Your credit is a tool that lenders use to determine how worthy you are of having money extended to you based heavily on your payment history and outstanding balances compared to availability. Your credit report is often used to make such decisions. The three major credit reporting agencies are Equifax, Transunion and Experian. All three credit reporting agencies receive monthly information on your payment status from a number of sources, particularly, whether your payments have been on time. However, your credit score for each of the agencies may not be the same and could possibly vary by several points. This has to do with the fact that all vendors do not report to each of the agencies, therefore, all of your activity may not be represented on all three of your credit reports. Other information that may be collected and listed on your credit report may include tax liens, bankruptcy filings and court-ordered judgments. Judgments and liens can stay on your credit report for 7 years and collection activity can be resubmitted each time your past-due is bought and sold. Chapter 7 and chapter 13 bankruptcies, on the other hand can remain on your credit report from 7 to 10 years.
Your credit may also affect your ability to get a job, your ability to rent an apartment and the associated security deposit, and it may also determine your insurance rates. However, the burden of determining your approval or rejection is not the credit reporting agency.
What's not on your credit report
Your medical history (past due medical bills can be reported)
Your checking and savings account balances
Any business account information
Purchases that you made with a check or cash
Your driving record
Information identifying your race, gender, ethnicity or religion
How to get a copy of your credit report
Before applying for credit or a loan it would be to your benefit to order a copy of your credit report to verify that your information is correct. You can get a free copy of your credit report once a year or in the following circumstances:
A company takes adverse action against you and you ask for your report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action
You are unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days
You are receiving public assistance
Your report is inaccurate because of fraud, including identity theft.
You may submit a request online at www.annualcreditreport.com, which is sponsored by the three major agencies, or call toll free at 1-877-322-8228. You may also complete an annual credit report form and mail it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5281
You may also contact the reporting agencies individually:
Equifax 1-800-685-1111 or
Experian 1-888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742) or
TransUnion 1-800-916-8800 or
How To Avoid Identity Theft
Protect your incoming and outgoing mail
One way to protect your mail is by using a locked mailbox or a P.O. Box. With a secured mailbox, other individuals will not have access to important information such as credit cards, bank statements, checks and other sensitive information. Also be sure to retrieve your mail from the mailbox as soon as possible. When you are mailing items, you can keep them secure by taking them directly to a mail carrier, post office or a blue collection box. Leaving your outgoing bills and mail in your mailbox can alert thieves who are looking for personally identifiable information.
Protect your PIN numbers, Social Security Number, bank account numbers, passwords and all other sensitive information
Do not volunteer or provide this information in response to any unsolicited contact or correspondence. This includes phone calls, texts, e-mails and letters. Keep in mind that with the exception of lenders and credit card companies, reputable businesses will not typically contact your to request that you give them complete access to your information. Also, carry only the necessary items with you while keeping the information that you will not need immediately in a safe and secure place. If you let others into your home or share your living space, be sure that no one can easily find your personal information.
Although this was once a common practice, reconsider pre-printing your Social Security Number, driver's license number, or telephone number on your checks. Having all of this information available for people to see makes it that much easier for your identity to be stolen.
Properly dispose of your trash
There are individuals and thieves who pick through other people's trash looking for valuable trash and sometimes information in which to commit fraud. Any trash that can be used to identify who you are or what your associations are should be shredded prior to disposal. Items to be destroyed or shredded should include bank statements, insurance information, blank, canceled or voided checks , anything that has your Social Security Number on it or anything that has an account number associated with a company that you do business with. Be sure that your shredded documents cannot be easily reconstructed.
Sign up for direct deposit
Having your paycheck direct deposited will not only provide more convenience by eliminating the hassle of trying to make it to your bank during business hours, but it also prevents your paycheck from being stolen.
Check all of your account activity regularly
Monitor your bank statements and account activity regularly and report any suspicious transactions, discrepancies or unauthorized withdrawals. State and federal laws exist to limit your losses if you become a victim or theft or fraud but catching the activity early may give your financial institution a greater advantage in investigating the matter and resolving it faster. Also contact your financial institution if your credit card or bank statements do not arrive on time. If these items are missing, there is a chance that they may have been stolen.
Many financial institutions will give you the opportunity to go paperless which means they will no longer mail paper copies to your address. Instead, they will notify you by e-mail when your statement is ready to be viewed. You can view your activity online without having to worry about your paper statements being stolen.
Avoid identity theft on the internet
Hackers can steal personal information that is transmitted over the internet as well as stored on your computer. As mentioned above, one way to protect your identity and avoid scams is by not responding to unsolicited e-mails or opening attachments from unknown sources. To confirm the validity of an e-mail contact the appropriate institution but do not use the same contact information provided in the e-mail.
You can take additional precautions by setting up a firewall and password on your home network and personal computer. Use passwords that will be difficult for a hacker to guess by mixing up letters, numbers and symbols. Updating your security software regularly can also be a deterrent to unwanted access.