Let's take on the fundamentals of the credit reporting system. From the big three credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, to your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, this article will help you navigate the credit report maze.
The credit reporting agencies - TransUnion, Equifax and Experian (formerly TRW) are the three national credit reporting agencies that keep records on consumers. The reporting agencies work with lenders, creditors, insurers and employers to update and distribute your information to the appropriate institutions. Here's an example of how the system works:
1. When you apply for a new credit card the creditor requests a copy of your financial history from the reporting agencies. This causes a "hard inquiry" to be recorded on your credit report.
2. The creditor uses your credit reports and scores along with income and debt information to determine what rates to offer.
3. You start to use the new credit card and the creditor reports your activities to the credit reporting agencies about every 30 days.
4. The credit reporting agencies update your credit report as they receive new information from creditors or lenders.
5. Your credit profile changes based on your financial activity. The next time you apply for a credit card or loan, the process repeats.
Your credit report - Your credit report is divided into six main sections: consumer information (address, birthday and employment), consumer statement, account histories, public records, inquiries and creditor contacts. When you open a new account, miss a payment or move, these sections are updated with new information. Old negative records will stay on your credit report for 7-10 years. Positive records can remain on your credit report longer. Not all creditors report to all three agencies and the agencies obtain their data independently so your reports from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian could be substantially different from each other. That's why it's important to check your three credit reports every 6-12 months to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date.
Correcting inaccuracies - Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, consumers are protected from having inaccurate information on their credit reports. If you find an inaccurate record on your report, try contacting the creditor or lender associated with the mark first. These companies can usually correct the mistake and send an update to the credit reporting agencies. If you can't make progress this way, you can also dispute the inaccuracy directly with the credit reporting agencies.
Working the system - Managing your credit and maintaing a good credit history can lead to better rates on major purchases. We recommend that you check your credit reports every 6-12 months or at least 3 months before a major purchase in order to guard against damaging inaccuracies and identity theft. Routine check-ups along with paying your bills on time, keeping your credit card balances below 35% of their limits and correcting any negative inaccuracies will help you maintain a healthy credit profile.