If you have lines of credit then you need to keep tabs on your credit score. Fraudulent activity takes on many different forms. If someone steals your credit card number then you may notice fraudulent charges on your next statement, but if someone steals your identity or social security number and opens lines of credit in another state with another bank, then you may not realize your credit has been compromised unless you check your credit reports frequently.
How to check your credit report – there are three major credit bureaus in the United States: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Each is required to let you see your credit report once every 12 months. Without incurring any fees, you can do this every four months, rotating through each reporting bureau once a year. It is important to mention: looking at your own credit reports will not negatively affect your credit score.
Identifying an error on your credit report – Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a federal law created to protect consumers and their personal financial information, to ensure a mistake is quickly resolved you should contact both the credit bureau and the organization that provided the information to the bureau. Both are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report under FCRA.
Disputing an error on your credit report – To correct errors on your credit report, you need to contact the credit bureau that is showing erroneous information. All three credit bureaus now accept filing of disputes online. Visit myFICO for steps to filing disputes at http://www.myfico.com/CreditEducation/Questions/Error-On-Credit-Report.aspx.
Following up after disputing information in your credit reports – Unless there is clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, credit bureaus are required to assume that all disputes are legitimate and must investigate the dispute according to FCRA. In some cases, credit bureaus are slow to respond to your dispute. If this happens, send another letter strongly reminding the credit bureau of its obligation under the law. You also have the right to add a summary explanation to your credit report if your dispute is not resolved to your liking.
You want to fix an error on your credit report because if you want to buy a car or house, lenders will check your FICO Score—the standard credit score in the U.S. that is used in more than 90 percent of lending decisions. Having good credit means you pay back your debts and banks will give you a better interest rate on your loan knowing you will pay it back on time.
Nikki Ducas is a Fredericksburg mom teaching her two young sons financial responsibility.