Topics on this page:
- Why is Your Credit Report Important?
- Requesting a Copy of Your Credit Report
- Correcting Errors on Your Report
- Contacting the Credit Reporting Company
- Contacting the Information Provider
- Your Credit File
- More Information
Why is Your Credit Report Important?
When you apply for credit, creditors use your credit report to decide whether to approve your application. Examples of accounts that rely on your credit report include:
- credit cards
- car loans
- leasing an apartment or house.
Your credit report contains information about the following:
- where you live,
- how you pay your bills
- whether you have been sued or arrested
- if you have filed for bankruptcy.
Some employers also use your credit report to decide whether to hire you for a job. Mistakes on your credit report can affect your ability to obtain credit, insurance, employment, or rent or buy a home or car. Errors on your credit report can be corrected to reflect your current credit accurately.
- Recommendation: Review your credit report regularly to ensure that the information in the report is correct and up to date.
Requesting a Copy of Your Credit Report
You can request a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. When you request copies of your reports, you can ask for the reports at the same time, or you can stagger the delivery of your reports. By staggering the reports, you would receive one report about every four months.
To request a copy of your report, visit annualcreditreport.com, a website run by the three credit agencies. You can also request your report by calling 1-877-322-8228 or by completing the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mailing the form to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
When requesting your credit report, you must provide your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. If you have lived at your current address for less than 2 years, you must also provide your previous address. In addition to this information, each agency will ask you some security questions. The security questions are part of the identity authentication process to ensure that only you can get your credit information.
If you requested your credit report online, you can usually access it immediately after you have verified your identity through the authentication process. If you called or ordered your report through the mail, then your report will be mailed to you within 15 days. Regardless of the method you used to request your report, be mindful that it may take longer to receive your report in some cases.
- Recommendation: If ordering online, be sure to type in the website address exactly. There are commercial websites with similar names that may try to get you to pay a fee for your reports or to buy other products. Also, beware of pop-up ads, e-mails, or telemarketing calls that promise to obtain your free credit report for you. Responding to these solicitations may cost you money. Before you order your report, double-check that you are using the federally-authorized website annualcreditreport.com.
An additional copy from each credit bureau is available to residents of Maryland. Maryland's Office of the Attorney General provides the following instructions to obtain a copy of your credit report under Maryland law.
To order your free credit report under Maryland law, you must contact each credit reporting company directly. The most straightforward method is to order them online at the following links:
- Equifax: https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/multiple-free-credit-reports/
- Under the section called “Reason for Credit File Request,” click the bubble for “Free State Credit File (not denied),” and fill out the forms as prompted.
- Experian: www.experian.com/freestate
- Follow the instructions for ordering a free copy under Maryland law.
- TransUnion: https://service.transunion.com/dss/disclosure.page?
- Check the bubble indicating that you are eligible to receive a free or reduced-price copy of your Personal Credit Report under state law, and then fill out the forms as prompted.
You are also entitled to request a free credit report for the following reasons:
- you are turned down for credit, insurance, or employment because of information in your credit report;
- you are a victim of identity theft;
- you are on public assistance;
- you are unemployed but expect to apply for employment within 60 days
To request a free credit report under any of these circumstances, contact the credit reporting companies directly:
- Equifax, 866-349-5191, www.equifax.com
- Experian, 888-397-3742, www.experian.com
- TransUnion, 800-916-8800, www.transunion.com
You must request this report within 60 days of the adverse action to receive a free report.
If you are not entitled to a report under any of these circumstances, you must pay for requesting more than one credit report within one year. Contact the individual credit report companies to buy a copy of your credit report.
Correcting Errors on Your Report
Once you receive your credit report, examine it for any errors. The credit reporting company and the information provider are responsible for correcting any errors under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. If you notice any errors on your credit report, contact the credit reporting company and the information provider.
Contacting the Credit Reporting Company
Tell the credit reporting company if you identify information in your credit report that you believe is wrong. When notifying the company, you should:
- submit your notice in writing
- provide your complete name and address
- clearly identify each item on the report that you dispute
- state the facts and why you dispute each item
- request that the item be removed or corrected
- include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position
You may also want to include a copy of the report with the items in question circled. Send the request via mail with a “return receipt request” so that you can document that the credit reporting company received it. Keep copies of the letter that you mailed and everything you enclosed.
The credit reporting company must investigate the items in question, usually within 30 days unless they find the dispute frivolous. They must also forward the information to the organization that provided the data, which must also investigate and report back to the credit reporting company. If the disputed information is found to be inaccurate, then the organization must notify all three credit reporting companies so your file can be corrected.
The credit reporting company must give you the results in writing and a free copy of your credit report if the investigation results in a change. This does not count as your normal annual free report. If you ask, the credit reporting company must send notice of corrections to anyone who received your report in the last six months and in the last two years for any report used for employment purposes.
If the investigation doesn’t resolve the dispute, you can ask that a statement of the dispute be included in your file. You can also ask the credit reporting company to send your statement to anyone who received your report recently (there is a fee for this service).
Contacting the Information Provider
Tell the information provider (the person, company, or organization that provides information about you to a credit reporting company) in writing that you dispute an item on your credit report. Include documentation that supports your position. If the provider listed an address on the credit report, use that; otherwise, contact the provider and request an accurate address to send your letter. If they do not provide it, you can send it to any business address of that provider.
If it continues to be reported, the information provider must let the credit reporting company know about your dispute. If you are correct about the disputed item, the information provider must let the credit reporting company know to update or delete the item.
Sample Letter to Credit Reporting Company or Information Provider
This is a sample letter that can be used to dispute information on your credit report to a credit reporting company or to an information provider.
Your Credit File
Your credit file may not reflect all your open accounts. Some types of accounts that may not show up on credit reports include credit union accounts, gasoline credit cards, travel, entertainment, and local retailers.
Negative information can only be removed from your file after seven years, and bankruptcy information can be removed after ten years, which generally runs from the date that the event took place, or date of last payment. Unpaid judgments can stay on your record for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out (whichever is longer). Accounts in delinquency may be reported for up to seven years plus 180 days from the time of delinquency.
There is no time limit on reporting criminal convictions. If you apply for a job which pays more than $75,000 a year or more than $150,000 of credit or life insurance, any adverse information may be reported beyond the usual time limits.
For more information about credit reporting and identifying and correcting mistakes on your credit report, see the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s article Disputing Errors on Your Credit Reports.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. § 1681) is U.S. Federal Government legislation enacted to promote the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of consumer information contained in the files of consumer reporting agencies.