Every time you apply for credit, you're giving lenders permission to see your credit report. And other creditors with a qualified permissible purpose — such as sending you a pre-approved credit card offer — can check your report without your permission. By being proactive and checking your credit report on a regular basis, you will be better prepared for negotiations with lenders and can also get early warning signs of fraud.
When and how to get your credit report
You should review your credit report from the three major U.S. credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) at least once a year, especially before making a large purchase, like a buying a house or a car.
Credit agencies charge fees for reports. However, you are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit agencies once a year from www.annualcreditreport.com or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228. In addition, you’re entitled to a free credit report:
- Within 60 days of being denied credit, insurance, or employment
- Once a year if you’re unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days
- If you’re on welfare
- If your report is inaccurate because of fraud, including identity theft
How to fix errors on your credit report
If you find an error, fill out the dispute form provided by the credit reporting agency. The credit reporting agency must investigate and respond to you within 30 days. You can get your credit report from many sources, but only the credit agencies can actually correct the data on your report. Contact the three major credit agencies directly:
- Equifax: 1-800-685-1111 or www.equifax.com
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742 or www.experian.com
- TransUnion: 1-800-916-8800 or www.transunion.com
Examine your statements
In addition to checking your credit report, reading your credit account statements each month can also help. If you have a credit card account with online access, check your account regularly between statements to promptly identify any unauthorized charges. If you notice any suspicious charges, contact the company right away.
If someone used your credit card without your permission, making you a victim of fraud or identity theft, contact your financial institution immediately. You may need to close your current account and open a new one to avoid further fraudulent charges. To protect your credit, find out if your credit card issuer offers email or text alerts. You can also consider enrolling in credit monitoring services, which will alert you to changes in your credit that may indicate fraud.
Credit card fraud, identity theft, and administrative mistakes can happen to anyone. By taking preventive steps, you can help protect your credit.