“What do you mean, they said ‘No’?” We had been turned down for a new business credit card, even though our credit rating is exceptionally good. We were dumbfounded. What in the world could possibly be wrong? As it turned out, lots of things.
Our credit report was full of mistakes. The first and most obvious error? Apparently, some tired typist had combined Pete’s and my social security numbers into a new one that most likely belongs to someone else. I wonder what their report is like.
Then, the reporting company dinged us for having no major credit cards, even though our personal master card was listed on the report, and we were applying for a business card with the same financial institution! This was so inconceivable, the website provided no way to fix the problem.
And finally, information about our previous business card (and our perfect payment record) was entirely missing, even though we’d had it for years before the company that issued it went belly-up.
(There were additional errors that we were told weren’t significant, such as the zillion different ways people spelled “Holzmann.” Right.)
Unfortunately, it’s hard to run a business, even a non-profit one, without a credit card.
The next morning, Pete spent four hours on the phone with the credit card company and the credit reporting agency, trying to sort things out. Sorry sir, I can’t answer that for you, but here’s another number to try. No, we can’t help you over the phone, you’ll have to report that online. No, you can’t fix that online, you have to report that over the phone. Talk about frustrating!
He was finally successful, and the new card is in the mail. But the whole experience alerted us to the need to periodically check our credit report. We knew we’d been doing everything right, but apparently that isn’t good enough. Others make mistakes. We will now check our credit report every year.
How to check your credit report
You should not have to pay anything to see your credit report. Under the FACT Act amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three main credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) in each twelve-month period. There are a zillion websites out there that require fees for “credit monitoring,” “identity theft protection,” or that simply charge you for the report. Ignore these. Some are legit, just offering services you don’t need, but others are actually scams aimed at getting access to your personal financial information and social security number.
The official site is AnnualCreditReport.com. Just follow their clear instructions. Read the report carefully, and make sure the information contained in it is accurate.
The report will list information such as the various accounts you have, how good you are at paying on time, and your credit history. It also includes recent inquiries. For example, if you have recently applied for a credit card, that company will have requested a credit report, and that fact will be listed. A flurry of inquiries will impair your ability to obtain credit.
If you disagree with the report, there are ways to dispute any mistakes—although it may take several hours on the phone! Contact the company that listed the incorrect information and deal with them directly:
Equifax – www.investigate.equifax.com, Experian – www.experian.com, TransUnion – www.transunion.com.
You are also eligible for a free credit report if you have been denied credit. In that case, you must go to the credit reporting company that provided the report used by your lender to make its decision. Your lender will provide information on how to do that.
According to federal law, you are also entitled to a free report if you are unemployed and seeking employment, receiving welfare assistance or if you are a victim of fraud or believe you may be a victim.
Your credit report will not give you your credit score. A credit score is a number that summarizes the information in your credit report. Its purpose is to tell lenders how big a credit risk you pose. Companies offering insurance (such as car insurance) and landlords considering a rental application also consult credit scores to help determine how responsible you are. The bigger the number, the better your score. Perfect is 850.
Getting your credit score isn’t normally free. However, the various reporting companies have “special deals” that you can take advantage of if you’re careful. For example, Experian will give you your score for free if you sign up for their TripleAdvantage credit monitoring service, at $14.95/month. If you cancel within seven days, you owe nothing. Of course, you have to remember to cancel. They’re betting that you won’t. The other two companies have similar services.
Unless you are applying for a mortgage or other large loan (and we’ll talk about borrowing money another time), or have had a credit application turned down, you really don’t need to know your credit score. That’s a relief.