From time to time, you should get your credit report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies and check each report for errors or outdated or incomplete information. Here's a checklist to guide your review.
How to Get and Review Your Credit Reports
Under federal law, you're entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. However, the agencies provide free weekly reports online, a service they started during the COVID-19 pandemic. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get them.
Also, in some instances, you can get more free reports. In addition, you can get a yearly free copy of any specialty consumer reports.
Review each section of your reports carefully. Note each item you find that is erroneous, incomplete, or contains information that should not be reported. Then, make a list of everything that is inaccurate, incomplete, or not authorized to be in your file.
Things to Look for in Your Credit Reports
When reviewing your reports, look for the following:
1. Personal Information Section
- Incorrect or incomplete name, address, or phone number.
- Lack of prior address if you have not lived long at your current address.
- Incorrect Social Security number or birth date.
- Incorrect, missing, or outdated employment information.
- Incorrect marital status—such as a former spouse listed as your current spouse.
2. Public Records Section
- Lawsuits you weren't involved in.
- A bankruptcy filed by a spouse or ex-spouse, even though you did not file bankruptcy.
- Bankruptcies that you filed more than ten years ago or that are not identified by the specific chapter of the bankruptcy code
- Criminal arrest records more than seven years old.
- Paid mechanic's or other liens listed as unpaid.
3. Credit Accounts Section
- Commingled accounts—credit histories for someone with a similar or the same name.
- Accounts listed as joint, when only your spouse is responsible for the account or vice versa.
- Premarital debts of your current spouse attributed to you.
- An account due to an identity thief's actions.
- Accounts on which you are an authorized user are not included in the report (this may happen with accounts in one spouse's name that the other spouse is authorized to use).
- Incorrect account histories—such as a late payment notation when you've paid on time.
- Failure to list a zero balance for a debt discharged in bankruptcy or showing a discharged debt as still owing.
- Failure to show that a delinquent debt has been discharged in bankruptcy.
- A voluntary surrender of your vehicle incorrectly listed as a repossession.
- A missing notation when you disputed a charge on a credit card bill.
- Accounts that incorrectly list you as a cosigner.
- Closed accounts incorrectly listed as open (it might look as if you have too much open credit).
- Accounts you closed that don't indicate "closed by consumer" (otherwise it looks like your creditors closed the accounts).
- An account delinquency that occurred more than seven years ago or that does not include the date of the delinquency.
- Incorrect date of delinquency on an account that was charged-off or sent to collection or the date of delinquency is listed correctly in one account or tradeline, but incorrectly in a second tradeline after it was turned over to a collection agency (the transfer of a debt should not result in a new, later delinquency date).
- A creditor's tradeline does not show that the account was turned over to a collection agency, so the collection agency account line looks like another overdue account.
- Overdue child support that is more than seven years old.
- Other adverse information that is more than seven years old.
4. Inquiries Section
- Credit inquiries by automobile dealers from times you simply test drove a car or from other businesses when you were only comparison shopping. (Creditors can't lawfully pull your credit report without your written permission until you indicate a desire to get credit.)
Disputing Errors in Your Credit Reports
If you find errors, outdated information, fraudulent, or missing information on any of your credit reports, you should dispute those items with the credit reporting agency that produced the report. If the credit reporting agency doesn't fix the error or errors, consider talking to an attorney who can help you enforce your rights. You have the right to sue an agency that violates your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, including continuing to report incorrect information.