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Good credit – I want that!

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Did you know that there are now dating websites where potential partners provide their credit score for you to check out? People know it’s important to have good credit. But, there’s still a lot of confusion about how to actually build and keep a good credit report.

First of all, what is a credit report?

In a nutshell, it’s a report that looks at some of your bill-paying history, your applications for credit, and public-record information about you like bankruptcies, liens, and foreclosures.

Credit-reporting companies (the big three are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) collect this information, organize it into reports, and sell the reports to businesses so they can make decisions about whether to lend to you, and at what rate. Businesses believe that how you’ve handled credit in the past predicts how you will handle credit in the future – and how risky it would be to take you on as a customer.

Based on your credit reports, you will be given a credit score by the credit-reporting companies. You don’t just have one credit score – each company does their own. And there can be other scores, too; the ones businesses use most are calculated for each of your credit reports using formulas from the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO.) Lenders use these scores as a quick and convenient way to decide whether or not to do business with you, or on what terms. A low credit score can lead to things like your being turned down when you want to rent an apartment, paying a bigger deposit for a cell phone contract, or being charged a higher rate of interest for a car loan or credit card.

Don’t forget that credit reports are also sometimes used by employers to decide whether or not they want to hire you. And, the military looks at credit reports when deciding if you’re eligible to get or keep a security clearance.

So, what builds good credit?

  • Pay your bills on time, every time. An automatic payment from your bank can be a good way to do that, but make sure you keep an eye on your balance so you always have enough in your account to cover the payment. You don’t want it to bounce.
  • Don’t get too close to your credit limit. Credit scoring models look at how close you are to being “maxed out” on credit cards. If you use too much of your total credit lines, say by carrying big balances, you can hurt your credit score. Experts advise keeping your use of credit at no more than 30% of your total credit limit – some even say you should keep it at less than 10%.
  • Don’t apply for too much credit in a short time. Your credit score may go down if you apply for or open a lot of new accounts in a short time. Buying something and want the discount that comes with opening a new store card? Transferring balances from an old card to a new one? Do that very often and it will show up on your credit report as lots of new credit accounts, which is likely to hurt your credit score.
  • The more extensive your credit history, the better. Credit scores are partly based on experience over time. The more evidence you have on how you get and pay for credit, the more information there is to determine whether you are a good credit risk.

Here are some more ideas:

  • Buying things with a debit card or cash will not build your credit score. Some people are afraid of getting into trouble with credit cards, so they vow never to have one. The problem is, buying things with cash or using a debit card doesn’t establish a credit repayment history that will be reported to a credit-reporting company. So when you do need a loan for a big-ticket item like a car or home, you won’t have the credit file to make a lender willing to take a chance on you.
  • Pay with a credit card to build credit but try not to carry a balance and make sure you pay your bill on time. You’ll build credit by using your credit card even if you pay off your balances in full each month. And, you’ll avoid finance charges since these only kick in when you carry over a balance from month to month, which is what happens when you pay only the minimum amount due or any other amount less than the full balance owed each month.
  • If you can’t qualify for a regular credit card, a “secured card account” that you put a deposit on can build credit, too. You can get a secured card from many banks or credit unions. With most of these cards your credit line starts out small, but as you demonstrate reliable payments, most companies will extend you more credit and eventually refund your deposit. Secured cards can be expensive and often come with a number of different fees, though, so before you resort to a secured card consider applying to see if you can be approved for a regular credit card with attractive features and pricing.
  • File an “active-duty alert” with the credit-reporting companies before you go on deployment. This makes businesses verify your identity before they issue credit in your name and should help protect you from identity theft. If you want to go even farther, you can freeze your credit. A freeze prevents prospective creditors from accessing your credit file at all, which will keep any new accounts from being opened in your name. There may be a small charge to set up a freeze, unless you are a victim of identity theft. If you decide to freeze your credit, you’ll have to set up the freezes separately with each of the three big credit-reporting companies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.
  • Keep an eye on your credit reports. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting companies every year at www.annualcreditreport.com. There’s a chance you may find incorrect information that is bringing your score down. If you do, file a dispute with the credit-reporting company.

For more information about credit reports and credit scores visit Ask CFPB at www.consumerfinance.gov/askcfpb.

Is your credit report wrong? How to find out and fix it

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The Federal Trade Commission this week released its latest findings in a ten-year study on the accuracy of credit reports. This report is another reminder of how important it is to review your credit report for inaccuracies.

What does this mean to you?

You can check your three credit reports for free once every 12 months at annualcreditreport.com. Dispute any errors, and contact the company that reported the incorrect information to correct it.

For example, if your credit report says that you are 30 days behind on a payment to Bank ZYX, but you’re not actually behind, dispute the error with the credit bureau and also by contacting Bank ZYX directly.

If that doesn’t work, file a complaint with us. You’ll get a confirmation number immediately, email updates along the way, and be able to check the progress online.

What’s in a credit score?

The information in your credit report is used to make a credit score, which translates this great mass of information into a single number that essentially indicates the expected likelihood of repaying a loan on time. Generally, the lower the score, the lower the likelihood you’ll repay a loan on time, compared to other consumers.

How are credit reports used?

Credit reports are used in a wide range of situations – including decisions about whether you can rent a home, and in some states, how much you pay for auto and homeowners’ insurance. Sometimes they’re even used in hiring decisions. Banks, landlords, cell phone providers, and many kinds of other companies rely on the accuracy of this information to make decisions.

What happens if there’s a mistake on my credit report?

A mistake in your credit report can cost you because it can stop you from getting the best rate you’re eligible for any time you borrow money. If there are mistakes on your credit report that make you look bad, then you could be paying more than you should be every month.

Do you have more questions about credit reports and scores or other financial questions? Ask CFPB.

You have a right to see specialty consumer reports too

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You have the right to know what nationwide specialty consumer reporting companies are saying about you. And you’re entitled to one free report each year, just like with the traditional nationwide consumer reporting companies – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. What’s more, nationwide specialty consumer reporting companies have to make it easy for you to get a copy of any file they keep on you – at a minimum, by providing a toll-free number for you to call and order your report. This is an important right, because if you don’t know what’s in those files, you can’t dispute any inaccuracies.

In addition to your free annual report, if you received a notice that you were denied credit, insurance, or employment or experienced another so-called “adverse action” based on a consumer report, you have a right to another free report from the consumer reporting company identified in the notice. To get the additional free report you must request it within 60 days after you receive the notice. Other types of “adverse action” notices you might receive include notice of an unfavorable change in the terms or amount of your credit or insurance coverage, or unfavorable changes in the terms of your employment or of a license or other government benefit.

That’s exactly what we said to nationwide specialty consumer reporting companies in a bulletin we sent out today. Under federal law, they must give you an easy way to get a free copy of your report every 12 months.

So what exactly are nationwide specialty consumer reporting companies and how do they affect you?

These are companies that collect information on a nationwide basis about medical records or payments, residential or tenant history, check-writing history, employment history, or insurance claims. Like the three largest nationwide consumer reporting companies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), they gather and report information about you to creditors, landlords, insurance companies, employers, and others.

You can order reports – including your annual free reports – from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion at annualcreditreport.com – and we recommend that you check your report with each company at least once per year. But you will have to order the specialty consumer reports individually from each reporting company.

To help you access specialty and other consumer reports, we created a list of approximately 40 companies, with the companies’ websites and toll-free telephone numbers. The type of information collected may vary by the company and its specialty industry.

The list includes both the three largest nationwide consumer reporting companies and a longer list of other companies that have identified themselves as consumer reporting companies or provide consumers access to their consumer reports. Not all companies are required to provide a free copy of your annual report, although under federal law all consumer reporting companies must provide you with a copy of your report for a reasonable fee. Please consult the list for further details.

You may not need to check with every single specialty company on the list. Different companies collect information about different things: your medical records or payments, residential or tenant history, check-writing history, employment history, or insurance claims. Many may not even have any information about you. But you may want to check with some or all of these companies:

  • If you were a victim of identity theft or think someone may have fraudulently cashed checks using your bank account.
  • Before applying for insurance.
  • Before applying for a lease.
  • If you’ve applied for a new job and your potential new employer asks for your written authorization to get a report.

Tip: Look for and fix mistakes. Errors in your consumer reports, or fraud caused by identity theft, can make borrowing more expensive, or prevent you from getting credit, insurance, a lease, or a new job.

You’ll also want to make sure the information is up to date.

SUBMIT A COMPLAINT

You can now submit complaints about consumer reporting agencies to us.
If you believe that there’s incorrect information on your consumer report, start by filing a dispute with the consumer reporting company and getting a response directly from the credit reporting company itself. You can also file a dispute with the company that furnished the information to the consumer reporting company.

After you file a complaint with the consumer reporting company, if you are dissatisfied with the resolution, file a complaint with us.

RELATED RESOURCES

Check your credit report at least once a year.

Ask CFPB for more information about credit reports and credit reporting companies.

So how many consumer reporting companies are there?

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You may know about the three biggest nationwide credit reporting companies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. But did you know that there are other companies out there that may be providing reports on you that could be used to decide if you’re eligible for consumer financial, insurance, medical and other products?

Today the CFPB is posting a list of consumer reporting companies – companies that collect information and write reports that could be used to decide if you will be able to get credit, insurance, or a job. This list doesn’t cover every company in the industry. It’s a list of companies that have identified themselves as consumer reporting companies or provide consumers access to their consumer reports. (1) The list includes both the biggest nationwide credit reporting companies and a longer list of “specialty reporting companies.”

Specialty reporting companies focus on certain industries. Just like the three biggest nationwide credit reporting companies, specialty reporting companies collect and share information with creditors and other businesses. There are a lot of these companies on the list, so we’re also trying to give tips on which of them may be important to you. The list also has information about how you can get copies of your reports (see below).

More info

Today, we’re issuing a Consumer Advisory about credit reporting. And we added information on consumer reporting companies to Ask CFPB. We want to help you learn more about what goes into your credit reports, how you can get free copies, and how to fix any errors you might find.

So we encourage you to take a look at the list of companies and think about which ones might be reporting on you. It’s important to ask for your report from those companies so you can correct any mistakes or see whether anyone’s been trying to hijack your identity. For example, if you’re going to rent a new apartment or home, ask the landlord what tenant background company they use, if any.

You can access the list here. Keep the following in mind:

  • You should check your reports from at least Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion every year, which you can do for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.
  • The list includes information on companies that will provide free reports.
    • Just like the biggest credit reporting companies, there are nationwide specialty reporting companies, and they have to give you one free report every 12 months, upon request.
    • Additionally, consumer reporting companies will provide a free report if an adverse action has been taken against you based on information in your report or under other specific circumstances.
  • You may not need to check with every single specialty company on the list. Many may not even have any information about you. But you may want to check with some or all of these companies:
    • If you were a victim of identity theft or think someone may have fraudulently cashed checks under your bank account;
    • Before applying for insurance;
    • Before applying for a lease;
    • If you’ve applied for a new job and your potential new employer asks for your written authorization to get a report.
    • The type of information collected may vary by the company and its specialty industry.
  • You have to request the reports individually from each reporting company. Different companies collect information about different things: your medical records or payments, residential or tenant history, check-writing history, employment history, or insurance claims.

You’re welcome to read through the entire list top-to-bottom. We’ve also arranged it by specialty, and you can follow links from the first page to the appropriate section of the list. The list covers the following specialties:

  • Nationwide Credit-Reporting Companies
  • Specialty Reporting Companies:
    • Check screening and check history
    • Payday lending reports
    • Auto and property insurance history
    • Alternative/supplementary credit reports
    • Utilities
    • Gaming
    • Rental history
    • Medical
    • Employment/background

If you have information about this list that you’d like to share with us – for example, if you work for a specialty reporting company that’s not on this list and should be – please email us at info@consumerfinance.gov. For tips on keeping a good credit score and managing credit, explore Ask CFPB and the CFPB’s blog.

1. This list includes entities that have identified themselves as consumer reporting companies or particular types of consumer reporting companies or have indicated when they provide consumers access to their consumer reports. The list incorporates information from the companies’ own self-descriptions that has not been independently verified by the Bureau. It is not intended by the Bureau to be an all-inclusive list, nor does it reflect any determinations by the Bureau as to whether any particular entity is or is not subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act or any part thereof or complying with it. Furthermore, presence on or absence from the list does not indicate whether the consumer reporting company is subject to the CFPB’s supervisory authority.

Live from Detroit, MI!

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For the first time, consumer reporting agencies will be subject to a federal supervision program. Earlier today, we held a field hearing today in Detroit for the announcement with remarks from Richard Cordray, CFPB Director, as well as testimony from consumer groups, academics, industry representatives, and members of the public. Director Cordray said:

[The credit reporting] system must merit our trust and confidence for the credit markets to be perceived as fair. We all share in this responsibility. But the credit reporting market is not one where consumers can shop around among different providers, for people have no choice about whether to have any of the credit reporting companies keep track of their credit history. That is why the Consumer Bureau’s new authority is so important, and why it must be exercised carefully and effectively.

Archived footage is available below. You can also read Director Cordray’s full remarks right now.

More on credit reporting

See the rule that establishes our consumer reporting supervision authority.
Read a consumer advisory on checking your credit score.
Find a credit reporting company that specializes in a particular area like medical history, employment history, etc.
Tell us your story about credit reporting.
Tweeting about the event our our announcement? Use #CreditReporting.

Video coverage of today’s event

Save the date, Detroit, Michigan!

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We invite you to participate in a field hearing in Detroit, Michigan on credit reporting.

The field hearing will take place on Monday, July 16, 2012, at 11:00 am in the Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan.

The field hearing will feature remarks from Richard Cordray, CFPB Director as well as testimony from consumer groups, academics, industry representatives, and members of the public.

This event is open to the public and requires an RSVP. To RSVP, email your full name and your organizational affiliation (if any) to cfpb.events@cfpb.gov.