Jeanette A. Tucker | 7/2/2005 1:47:05 AM
Louisiana consumers recently gained the right to obtain a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies. LSU AgCenter family economics professor Dr. Jeanette Tucker says to review the accuracy of your report closely.
The family economist says that each of the agencies format their reports differently, but all have similar types of information and share some basic categories. Each credit report lists personal information, including your name, address, Social Security number, birth date and current employment. It also lists the credit accounts you have opened in the last seven to 10 years, or possibly farther back. In addition, the report lists both active and closed accounts.
Specific account information includes account number, creditor’s name, current balance, date the account was opened, timeliness of payments, number of late payments and credit limit or loan amount.
The consumer reporting agency may divide this information into "accounts in good standing" and "accounts past due."
The credit report also lists all companies and individuals that have requested your credit history. Tucker says there are two types of inquiries - hard and soft.
Hard inquiries are those initiated by you, the consumer. They include applications for credit, housing or loans. Creditors, employers, insurance companies or landlords review these hard inquiries when they evaluate your creditworthiness. Review these inquiries to make certain you really made all of the hard inquiries.
Soft inquires are those made by companies that review your credit report before sending you a pre-approved credit offer, when you request your own credit report and when your existing creditors monitor your account. You are the only person who can see the soft inquiries, and they do not affect your creditworthiness.
Tucker says if you would like to stop the credit reporting agencies from giving your information to companies who want to send you pre-approved credit offers, call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT.
The family economist also points out that any public records of you will appear on your credit report and remain there for varying lengths of time. Public records include tax liens, foreclosures, bankruptcy files, unpaid court judgments (including child support judgments) and criminal convictions.
"It is important to check your credit reports from each credit reporting agency," Tucker emphasizes. She says to check carefully for:
• Information about you that contains mistakes such as misspellings, listing loans more than once, lack of positive information such as a resolved legal matter or accounts that are closed but listed as still open.
• Information that does not belong in your report. This may include information about someone with a similar name, such as Chris Jones information in the Christy Jones file.
• Information about you that is very old and should be removed, such as old addresses, employers or a previous spouse.
You can dispute errors in your credit reports at no cost. Tucker says that as soon as you detect an error, write both the credit reporting agency and the person or firm that provided the information. Include your full name, address and clearly identify each item that you dispute. Explain the facts and the information you think is inadequate. Ask that the information be canceled or deleted. Include copies, not originals, of documents that support your position. Send the letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, so that you have proof the letter was received.
Credit reporting agencies typically investigate within 30 days and send copies of your dispute to the information provider. The information provider then must investigate and send their findings to the credit reporting agency. If the information provider discovers that the information was wrong, it must notify each of the three national credit-reporting agencies. Next, the incorrect information must be deleted.
When investigations are completed, the credit-reporting agency must provide you written results and a copy of your report if changes were made because of your dispute. This free report will not count as your annual free report.
You may obtain your free credit report in any of three ways: online, at https://www.AnnualCreditReport.com ; by phone, at 1-877-322-8228; or by mail, at Annual Credit Report Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Ga 30348-5281.
For information on related family and consumer topics, click on the Family and Home link on the LSU AgCenter homepage, at www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.