After a landmark overhaul of federal credit laws, there's still lots of work to be done, including getting more consumers to check their credit report.
One in three consumers have no idea what's on their credit report and that could cost them money and hurt their chances at landing a mortgage, insurance or a job.
This summer, a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) statement prepared for the U.S. House of Representatives' House Committee on Financial Services, said when the feds upgraded the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) with Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) provisions, the effort included 30 rules, guidelines, compliance forms, notices, educational campaigns, studies, and reports.
Indicating that credit reporting accuracy issues remain a thorn in regulators' side, the statement included remarks about actions against companies that allegedly furnished inaccurate information to credit reporting agencies.
"The Commission is troubled that, despite its efforts, consumers continue to report errors in their credit reports that have made it difficult, or more expensive, to obtain credit, insurance, or employment," the statement said.
That federal regulators are still wringing their hands over credit report inaccuracies is enough to make most consumers run out and get their credit report -- but too many still don't get the free documents.
A recent Bankrate report "One-third Of Nation Flying Blind With Credit" found that 32 percent of Americans surveyed never check their credit reports and have no idea if information is incorrect, missing or otherwise a potential problem.
Your credit report is your fiscal fitness report on your credit habits. It names your credit accounts, identifies them by type and tracks balances, credit limits, available credit, open-or-closed status and payments, all to reveal how well or how poorly you pay each account.
The information is also factored heavily into your credit score, a statistical analysis or numerical value placed on your credit behavior. Your credit score is commonly used to nay or yea your requests for credit.
The report also documents your applications for credit as well as notices of liens, judgments and other "derogatory" remarks, remarks from the consumer, credit freezes, identity theft actions, dispute notices and other information.
It also contains your legal name, current and recent addresses and place of employment, Social Security number, date of birth, driver's license number, telephone numbers and other identifying information.
Incorrect information could skew your chances of landing credit, determine how much you pay for credit and limit where you get credit and other financial services and employment.
Bankrate also found that, among those it surveyed, 29 percent check their credit report only once a year. Consumer advocates say in this day of lost and stolen personal data, credit report errors and the like, more frequent checking is strongly advised -- and it's free.
You can get a free credit report three times a year -- one from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. One of the newest FACTA provisions allows you to go online to AnnualCreditReport.com, the ONLY federally sanctioned service, and obtain a free credit report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
If you obtain the free report from one company, say in January, another report from another company in May, and another from the remaining company in September, you've set up your own free monitoring system to keep tabs on what's doing on your credit report.
Don't be fooled by other websites with similar names. AnnualCreditReport.com is the ONLY federally approved website to get your free credit reports. Others will give you a free report, but only after you buy their services.
Under FACTA provisions, you can also get your credit report by calling, (877) 322-8228 or by writing Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105283, Atlanta, GA 30348-5283. Call first to determine what information you'll need to send.
Once you've obtained your credit report make sure it's yours.
Most credit reports have some anomaly, large or small.
Check your identifying and credit information for errors, outdated material, derogatory information (liens, judgments, bankruptcy, slow pays, etc.), especially such remarks remaining after the allowed seven to 10 years.
Look for accounts you didn't open, opened and never used, zero-balance accounts, duplicate entries, missing accounts in good standing, or other questionable information.
If you have open credit accounts that you don't use, close them by sending a letter to the creditor requesting as much. The letter should tell the creditor to notify all credit bureaus that you've closed the account. The letter should also ask for confirmation that the account has been closed and the credit bureaus notified.
Credit reports typically come with forms consumers can use to address issues of concern directly with the credit reporting agency. If you find an error, complete the form or write a letter providing the same information the form requests. Include copies of any documentation that back up your story.
Make and copy before sending off the original. Also send a copy to the offending creditor where applicable.
Once you resolve the dispute, ask the creditor to send a letter to the credit bureau with the correct information and a letter to you confirming that action has been taken.