UW-Extension: Check Your Free Credit Report to Build Financial Security

Month after month, incorrect information on credit reports is among the top consumer complaints to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Complaints frequently revolve around the age of the debt listed on a credit report, or debt that doesn’t belong to the individual. Other issues include delays in updating and correcting inaccurate records.

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.

“Sometimes incorrect information is a simple data entry error, and other times, it could be a sign of fraud,” says Peggy Olive, UW-Extension/UW-Madison Financial Capability Specialist. “It is 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. Better to discover an error yourself then to have a creditor find it first.”

Getting access to reports
According to the CFPB, many consumers also have trouble accessing their credit reports because they cannot answer 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 University of Wisconsin-Extension “Check Your Free Credit Report: 2/2, 6/6, 10/10” 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—on the campaign’s website. While you can order all three reports at the same time, Winnebago County UW-Extension recommends that you view one report every four months so you can be sure that the information is up-to-date and accurate year round.

Hundreds using UW-Extension reminders
Since the “Check Your Credit Campaign” launched in 2013, nearly 800 individuals have signed up for an email reminder. Of the individuals signing up for these reminders, 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 2016 UW-Extension survey, 76 percent of participants receiving email reminders had ordered one or more free credit reports during the previous year. While the majority of those viewing their credit report found no errors, 8 percent contacted a creditor or credit bureau to fix an error, and 4 percent identified a way to improve their credit.

The UW-Extension survey also asked reminder participants about their knowledge surrounding credit reports. One-third reported they know little to nothing about how long information stays on their report. Negative information, such as a late credit payment, will stay on your credit report for seven years and can lead to a lower credit score. Some negative credit events, including certain bankruptcies and unpaid judgments, can stay on a credit report for 10 years or more.

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 Winnebago County UW-Extension at (920) 232-1973 or online at http://winnebago.uwex.edu/.


Authored By: Peggy Olive, polive@wisc.edu, 608-262-6766

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