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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money

What to Expect When You Check Your Credit History by Phone

Last month, I obtained my credit report from two of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies online and wrote about that experience in my May 18 post. Today, I requested the third one by phone so that I could compare that with the online process.

Many financial experts recommend requesting your credit report by phone, and my experience confirmed that thinking. While I had to answer a number of security questions for the online reports, I only had to provide identification information for the phone request.

To order your credit report by phone, call 1-877-322-8228. Even though there are three major credit reporting agencies, you request your report using one, centralized system.

English Only

The automated phone request service is in English only. The online request service is also only in English. According to a 2006 news release from Consumers Union (the publisher of Consumer Reports), the credit reporting agencies have taken the position that the law requiring them to provide free annual credit reports did not require them to provide the service in other languages. For individuals who are not fluent in English or who are uncomfortable with automated phone systems, the other option is to complete a printed form and mail it in. At least that way, you can take your time and get someone to help you with the instructions.

The Phone Experience

The phone request system is completed automated. For me, it worked without a hitch. It carefully repeats each piece of information you provide and asks you to confirm whether it understood you correctly. For example, when I had to state and then spell my first name, it captured that information correctly. Of course, my first name is only five letters so it may not be as challenging as a longer name.

I placed the call from my office; if I had called from my home, the process would have been even more streamlined. It begins by telling you that your report(s) will be mailed within 15 days, that you will be asked to enter information it needs to complete the request, and that you should not hang up until instructed to do so. Then the inquiries began. I was asked to say or enter:

  • Whether I had a home phone
  • If so, was I calling from my home phone.
  • If calling from a different phone, what is the home phone number.
  • What is the number in my street address, such as 5555 if my address is 5555 Home Avenue.
  • My zip code

The system then "spoke" the last name for the person it had on record at that address, and asked me to confirm if that was correct. The, it "spoke" the first name – which was not me. I was prompted to speak and spell my first name. This was the first item for which I could not enter my responses using the numbers on the phone; I had to speak my response.

There were a few more questions before my request was completed:

  • Have I lived at my current address for 2 years or more?
  • Enter my Social Security number.
  • Do I want the report to display only last 4 digits of my Social Security number, for security purposes?
  • Enter my birthdate
  • Do I want a printout designed for the visually impaired?
  • From which of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies do I wish to receive a report: Equifax, Experian, and/or Transunion?

While it took several minutes to work my way through the request, the system was easy to understand. If I entered something wrong, it was easy to correct since I was asked to confirm each piece of information before moving on to the next item. The instructions were clearly spoken, although it had a little trouble pronouncing my last name and the name of the town where I live.

This was a very different experience from requesting my credit reports online. It was easier because I did not have to answer any security questions, but someone who hates automated phone systems might be turned off by it.

Whichever way you prefer to check your history, please take advantage of your right to obtain a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies each year.

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