Three Free Tools To Protect Your Credit

Who’s looking at your credit report? A LOT OF FOLKS! Credit reports and scores are widely used not just by creditors, but by employers, landlords, insurance companies and even cell phone companies. They can affect employment, housing and the amount you pay for goods, services and loans. It is very important to keep a close eye on these reports and protect them.

THE FIRST TOOL IS FREE CREDIT REPORTS. Your credit report is a detailed record of your payment history for loans and credit cards, as well as personal information. The credit “score” based on these reports is used to determine risk, how likely a person is to pay back borrowed money.

Knowledge is power. We need to know what is in our credit report and ensure its accuracy. Per Federal Law, every American is entitled to receive one free credit report per year from each of the three credit reporting bureaus, Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. The official website is AnnualCreditReport.com.

Note: Due to COVID-19, these credit reports are now available WEEKLY (not just annually) through April of 2021. See this blog release from the Federal Trade Commission for more info. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/05/credit-reports-are-now-free-every-week

REVIEW YOUR DETAILS. Review your report and ensure your personal information, debts noted and payment history match your records. If not, dispute the incorrect information directly to the credit bureau and to the creditor. Remember, the report is FREE, but the credit bureaus sometimes try to upsell you with add-ons such as the actual credit score or credit monitoring, so be aware.

THE 2ND TOOL IS FREE FRAUD ALERTS
Have you received a letter warning you that your identity has been compromised in a data breach? Ever had your credit or debit card compromised? Most of us have and that is a great time to place a fraud alert on your credit file. (Or go a step further and set up a credit freeze, which we’ll discuss next). A fraud alert serves as a red flag to businesses that they should check with you before opening a new account.

Fraud alerts are placed on your credit report for one year. If you’ve been the victim of identity theft you can request an extended fraud alert which will stay on your report for seven years. To be clear, a fraud alert does not notify you of activity on your account, but it alerts businesses that they should to be more careful to ensure your identity when opening new ones.

THE THIRD TOOL IS A FREE CREDIT FREEZE, which provides the greatest protection. Credit freezes, also known as security freezes, restrict access to your credit file even by valid creditors until you “Unfreeze” or “Thaw” your report. In 2018, Federal Law guarantees that you can freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free. You can also put freezes in place for minors under 16. If you’re ready to put a freeze in place, simply contact each of the credit reporting bureaus, and follow their process. One more tip brought to you by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), don’t confuse freezes with locks. They work in a similar way, but freezes are free, but locks may have monthly fees.

Here’s more info from the CFPB:
https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/free-credit-freezes-are-here/

In closing, be aware that Credit Freezes and Fraud Alerts are not fool-proof protections, so it is still important to check your Credit Reports routinely.

-Marjorie McLean, MBA, AFC
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Credit report reviews are one of the services Better Financial Counselors provide. Learn more about us at: Meet Us (You’ll be glad you did.)

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