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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money

What to Expect When You Check Your Credit History Online


When the FACT Act gave us all the right to get a copy of our credit histories once each year from each of the credit reporting agencies, I was sure I would get mine every year. I've gotten lazy! I decided today was the day to correct that, and I thought I'd share some of my experiences with you. I had a few surprises about the process and about the information on my reports. Maybe it's just been so long I'd forgotten these things, but I thought clueing you in about these things might make getting your report a more comfortable process.

Although you start the process at www.annualcreditreport.com, you will be linked to the individual credit reporting agency websites to obtain your report from each one. It's up to you whether you get a report from one, two, or all three of the reporting agencies. You can always come back and obtain the others whenever you'd like. The names of all three are presented, in no particular order, and you simply click the radio buttons by the ones you want to obtain.

You enter your personal information just once, on www.annualcreditreport.com. When you move from there to the individual credit reporting agency website, you will go through a series of security questions. The questions from each company will be different, and are apparently based on the data they have on file about you. Each agency asked a combination of questions about loans I have or had as well as personal identification information, such as where I have lived. The intent, obviously, is to make sure that it's really you accessing your credit file.

One provider encouraged me to print my credit file immediately, as I would not be able to after I closed that online session. Actually, I have online access for 30 days as long as I took the time to set up an online account. If so, I can print it anytime during that 30 days. But setting up the online access was a little intimidating. I had to agree to a 19-page product agreement and terms of use that is mainly aimed at purchasers of paid services. Also, I had to check an opt-out button to prevent my information being shared with third parties. (Maybe I should have left the box unchecked so I could tell you what kinds of solicitations and advertisements I received in the next few weeks. But I just wasn't willing to do that, even for you.)

Then there were a few surprises in the credit reports themselves. One showed three promotional or marketing inquiries – the ones that mean the credit reporting agency shared your contact information with lenders who wanted to send you pre-approved credit offers or other offers. These inquiries do not affect your credit score.

This was a surprise because I permanently opted out of having my contact information released for marketing purposes by calling1-888-5OPTOUT, then signing and returning the Permanent Opt-Out Election form they sent me for the permanent opt-out. You can also opt out online.

The other surprise was how much old information (older than seven years) was in the reports. Most negative information cannot remain on a credit history for more than seven years (ten for bankruptcies), but there isn't any legal limit for how long positive information can remain. Payment history wasn't shown for these accounts, but other information was reported just as it is for current, open accounts: date opened, amount borrowed; whether the account was joint, individual, or authorized user; monthly payment, etc.

I was pleased to see that I could dispute incorrect information immediately online. I was not as pleased to see indications that I did not have certain options or services, which the credit reporting agency hoped to sell me.

I viewed and printed my credit history from two of the reporting agencies. I plan to request the third one by phone, so that I can compare it with the online experiences. I'll let you know about that in a future post.

Please click the comment button below, and tell me about your experience obtaining your credit report. Let's learn from each other!



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Thank you! I recently printed my credit report and so now I'm working on deciphering and need help figuring out what everything means but this is a great first step.
by Angela Clark on Wednesday 5/30/2012

Glad this article was a help! Thank you for your feedback.
by Kathy Sweedler on Monday 6/11/2012