Maintaining a good handle on your finances is an important element of your overall disaster mitigation plan. While it might not seem so on the surface, give it a bit of thought. The better off you are financially, the higher the likelihood that small emergencies, such as an unexpected car repair, won’t seem like the end of the world. One area of financial preparedness you should explore is reviewing your credit report.
Getting Copies of Your Credit Report
It is important to review your credit report on a regular basis. This might be the only way you’ll ever learn of errors on it as well as see indications of fraud or identity theft. Fortunately, getting a copy of your credit report is very easy. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the three credit bureaus to provide, upon request, one copy of their credit report, free of charge, to each consumer once a year. The report may be ordered via one of three ways:
Visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com/. Be wary of lookalike websites with similar domain names. This one is the only one set up as a result of the FCRA. There are a lot of scam sites out there that will either charge you or just outright steal your information. Ordering your report online grants you immediate access to it.
There is a form entitled Annual Credit Report Request that must be filled out, then mailed to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Response time is about two weeks from when the request is received.
Call 1-877-322-8228 and order your report. As with mailing, it will take about two weeks to get your report.
It is important to rely upon one of these methods rather than contacting the credit bureaus directly. The website, mailing address, and phone number listed above are the only ways to obtain your free copy each calendar year. The credit bureaus are likely going to charge you if you go directly through them.
You are entitled to one copy from each bureau every 12 months. Rather than ordering all three at once, I suggest you stagger the requests and order one from a different bureau every four months. This allows you to react quicker in the event you do see something amiss on the report.
Go through each credit report line by line, even including your name, your address, and all of your other identifying information. The balances listed for each account will probably not be accurate right down to the penny as there is a lag between when you make a payment and when that payment is reported to the credit bureau. However, look for accounts that are listed as open, even though you closed them years ago, or accounts that are listed as delinquent even though you’re up to date on all payments.You are entitled to one free credit report per year. Click To Tweet
Be sure to check for any accounts you weren’t aware of as these are indicators of possible fraud. Bear in mind, though, that the names listed as account holders may differ slightly from the ones which are familiar to you. Banks change names from time to time.
Should you find something amiss on your credit report, you need to get it handled as soon as possible. These things take time so the faster you act, the sooner it can get fixed. Every credit report will have instructions on how to report possible errors, which will need to be reported in writing directly to the credit bureau. They have 30 days or so to investigate the matter and respond back to you.
Typically, what will happen is the credit bureau will contact the person or entity (both are considered to be Credit Reporting Agencies, or CRAs) that originally reported the information. The bureau will notify them of the dispute and pass along the information you’ve provided on the matter. The CRA must conduct an investigation and report the findings back to the credit bureau.
If the CRA provides documentation that the information is valid and correct, it stays on your credit report. However, if they are unable to provide that documentation, the information is changed or deleted on your credit report.
Of course, you could also skip the credit bureau and contact the CRA directly about your dispute. Depending upon the circumstances, this may or may not speed up the process. It is one thing if you are dealing with a large company that likely has processes in place for dealing with disputes and knows how to handle such matters efficiently. Another thing entirely if you’re dealing with a landlord or some other relatively small-time operation.
This is an excerpt from Jim Cobb’s new book The Prepper’s Financial Guide, available in March, 2015, from Ulysses Press.