Take time to check your free credit report

credit reportUW-Extension website walks you through the only free report available

Contact Peggy Olive, 608-262-6766, polive@wisc.edu

The information in your credit report can affect your life in important ways. It can influence your interest rate for credit cards and loans; affect your monthly insurance payments; your ability to get a mortgage or rent an apartment; and maybe even apply for a job.

What’s in your credit report? It is a detailed record of your credit activities from the past seven to ten years. Because credit reports are used so often, federal law gives everyone the right to see a free copy of their report from each of the three major credit bureaus every 12 months.

By law, you can request three free credit reports each year 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 calling toll free, or at the official website AnnualCreditReport.com.

The University of Wisconsin-Extension makes ordering your free reports easy through its “Check Your Free Credit Report: 2/2, 6/6, 10/10” website. Anyone can sign up to receive an email reminder three times a year–on 2/2, 6/6, and 10/10–on the campaign’s website at https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/creditreport. Your local county UW-Extension office recommends that you view one report every four months so you can be sure that the information is up-to-date and accurate.

“For most individuals, ordering a free credit report online takes less than 5 minutes,” says Peggy Olive, UW-Extension/UW-Madison financial capability specialist. “But if you’ve moved recently or had a name change, obtaining your free report will likely involve a few additional steps.”

When ordering a free report online, there are typically three security questions you’ll be asked to verify your identity, says Olive. These multiple-choice questions might ask about past residential addresses, names of lenders, or the amount of a car or home loan, for example. After answering the questions, you will have access to your requested free report for viewing online or for printing to keep for your records.

If the free credit report request is not accepted, whether it’s online, through the mail, or over the phone, you might receive a message saying that, for your protection, the online report cannot be delivered. “You may get this message when there is some type of disagreement between the information a consumer submits and the information in the credit bureau files,” says Olive.

“If you answer one of the online security questions wrong–which has happened to me–you will also not be able to access your report,” explains Olive. “You will need to follow up with a paper request form along with additional documentation.”

You will be instructed to print off a paper request form, available at AnnualCreditReport.com. In addition, you will need copies of several items to verify your identification and address. The items must include your Social Security number and your current home mailing address.

It is helpful to enlarge photocopies of any items that contain small print (driver’s license, W2 forms, etc.), to avoid delays. Also, do not highlight or write on any of the copies mailed to the credit bureau.

“Sending in additional paperwork can be annoying, but it’s also worth it,” says Olive. “Sometimes wrong information is a simple data entry error, and other times, it could be a sign of fraud. Whatever caused the mistake, it could pose a problem if you are looking for a loan, a new job, a place to rent, or even renewing your auto insurance.”

The UW-Extension “2/2, 6/6, 10/10” website provides additional information and website links for ordering and reading the free reports. If you suspect wrong information on your credit report is not simply an error, but could be a result of fraud, the campaign’s website has information on security freezes, fraud alerts and identity theft, along with a sample dispute letter.

For more information on credit reports, contact your county UW-Extension office.

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