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Mon, May 17

Column | Give yourself some credit (reports)

One important back-to-basics step you can take this Financial Literacy Month (or anytime) is checking your credit report.

Your credit report has a summary of your credit history. For example, if you’ve been evicted and a landlord turns uncollected rent over to a collection agency, that might be on your credit report. Information in your credit report affects your credit score. That’s important because businesses – like insurance and phone companies – use your credit score to decide whether to give you a policy or service, and what rate to offer. And potential employers and landlords also might check your credit.

So you want to know that the information on your report is accurate. And if it’s wrong, you want to make sure someone didn’t steal your identity.

Here’s the plan:

  • Order your free credit report. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228. Until the end of the pandemic, everyone in the U.S. can get a free credit report each week from all three national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).
  • Read the reports carefully. Do you recognize the accounts? Do they list credit applications? Did you apply for credit at those places?
  • Spot mistakes. Fix anything that looks wrong. But if it looks like someone else is using your credit, go to IdentityTheft.gov to report it and get a recovery plan.
  • Spot a credit repair scam. If a credit repair company asks for money up front, or tells you not to contact the credit bureaus yourself, that’s probably a scammer.

Look, it’s been a tough time, and it’s hard to get back on track. But you can take steps to rebuild your credit. Only time and a plan to pay off debt will improve your credit, but with free credit reports available every week, it’s a good time to take a small step towards recovery.

(Emily Wu is an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission.)

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