A credit report is a detailed overview of your credit history, including your payment history, lines of credit, and how consistent you’ve been with paying off your credit balances. Three national credit bureaus issue credit reports: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. While your credit report doesn’t contain your credit score, they help lenders understand your risk tolerance and eligibility for things like loans, insurance policies, jobs, and credit cards.
Your credit score, on the other hand, is a three-digit number that shows lenders how risky a borrower you are and is a crucial component of your financial health. Your credit score plays a key role in determining what loans you qualify for and the interest rate you will pay on all types of things, from mortgages to renter’s insurance to car loans. Your credit score comes from the information contained in your credit report, such as your payment history, credit utilization ratio, and age of credit, and is calculated using an algorithm. As critical as this little number is, many Americans are in the dark when it comes to their credit scores.
Fortunately, federal law entitles citizens to get a free credit report every year from the three major credit bureaus. Below, we’ll cover how to get a credit report, so you can understand where your financial health lies. Read end-to-end to learn how to get a free credit report and FICO score, or use the provided links to jump to a section of your choosing.
The Importance of Your Credit Report
Your credit report houses all sorts of pertinent information about your financial background, including your credit payment history, credit utilization ratio, and age of credit. Credit scores have become such a huge influence in the lives of consumers that millions are greatly disadvantaged by their lack of knowledge about their scores. In fact, roughly 26 million Americans are “credit invisible,” meaning they don’t have a credit report with one of the three national credit bureaus. On top of that, an additional 19 million Americans have credit scores that are unscorable by a credit-scoring model. Not having a credit score can make it difficult to get approved for a loan for a mortgage, car, or home improvement project because lenders will have no way to assess your risk level as a borrower.
Knowing how to get a credit report can help you gain a better understanding of your financial health. As important as the information on your credit report is, you need to make it a priority to get your hands on it to help you not only find out what your current score actually is, but what is affecting it, and if there are any errors on it that are unfairly dropping your score.
Why is Your Credit Score Report So Helpful?
Considering the importance of credit scores on your financial portfolio, it makes sense to have a clear understanding of your credit’s health, which can only be identified on your credit score report. The information in your credit report is used to generate your credit score, which is what your potential lenders will see before they decide to approve you for a loan.
Your credit report includes important financial information, such as:
- The types of credit that you use
- How long your accounts have been open
- How much money you owed
- Whether you’ve paid your bills in full and on time
- How efficiently you paid your bills
- Late payments
It gives lenders information about how much credit you have used, and if you are looking for new sources of credit. There are a variety of lenders you might come across that look at your credit report to conduct business, such as:
- Banks and financial institutions
- Car dealers
- Credit card companies
- Insurance companies
- Department stores
- Cell phone and cable providers
- Utility providers
Your credit score has a huge influence on lenders’ decisions to approve or deny your loan applications. Many facets of your borrowing habits will be outlined on your credit report. Lenders use the information on your credit report to gauge their credit decisions on their applicants and customers from credit reporting agencies, including Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Lenders and other companies use the information in your credit score report to assess your applications for credit, loans, insurance, and even renting a residence.
How to Get a Free Credit Report
Many consumers wonder how to get a free credit score report. According to FTC.gov, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the three national credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—to provide free copies of credit reports once every 12 months to consumers who request one. They must also set reasonable prices for scores for consumers who need to retrieve their credit report more than once per year. Here are some guidelines on how to get a credit report:
- One way to access your credit report for free is by visiting the official government website AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling their toll-free number at 1.877.322.8228. Through this website, you can request your free credit report from one of the three bureaus, or have one of each credit report sent at the same time, depending on your intended use. For example, if you want to verify that all of your information, such as name, address, credit accounts, and amount owed, is accurate, you might want to request all three at once to compare. Or, you can spread out each credit report by requesting one every four months, for example.
- Aside from obtaining a free credit score from one of the three national credit bureaus, you can also gain access to your credit report for free through other means, such as through Mint. At Mint, we team up with TransUnion to provide free credit scores. Mint’s free credit report and score simply requires you to verify your identity and once verified, you’ll have your free credit report summary within minutes. Through Mint, you can also enjoy credit monitoring, which provides credit alerts whenever TransUnion receives new credit information from any of your creditors.
For those wondering how to get a free credit score report, you can use the government’s free website AnnualCreditReport.com, or get your free credit report from websites like Mint.
- Requesting a free credit report online: When you request a free credit report online, such as through AnnualCreditReport.com or through Mint, you can get your credit report immediately.
- Requesting a free credit report through phone: If you order your free credit report by calling 1.877.322.8228, your credit report will be processed and mailed to your address within 15 days.
- Requesting a free credit report through mail: You can write a letter requesting your annual credit report or fill out and mail the Annual Credit Report Request Form to the following address:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105218
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Requesting a free credit report through mail will be processed and mailed to your address within 15 days of receipt, which can bring your total wait time up to two to three weeks for delivery.
What to Do While You’re Waiting for Your Credit Report
Whether you called to request a free credit report or mailed in an annual credit report request form, you can take a few actions to pass the time.
Check your credit score
Checking your credit score is important for a variety of reasons. It gives you an overview of your financial health, can help you spot any errors, and can show you areas of improvement. As you review your credit score, you may come across two different types: FICO and Vantage.
- FICO Credit Score: Fair Isaac Corporation created the FICO scoring model to provide an industry-standard for determining credit-worthiness that was fair for both consumers and lenders. FICO is the most widely used credit score and uses credit scoring models that are bureau specific, meaning there is a separate scoring model for Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Because each credit bureau has different information on file, your credit score might not be the same. However, in most cases, your score only differs by a few points—anything more might be due to a mistake.
Most FICO scores range between 300-850— the higher the score, the less risky you may seem to lenders. A “good” credit score, according to FICO, is anywhere between 670-739. In order to get a FICO credit score, you need to have at least one account open for at least six months or longer, along with at least one account that has been reported to a credit bureau within the last six months.
- Vantage Credit Score: The VantageScore Model was created by the three credit reporting companies— Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Together, industry-leading experts created a credit scoring model using credit report information from each credit bureau. Earlier versions of the VantageScore have a credit range between 501 and 990. The new VantageScore 3.0 uses the same credit score range as the FICO credit score, which is 300-850. Similar to the FICO credit score, a “good” credit score is anywhere between 670-739.
Unlike the FICO credit score, Vantage’s credit score accepts consumers who are new to the credit market, who would otherwise be invisible to lenders. Because lenders from all three credit bureaus can use the VantageScore, credit scores should remain fairly consistent. The only time a change would occur is if a lender provides a new piece of data to a credit bureau.
With Mint, you can check your credit score for free as many times as you’d like without hurting your credit score. Mint works by using the VantageScore model, which is determined by six different factors: age and types of credit, credit utilization, payment history, total balances and debt, recent credit inquiries, and available credit. Check your free credit score with Mint today to see where your credit score stands.
Understand your credit score
Before you work on increasing your credit score, it’s important to know what your credit score looks at. There are a variety of credit score myths out there that you might believe, which is why understanding what can impact your credit score can help you make thoughtful actions to improve your score.
Here’s a list of what most credit scores measure:
- Payment history: Your payment history is just one piece of your credit history. Your payment history looks at your past credit payments and whether they’ve been paid on time. Missed or late payments can tell lenders that it might be risky to lend to you because you may miss a future payment. Paying off your credit balance on time in full, every time can help keep your credit score in check.
- Age of credit: The longer the credit history, the higher your credit score might be. This is because the age of your oldest account provides more data and shows lenders you have more experience managing credit.
- Types of credit: Your credit mix, such as credit cards, loans, mortgages, and retail accounts, can show lenders you have experience managing and paying off multiple types of credit.
- Credit utilization: Credit utilization is the amount of money you owe compared to your available line of credit. Often expressed as a ratio, high credit utilization may make lenders view you as risky because you’re borrowing close to your limit. For example, if your credit line is $10,000, and you bought a used car for $7,000 with a credit card, your credit utilization ratio will be 70%. Experts believe you should have a credit utilization ratio of no more than 30 percent of your credit limit.
- New credit accounts: Opening a new credit account can result in a hard inquiry, which can hurt your credit score because it shows that a lender is looking at your credit report.
Understanding what credit scores measure can help you make smart financial decisions, such as making credit card payments on time, maintaining a low credit utilization ratio, and effectively managing different types of credit.
What to Do If There’s an Error on Your Credit Report
An error on your credit report can deal a significant blow on your credit score and report. An error on your credit report can happen for a variety of reasons, such as a careless mistake, inputting wrong information, or even identity theft. Regularly checking your credit score can help you look for any discrepancies that can damage your credit score. Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you can issue a credit dispute for any information you think is incorrect without negatively impacting your score. If you notice an error on your credit report, follow these steps:
- Step 1: Submit a letter in writing or online to the credit reporting company that details the information you think is inaccurate. With your letter, provide any copies (not original files) that support your claim, and information such as your name, address, and the information you want to be removed or corrected on your credit report.
- Step 2: Wait for the credit reporting company to respond. A response typically takes around 30 days from the day they receive your letter. During this time, they will investigate your claim and send the information you sent to the lenders that provided the information. If the lender finds there was a mistake, they must inform all three credit bureaus.
- Step 3: Write a letter to the lender or information provider that may have made a mistake detailing the item you think is wrong in your credit report. Provide any copies of important information that supports your dispute and have them review your claim.
- Step 4: Review your results. Each credit reporting company is required to provide you with the results of your investigation. If the dispute wasn’t resolved, you can have the credit bureau make a note on your future credit reports that there was a dispute.
As stated, disputing a credit report doesn’t hurt your credit score. If you believe there is an error on your credit report, take the time to resolve the error. Not doing so can lower your credit score, which can make it challenging to get approved for a loan or urge lenders to tack on higher interest rates for loans.
Mint.com is the Best Place to Go for Your Credit Score Report
Credit scores are an essential component of your financial portfolio. Now Mint offers a new feature that allows you to access your free credit report summary to help you understand what is influencing your credit score so you can learn how to improve it. You’ll be able to find out your credit score for free without ever having to use a credit card.
This new feature is just an extension of Mint’s commitment to giving consumers like you access to critical information that influences your financial health. All you have to do to get your free credit score from Mint is log into your Mint account and get started. With Mint, you can also work toward improving your credit and financing standing overall, create a budget, and stay on top of bills. If you’re not yet a member of Mint, learn more at Mint.com about becoming a member to gain access to all their helpful financial tools today!
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