If you haven’t seen your credit report recently, you’re making a serious mistake. Some people are able to live without credit but for most of us that’s impossible. What’s also impossible is to get new credit if you have a lousy credit report.
How to get your credit reports
You have three credit reports as there are three credit bureaus that each compiles a file on you. Since your three credit reports can be different it’s important that you get and review all of them. You can get them individually from the three credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) or all of them at the same time on the website www.annualcreditreport.com.
What to look for
Your credit report will have both good and bad information. The bad information consists of items such as debts that have gone to collection, “charge offs,” liens, judgments and foreclosures. If you find any items like these in your credit report, you can just bet that you have a poor credit score.
When these debts fall off
The Fair Credit Reporting Act or FCRA has rules about when negative items will fall off your credit report. Most of them must be removed seven years from the first date of your delinquency. However, a chapter 7 bankruptcy is treated differently. If you have one of these it will stay in your report for 10 years. Judgments against you will stay in your report until the statute of limitations in your state expires or for seven years, whichever is longer. And if you owe any money to the government in the form of a student loan or unpaid taxes, it will stay in your report indefinitely or until seven years have elapsed from the date you pay them off.
Look for errors
It’s critical that you review your credit reports carefully because they can contain errors. The three credit bureaus process thousands of documents a week and mistakes can be made. You might find negative items such as a judgment or bankruptcy that actually belongs to someone else. Or you might discover an old debt that should have fallen out of your credit report a year or more ago. If you do find an error (or errors), you can dispute it. In fact all three of the credit bureaus have online forms for just this purpose. If you do dispute an item, you will need to have documentation supporting your claim. Once you file a dispute, the credit bureau must contact the company that provided the negative information and ask for it to be validated. If the company cannot validate it or doesn’t respond within a month, the credit bureau is required to remove the item from your credit file. As you might imagine this could have a very positive effect on your credit score.
Where to get your credit score
Unfortunately, your free credit report will not include your credit score. The best way to get your true (FICO) score is on the website www.myfico.com. It will cost $19.95 unless you’re willing to sign up for a free trial of the company’s Score Watch program in which case you will get your score free. You can also get what’s called your Vantage Score free from any of the three credit reporting bureaus. However, this will not be your true FICO score, which is the score most lenders use when deciding whether or not to give you credit.
What’s a good credit score?
Credit scores range from 300 to 850 points. As they say in the commercial with the little kids sitting around the table, more is better. A credit score of 700 to 850 points would be a very good or excellent credit score. Conversely, a score of less than 580 points would be a poor or bad credit score. If you do find that you have a poor or bad credit score, there’s not much you can do about it short term except try to pay off as much debt as you can and be sure to make all of your payments and pay them when they’re due.