2006-01-20 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Free Credit Reports
By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer Financial advisors have always stressed the importance of monitoring the information contained in your credit files. Now, thanks to a recent amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, monitoring your credit is now easy and free. New York consumers are now entitled to receive one free credit report every twelve months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies.

Your credit report contains information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy.

This information is used by creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses to evaluate your financial history and credit worthiness, and can affect whether you get credit, insurance, or even a job.

Keeping an eye on your credit report also helps guard against identity theft.

You can order your free annual credit report online at www.annualcreditreport.com, by calling 877-322-8228, or by completing the Annual Credit Report Request Form available at www.ftc.gov and mailing it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

You will be asked to provide your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. If you have moved in the last two years, you may have to provide your previous address.

You will be offered the option of ordering a report from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).

You may order all three reports at the same time, but keep in mind that some financial advisors suggest that you stagger your requests during a 12-month period to keep an eye on the accuracy and completeness of the information in your reports.

The choice is yours.

If you choose to request your reports online, please be careful to correctly spell annualcredit report. com, or link to it from the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website. The FTC recently issued an advisory warning consumers of scams involving unauthorized websites which offer supposedly free reports, but require consumers to purchase other products in order to receive their “free” reports.

Now that you have obtained your report, what should you look for?

It is important to check your report for any errors or unauthorized credit activity and to make sure that all the information is accurate, complete and up-to-date.

Federal law requires both consumer reporting agencies and the companies providing information about you to these agencies to correct any inaccurate or incomplete information in your report.

Should you find any errors in your report, it is necessary to contact in writing both the consumer reporting agency and the company providing the information you believe to be inaccurate in writing.

Consumer reporting agencies are allowed to report most accurate negative information for seven years and bankruptcy information for ten years.

One final note:

Many consumers are confused when they cannot find their credit score in their credit report.

Credit scores are based, in part, on the information contained in your credit report, and are used by creditors to help determine whether to give you credit. Unfortunately, your credit score is not included in your credit report. You can purchase your credit scores when you request your credit reports online at www.annualcreditreport. com or by contacting one of the nationwide consumer reporting agencies.

You can expect to pay between four and eight dollars for your credit score.

Lastly, in order to protect the personal information contained in your credit reports, it is recommended that you destroy or shred the reports before disposal.

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