Start Your Financial Spring Cleaning with a Free Credit Report
By Cyndi Cohen Credit Unions Online
Spring is a season of new beginnings, a time for starting fresh. While many credit union members are taking this time to focus on refreshing their homes and gardens, it is also a great idea to give your finances some tender loving care. One way to start this process is to obtain and review your free annual credit report.
Credit Report Basics for Credit Union Members
Before beginning the process of obtaining your credit report, it’s important to understand what information the report contains, how and why you should check your report, what effects the info in your report can have on your financial well-being and, if necessary, how to improve your credit score.
Your credit report, also called a credit file or credit history, contains detailed personal information about you and how you spend money. The information in your credit report is collected and organized by the three national credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and Trans-Union, who glean this info from public records and your creditors.
You should obtain your free credit report from annualcreditreport.com. It will give insight into your own financial behavior and shed some light on how prospective lenders may view your creditworthiness.
Your credit report will generate a credit score which can affect whether you will be approved by lenders for credit cards, mortgages, and other loans as well as if you will qualify for lower rates on loans and better insurance premiums.
If your credit report reveals that you require some credit score improvement, begin taking simple steps to gain some gradually. Get on a budget and pay your bills on time. If you begin to lose control, contact your lenders, continue to pay down debt where you can and stop using your credit cards. If these strategies are not enough, it may be time to take advantage of some type of non-profit credit counseling which may be obtained through your credit union, another community organization, or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
Tips on Securing a Free Annual Credit Report
Now that you have some background on the purpose and importance of your credit report and credit score, read on for some tips on how to easily obtain your report, cost-free.
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act gives consumers the ability to secure one copy of their credit report for free from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year. Free credit reports are available from www.annualcreditreport.com – remember you should never have to pay for your credit report!
Round up your information before you begin the actual process. You may need the following data and/or documents: Social Security Number, birthdate, current address, loan statements, and account numbers. Some of this info is used for the purpose of verifying your identity.
Visit www.annualcreditreport.com. According to the Federal Trade Commission, this is the only site that will provide links to all three credit bureaus. By attempting to obtain your report from other sites you may put yourself in danger of paying unforeseen fees for a so-called “free” report.
Provide your personal info. Once you have selected your state at annualcreditreport.com, you will be asked to fill in all of your personal information. Follow the prompts as instructed.
Request credit reports from all 3 agencies. Since they are all free, it makes sense to obtain reports from Equifax, Experian and Trans-Union. Also, sometimes the results can vary slightly between agencies so having all three will give you a sense of the bigger picture if you order all 3 at the same time. Or, you may decide to space them out in order to keep tabs on your credit over the course of the year. This will depend on your preference and/or purposes.
At this time, you’ll also be offered the opportunity to obtain your actual credit score as well as set up a credit monitoring service, both of which come along with small fees.
Although they are not free, you may find these services to be beneficial especially if you plan on applying for a loan in the near future or want the security of receiving alerts to major changes on your credit report.
Print reports. If you are ordering your credit report online, you will not receive a copy in the mail so it’s a good idea to print a copy as soon as you have the opportunity. There will be a link to print on each of the 3 sites. Do not press the back button which may cause you to navigate away from your report and not be able to return to it. It also makes good sense to save the report on your computer in a secure location so you have it available for reference anytime you need it.
Review your credit report carefully and seek professional assistance if needed. Often, credit unions provide free, confidential financial counseling, education, and debt management, such as that offered through the Balance Financial Fitness Program. These programs offer certified counselors who will not only help you review your credit report, but also build a structured repayment plan, and figure out a money management solution.
So this spring, before grabbing those brooms, mops, and shovels, sit down to your computer and take some time to make sure your credit report is as pristine as your house and yard before applying for your next loan from your local credit union!