By Amy Miller, AFC®
March is National Credit Education Month and since we’ve been focusing on being financially fit and have mentioned how having a healthy credit file is truly essential to being in control of our financial lives, I thought there would be no better time to start talking about credit than now.
We will start with reporting agencies and requesting or “pulling” your report.
When is the last time you (yourself – not your banker/lender) pulled your report (the full report) and reviewed it? Line by line? Account by account? In my experience, most individuals have not done so recently – if ever. Some know there are 3 agencies, but when asked many cannot name them nor explain why or how their scores could be different from each of them.
Those agencies are Equifax, Transunion & Experian, also known as The Big Three. All three collect and aggregate information on consumers and businesses.
Probably the most widely recognized of the three, Equifax was founded in 1899 and headquartered in Atlanta, GA. Equifax collects information on over 800 million individual consumers and more than 880 million businesses worldwide. In addition to credit collection and reporting, Equifax also sells credit monitoring and fraud prevention services to consumers.
Based in Dublin, Ireland, and operating in 44 countries, Experian is the 2nd largest of The Big Three, collecting information on over 1 billion individuals and businesses worldwide, including 235 million American consumers and 25 million US businesses. Experian also offers credit monitoring and fraud prevention plans.
Transunion was originally formed in 1968 as a holding company for a railcar leasing organization in Chicago, IL. A year later, it purchased the credit bureau of Cook County which maintained 3.6 million credit accounts. Not long after the acquisition, Transunion became the first company in the credit reporting industry to automate accounts receivable data, which cut the time and cost to update a consumer’s file. They now serve around one billion consumers and 65,000 businesses in 30 countries.
Even though they are the smallest of The Big Three, Transunion reports that it profiles around 200 million files in the US, which means nearly every credit-active consumer has a file with them.
Like its competitors, Transunion also offers credit and fraud prevention services.
Requesting Your Report
Now that you know about The Big Three, let’s talk about how and when you can request your report from each of them.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) was passed in 1970 and later amended in 2003 with the passing of The Fair and Accurate Credit transactions Act or FACT Act, which governs how credit bureaus can collect and share information about individual consumers. It also grants consumers free access to one credit report per year from each of The Big Three and the right to verify the accuracy of the report, receive notification if information in the file is being used against them, dispute incorrect information and have it corrected, and allows the removal of outdated, negative information.
In response to the FACT Act being passed and signed into law, The Big Three worked together to create a company called Central Source, LLC to oversee compliance and handle consumer requests. The company then worked to set up a toll-free number, a mailing address, and a central website to process those requests. That website is known as AnnualCreditReport.com. Consumers must register on the site and provide basic information to confirm their identity (name, address, social security number). Individuals can then select which (or all) reports they would like to receive. The individual is then forwarded to that reporting agency’s website where they will have to answer specific security questions related to their file before receiving the report.
There are many companies and websites out there advertising “free reports and scores” so it’s important to note that annualcreditreport.com is the only website authorized to provide the free annual credit report that is available by law. Additionally, many states also have their own laws related to reporting. I suggest you check the laws for your state before requesting your report.
To request your report –
Online at: www.annualcreditreport.com
Complete a Request form and mail to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
You can access the form to mail in here:
I know that credit reports can seem complicated and a little overwhelming but knowing what is being reported is the necessary first step to having a healthy credit file. I encourage you to take in this information and use it to become more finically fit this year. Now – go request your report.