Excerpted from the Do-It-Yourself Credit File Correction Guide
Written by Paul Richard, and published by the ICFE
What is a credit report (also known as a credit file or profile)?
It is a written report, (stored in computers) comprised of the following information about your personal credit worthiness and debt repayment history.
1. Identification by name, addresses, spouse's name, date of birth, Social Security number, telephone number, place of employment, mothers maiden name etc. etc.
2. Credit Inquiries - every time a subscriber (credit provider) runs a credit report on a consumer, a record of the file inquiry is made. It will remain on the file in most states for one or two years. This is of interest to creditors because it reveals recent credit activity.
3. Information in public records and collection accounts are also collected by (or reported) to these agencies. Public records include courthouse records, bankruptcies, judgments, lawsuits, criminal etc.
4. Credit History - which includes the name and ID number of each subscriber who makes a report and your credit/debt repayment history. Also included is the date an account was opened, credit limits, current balance, monthly payment amount and payment frequency for the last 12-24 months. Records are dated with each request or entry. Other information includes, but is not limited to, consumer disputes, criminal convictions, individual liability or joint liability of accounts, co-maker or guarantor of payment on a certain account, secured accounts and charge offs -when a creditor has reported an unpaid balance as a loss.
5. Consumer Statements - a statement - not to exceed 100 words - regarding any account(s) an individual may wish to more accurately and completely explain - often very helpful to credit decisions.
When is a credit file created?
Usually when you make application for a loan or credit card, or when a party who extended credit makes a report to their credit reporting service on your debt repayment.
Who can legally look at my credit report?
Credit reporting agency subscribers comprised of banks and merchants etc., may not access an individual's credit record unless authorized. This authorization is standard procedure when you sign credit and loan applications, life insurance applications, employment applications, security clearance requests , etc. Read the fine print on the applications for more details.
How often should I look at my credit report?
If you are actively using credit - using one or more credit cards with monthly or bimonthly charge activity, have installment loan(s), vehicle lease, etc. review your credit file every nine to twelve months, otherwise once every 15 months is adequate.
What if you need help?
Avoid any type of credit doctor, credit repair firm or service. Do-it-yourself instead. It is easy and inexpensive. Don't pay more than $10 which is the cost of the Institute of Consumer Financial Education's Do-It- Yourself Credit File Correction Guide, Y2K+ Edition, just released. The ICFE Guide has instructions, sample letters to smooth communications with the credit reporting agencies, credit file request forms and a listing of the major credit reporting agencies.