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anncreditreport_JeffRose_cc_flickrDid you know it’s National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW)?  Probably not, but you should.  It’s that time of year when government agencies, consumer advocacy groups and others join forces to promote awareness of privacy protection, money, debt, and credit management and, of course, scams—that is, how to steer clear of them.

In line with these important topics, NCPW is a timely reminder for us to take a moment to check and protect one of our most important financial assets, our credit bureau report.

While there are dozens of companies that will sell you services to access credit bureau reports from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), anyone with a credit bureau file in the U.S. can get a free copy of their report from each of the three agencies at a minimum of once every 12 months.  You can visit www.annualcreditreport.com (an easy-to-use site created by the Federal Trade Commission) to get access to your reports today.

Once you have your credit report(s), review the information carefully to ensure it is complete and accurate.

  • Check to make sure the payment histories on your credit card accounts, mortgage and automobile loans are correct.
  • Review the credit obligations listed and make sure they are legitimately yours.
  • Ensure that mortgage, car loan and other fixed loan accounts that have been paid off in full show zero balances.
  • Verify that credit card and other revolving credit balances showing are reasonably reflective of your use of that card (note that lenders usually send an update on your account about once a month so if a balance is showing, it would reflect your balance at that particular point in time).

In my experience, people will often see credit cards or retail store cards they haven’t used in a while being reported without a “closed status” on them. Don’t panic and rush to get them removed or reported with a “closed” status. The fact that they are still on your credit file is not hurting your credit score and getting them removed or reported as closed could actually cause your credit score to drop.

If you happen to see any inaccurate information, you have the right to register a dispute so it can be investigated and corrected if determined to be in error.  You can find dispute instructions in the information you receive along with your credit report.  The dispute must be investigated and resolved within 30 days from the date you register it, and the credit reporting agency is obligated to notify you of the investigation outcome.

Periodically checking the accuracy of your credit bureau report  is one of the easiest and most practical actions you can take to protect your “credit currency.”  National Consumer Protection Week is the perfect time to do so.

[Related Article: How Many Credit Reports Contain Errors?]

Image: Jeff Rose

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