Clean Your Credit Report
Don't wait till a job or a mortgage is on the line to find out about erroneous black marks
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Congress tightened the Fair Credit Reporting Act last year to make lenders responsible for providing accurate information and require credit bureaus to correct false reports promptly.
The best way to keep errors out of your report is to be consistent on credit applications:
Always write your name the same way, including Jr., Sr., II, or III, if they apply.
Always write your address the same way, especially for streets such as 94th Place S.E.
Notify creditors and the major credit reporting agencies promptly of a move or name change.
But definitely do not hire a credit-repair agency to try to change accurate information, says Deanne Loonen, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center in Boston.
Some credit agencies promise to "fix" black marks, even if accurate, by telling consumers to apply for credit in a different name, or to lie to get bad credit information removed.
Both are federal crimes.
In fact, there is nothing credit-repair agencies can legally do that consumers can't do themselves.
If you're denied credit or haven't checked your credit report for more than two years, contact the three major credit bureaus, listed in the box below.
If your record is less than snowy white, here's what to do:
Pay it up. If you are behind on payments, contact creditors and arrange to make them. You can't erase the black marks, but you can sometimes lighten them by turning overdue accounts into merely late payments.
Fix it up. If the information is erroneous, follow the procedure on the back of the credit report for disputes, and describe the evidence that the charges or accounts are not yours.
Unless your dispute is "frivolous," the credit bureau has 30 days to contact the creditor - such as a bank or loan company - to investigate the claim and respond to you. If the information was wrong, the creditor must correct it with all the bureaus that received the faulty facts.
* Send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Who to call about credit reports
The Federal Trade Commission recommends inspecting your credit report every one to two years. You should ask for a report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, because their information often isn't identical. Call:
* Experian (800) 353-0809
* Equifax (800) 556-4711
* Trans Union (800) 680-7293.
Reports are free if you have been turned down for credit, employment, or an apartment in the past 60 days because of information on your credit report.
You can also get a free report if you are on welfare, if you are unemployed and plan to look for a job in the next 60 days, or if you have reason to suspect someone has fraudulently used your credit.
Six states require credit bureaus to provide, upon request, one free report a year to residents of Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, and Vermont.
Otherwise each report costs $8.