UW-Extension: Check your free credit report to build financial security

The University of Wisconsin-Extension “Check Your Free Credit Report: 2/2, 6/6, 10/10” campaign is a proud recipient of the 2017 Governor’s Financial Literacy Award, as selected by the Governor’s Council on Financial Literacy. One of 18 award winners, UW-Extension is recognized as an organization that equips people with the tools they need to be financially secure and achieve their goals.

Because credit reports are so important to everyday life (they can affect obtaining an affordable loan or insurance policy, getting a job, or renting a home) federal law gives everyone the right to request three free credit reports each year. You can request the reports from AnnualCreditReport.com—one each from the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. There are three ways to order your free credit report: through the mail, by phone toll free, or at the official website AnnualCreditReport.com.

The UW-Extension’s “Check Your Free Credit Report” campaign seeks to make the process of ordering a free credit report as easy as possible. Anyone can sign up to receive an email reminder from UW-Extension three times a year—on 2/2, 6/6, and 10/10-here. While you can order all three reports at the same time, ordering one free report every four months provides the benefit of assuring that the information is up-to-date and accurate year round.

“It is completely up to each individual to look over his or her own credit report for old information that should be removed, common mistakes, or signs of identity theft,” encourages Peggy Olive, UW-Extension/UW-Madison Financial Capability Specialist. “Sometimes information is simply outdated, and other times, it could be a sign of fraud. Better to discover an error yourself then to have your creditor, insurance company, or employer find it first.”

Since the “Check Your Credit Campaign” launched in 2013, nearly 1000 individuals from 60 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have signed up for an email reminder. Of the individuals signing up for these reminders in 2017, two-thirds reported they had not checked their own credit report in the past year. Fortunately, receiving email reminders encouraged many individuals to order their free credit reports. According to a 2017 UW-Extension survey, 87 percent of participants receiving email reminders had ordered one or more free credit reports during the previous year. While the three-quarters of those viewing their credit report found no errors, one out of ten individuals contacted a creditor or credit bureau to fix an error, and 4 percent identified a way to improve their credit.

Getting access to reports

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, many consumers across the United States also have trouble accessing their credit reports because they cannot match the credit bureau’s detailed identity questions when ordering online. If you do not answer the background questions correctly, you will be denied online access to your report. You must then mail in a written request form with copies of specific documents in order to verify their identity.

“The biggest challenge we hear from individuals is not being able to access their free report online,” says Olive (or insert your name). “If the credit bureau website has different information on file for you, like a previous address, you’ll be directed to mail in a paper request form, usually along with copies of documents like a driver’s license and utility bill listing the new address.”

In addition to email reminders, the UW-Extension “2/2, 6/6, 10/10” website, provides information and links for ordering, reading and understanding your free credit reports. The website has additional information on how long different types of credit information can stay on a report, and steps to take to increase your credit score.

For more information on credit reports, contact Peggy Olive, polive@wisc.edu, 608-262-6766.