Knowing your credit score is important for so many reasons that we’ve touched on here before. It can impact everything from your ability to get a job, rent an apartment, qualify for a home or car loan, or apply for a rewards credit card. That’s why it’s imperative that you know how to access your credit score and are able to identify, and rectify, any mistakes that may pop up. Credit report mistakes are more common than you may think and can have a negative impact on your overall score. We’re going to discuss what you should be on the lookout for as well as ways in which you can have those mistakes fixed. Checking and understanding your credit report regularly will help you identify any discrepancies early, ensuring that your score remains as high as possible for when you need to take advantage of it.
Get your report
The three main credit bureaus that issue scores are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can get free credit reports directly from all three or use any of the free credit report services that exist which gather all three at the same time. Once you’ve got your report in front of you, the easiest thing to start checking is your personal information. Ensure that your name, addresses, phone numbers, social security, and birthdate are all correct. It may seem trivial, but the last thing you want is an error on the basics that may mean another person’s information is being pulled into your report.
Comb over your credit history
This is going to be the bulk of your report as it will contain any accounts you’ve opened or closed throughout your financial lifetime. Peruse through the details and make sure everything is recognizable but also be cognizant that some cards will be listed not with their actual name but by the bank handling the credit. Your department store credit card could be issued by a 3rd party institution so a little extra detective work may be necessary. Common reporting errors on your history can include inaccurate reports of late payments, accounts being listed multiple times, joint accounts from a former spouse or partner, an account registered to someone with a similar or same name, incorrect credit limit amounts, or being listed as an account owner when you’re only an authorized user. Make sure you do your due diligence here and flag anything that seems out of the ordinary.
Inquire on your inquiries
Credit inquiries occur when an individual or an institution checks your credit score. Any time you apply for credit (think a card, loan, etc.) lenders or credit institutions will conduct what’s called a hard credit inquiry. While hard inquiries can lower your credit score a few points, it’s only temporary and typically is cleared from your report in less than a year. A soft inquiry happens any time you or someone else checks your credit score. Think landlords, utility companies, debt collectors, insurance companies, and any other institution that asks to check your credit report – these aren’t as serious as hard inquiries. It’s important to take note of any unauthorized hard inquiries, though. Too many within a short time frame can indicate to lenders that you may be in financial distress or that someone is attempting to open credit lines in your name.
Collections and public records
Public records (think property liens, foreclosures, and bankruptcy) can negatively impact your credit score and can stay on your report for up to 7 years. This is also where you’ll see if any of your debt has been sold to third party debt collectors. Double check any of these to make sure they’re accurate as they can create long-term problems.
Ok, now what?
Now that you’ve sleuthed your way through your report it’s time to do something about any problems you’ve found. Each of the three credit bureaus all have information dispute processes in place for just such events. You’ll want to collect any inaccuracies you’ve found along with supporting evidence that can help your case and submit them as soon as possible. Credit bureaus are required to respond within 30 days to any dispute you lodge. Unfortunately, if you’ve found a mistake on all three reports you’ll have to dispute them with each credit bureau as they all operate independently. You can also go directly to the source for any discrepancies you’ve identified such as late payments on any accounts or credit cards. After you’ve addressed and fixed any mistakes on your credit report, you’ll want to check in from time to time to ensure they don’t pop up again.
Mistakes on your credit report are no summer picnic. They can be frustrating to deal with and leave you feeling hopeless and without recourse. Just remember that persistence is key in these situations. While it may seem incredibly annoying to have to fix someone else’s mistake, the impact that mistake could have on your financial future could cause more harm than the time it takes to get it fixed. Be sure you check your report regularly so you aren’t surprised by something 3 or 4 years down the road that’s been negatively impacting you the entire time. The more active you’re able to be in your financial wellness journey, the bigger the payoff down the road.