AMES, Iowa – Iowans should take a look at their credit report every year, says Susan Taylor, a family finance specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
“Information in your history may be correct and that’s great, but there may be information that is not accurate,” Taylor said. “Check your credit report to make sure you really are ‘you.’”
Taylor learned the importance of this annual step from personal experience.
“A few years ago, using one of the credit reporting agencies, I checked my credit history and found that I was working in Texas at a medical clinic. However, I didn’t work in Texas at a medical clinic. So I learned three things. First, my employer at the time did not report employment information to the credit reporting agencies, and that’s not unusual. Second, there was incorrect information in my credit report. And third, I needed to dispute the incorrect employment information,” Taylor said.
Taylor suggests that Iowans take a look at their credit report from the three credit reporting agencies every year.
“You have the right to a free annual credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, online at www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228. This is the only authorized source under federal law. This is the only place to get the free report that is yours by law,” Taylor said.
Many companies – more than 130 that Taylor has found – claim to offer free credit reports, and some do.
“But others give you a report only if you buy products or services. Still others say they’re giving you a ‘free’ report, but then bill you for services you have to cancel. Remember www.AnnualCreditReport.com is the ‘real’ free site,” Taylor said.
“Check your credit report for errors, because they do happen. Dispute any serious errors in your credit history, such as accounts that aren’t yours, employment records that are incorrect or reports of late payments when you paid on time,” Taylor said.
Consumers also may request that bankruptcies older than 10 years or accounts that were wiped out in bankruptcy but are listed as still due be removed from their credit report, as well as other negative information that’s more than seven years old. The seven-year clock starts 180 days after the account went delinquent.
Another part of a credit report is the credit score, a three-digit number calculated from the report that quantifies a person’s credit worthiness. It is a predictor of how well someone is likely to use credit in the future based on how well he or she has used it in the past.
“The factor that has the biggest impact on your credit score is paying your bills on time. If you are not paying your bills, you can’t fix your credit. You may hear or see ads that particular companies can get rid of your debt, but you are the one who created your situation and with time, you can pay down your debt. After you have paid for your basic expenses, if there are funds leftover, use the extra funds to pay off more of your debts,” Taylor said.
One way to learn more about credit is to sign up for “Your Money, Your Future” workshops from ISU Extension and Outreach.
“The workshops will help you understand how your goals and values influence how you deal with money. You’ll learn to develop a spending plan that works for you, and explore banking services and your credit history,” Taylor said. “You’ll get sound financial information and strengthen your money management skills.”
To learn more, contact any ISU Extension and Outreach county office or visit www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/your-money-your-future.