Free credit reports amid coronavirus: Here’s why that's important
The three major credit bureaus are allowing Americans to check their credit reports free every week so they can monitor their financial health during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion reports are now available at AnnualCreditReport.com, the credit bureaus announced. Consumers were previously entitled to one free report a year from Experian and TransUnion. Following its major data breach in September 2017, Equifax offered six of its reports free every year through 2026.
The move comes after 22 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits and others face different money hardships and the subsequent business shutdowns to control the outbreak.
“I'm of the school that more access is always better than less access,” John Ulzheimer, a credit expert who formerly worked at Equifax and FICO, told Cashay.
“This move by the credit bureaus is a great idea because we really should be checking our credit reports once every statement cycle, which is basically once a month,” he added. “This gives us the flexibility to check it almost as often as needed to best manage our credit reports.”
How to use these free reports
Credit reports are a record of your credit cards and loans and the payment history on those accounts. The information in the reports are used to calculate your credit score, a three-digit number lenders use to determine how likely you will repay a newly issued debt.
Here’s how to approach these reports:
Look for errors: Make sure each account listed is correctly updated and in a timely manner, according to Ulzheimer. This will be easier to do because of the expanded access to free reporting. Often, people have to pay for credit monitoring services to get unlimited access to their credit reports.
If you find an error, each bureau provides a way to dispute it online:
“All errors are worth disputing,” Ulzheimer said. “Some are cosmetic so they won't result in a better score, but I like the idea of having fully accurate credit reports even if it means correcting an address or the spelling of a former name.”
Look for red flags: If you don’t recognize an account on your credit report, that could be a sign of fraud. Criminals can use your personal information to open a new credit card or loan in your name. They will use the funds, but not pay back what they borrowed, leaving you on the hook.
If you see a suspicious account, call the lender that issued the credit and ask for a fraud specialist. Keep detailed information on when you called, who you spoke to (including name and employee identity number, and a direct phone number where you can reach that specialist again.
Put a fraud alert on all three of your credit reports and consider freezing your credit until the investigation is complete to thwart future attempts to create new accounts in your name.
You may also want to file a fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and contact your local law enforcement for help.
Look for bad reporting: During this time, many lenders are offering different hardship plans and forbearance programs for Americans affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Thanks to the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, the CARES Act, these lenders must report that you are current on your debt payments if you and the lender have agreed to some kind of relief.
Contact your lender if it’s not reporting correctly under the act. If that doesn’t work, reach out to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to file a complaint.
Janna is an editor for Cashay and Yahoo Money. Follow her on Twitter @JannaHerron.
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