What You Need to Know Before Pulling Your Free Credit Reports

What You Need to Know Before Pulling Your Free Credit Reports
By: Amy Jacquin

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO --Tuesday (March 1) was the first day Missouri and Illinois residents could get free credit reports from each of the three national credit bureaus.

It's a good idea to check your credit rating. But there are some things y ou need to know before you start pulling reports.

"See this lender shows he's been past 30-days late seven times in five years," says John Thompson of Bank of Missouri.

Insurance companies often base premiums on your credit rating. Lenders use scores to determine rates. Plus Thompson says your report will alert you to problems.

"It's a good idea to just look at the activity," he explains. "Statistics show every 72 seconds, someone's identity is stolen. Identity fraud was also the number one complaint of the FTC last year."

Missouri and Illinois residents are now entitled to free credit reports every year from all three of the major credit bureaus... Trans Union, Experian, and Equifax. It's mandated under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act... to help you keep your credit clean.

"Lets say you got 30 or 40 invitations to apply for credit cards, and you filled them all out and mailed them back in," Thompson gives an example. "Maybe you still have those 30 or 40 accounts open, and all their credit lines show you could easily rack-up $300,000 in debt... That's bad, even if there is no balance on any of them. It's the potential to get in debt."

And only you can pull a report you can see... lenders are legally not allowed to share your own information with you!

"As sure as I'm sitting here talking to Amy Jacquin, I can't show you what's on your credit report," he says. "There are regulations against it. But if you're turned down, you'd get a letter explaining why."

You can access the credit bureaus online. But beware of legitimate looking fake sites that want your personal information to use for no good. The danger is so high, a consumer group called World Privacy Forum warns against it.

However, all three major bureaus are linked to one main website, and one toll-free phone number. The website is www.annualcreditreport.com and the number is (877) 322-8228.

The phone number actually walks you through the process of mailing in a written request, so make sure to have a pen and paper handy for taking notes.

On the website, a padlock in the lower right of your screen shows you it's secure. It does direct you to the individual sites, but in a much more controlled manner than visiting the sites yourself. Amy pulled two of her reports in less than ten minutes.

"I'd say it's normal to pull your report three times a year," adds Thompson.

Check your credit rating at least once a year, because problems are notoriously hard -- and costly -- to correct. By the same token, don't pull too many reports either, because it looks like you're always shopping around to buy something and go farther in debt. Thompson recommends you close all inactive accounts.

Also, the details of your report are free. But you have to pay if you want to see your overall credit score. Fees are usually under $10.

Here are some safety tips from the World Privacy Forum, for ordering your credit report.

  • Ask that only the last four digits of your social security number be printed on the report, for security reasons. This is sometimes an option online, too.
  • You are not required to provide an email address when calling/writing your request.
  • If you go online, make sure you have the site spelled exactly as it should be. Many imposter sites are off by only one digit.
  • When ordering a report online, look for the padlock symbol on your toolbar, to show a secure site.

Get the complete "Call Don't Click" report at www.worldprivacyforum.org .