterns as reported to the agency by their network of participating companies.
The accuracy of the report is important because it's used as the basis for developing a credit score. By allowing consumers to get a free copy of their recorded payment history, they can check it for errors and take action to correct those errors before applying for new credit.
A credit score is a complex mathematical formula that takes into consideration all of the items appearing in the report. From that information a "score" is created that quantifies the individual's risk of nonpayment. The most commonly used score is FICO, created by Fair Isaac. It's possible for consumers to purchase their score for around $10 to $20 at the centralized website.
Be careful to read the fine print when seeing an offer of a free credit score. Many times this offer is really just a free trial offer to a tracking service, with a monthly fee of around $10 automatically starting once the free trial is over.
Companies use these scores to determine whether or not to extend someone credit, or how much to extend. This use can be as simple as determining if an electric company will require a deposit on a new account, or as complex as a mortgage.
While the score might seem like the most important piece of information, keep in mind it's based on the data found in the report. That is actually the real value of this service - to verify the information appearing in the report is accurate. In fact, the only legal solution that companies providing credit repair services can offer consumers is help in correcting the information appearing in reports.
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