Randy Hutchinson, Columnist
Published 1:30 p.m. CT July 30, 2020
In recognition of how these troubling times are negatively impacting people’s finances, credit reporting agencies have made a mutual decision to provide free credit reports weekly through April 2021.
Since 2003, you’ve been entitled to get a free copy of your credit report annually from each of the major credit reporting agencies (CRAs) – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. In recognition of how these troubling times are negatively impacting people’s finances, credit reporting agencies have made a mutual decision to provide free credit reports weekly through April 2021.
You can get your free report by visiting the official website AnnualCreditReport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228. Other sites may offer you a free credit report if you sign up for their fee-based credit monitoring service.
Your credit record affects your ability to get a credit card or loan and maybe a job, an apartment or insurance.
The worst time to find out there’s an error in your credit report is when you’re trying to buy a house or a car, so you should take advantage of the free reports. Some experts recommend you pull one from each of the CRAs periodically since the information is largely the same.
COVID-19 makes it even more important for consumers to stay on top of their credit record. Under the CARES Act, people who have lost their jobs or seen their income reduced because of COVID-19 are eligible for forbearance on certain federally-backed mortgage and student loans.
Lenders on other kinds of loans may also offer alternative payment arrangements. In both cases, the loans should be reported as current and affected consumers should pull their credit report to ensure they are. Lenders can still report delinquencies that preceded the COVID-19 forbearance being granted.
There are many COVID-19-related scams, some of which can lead to identity theft. People have been tricked into providing their Social Security number, credit card or bank account number, and other personal information in order to get a stimulus payment, apply for a job, or for some other bogus reason. Data breaches, including recent hacks of state unemployment and Small Business Administration databases, continue to be a significant problem.
It’s important to check your credit report on a regular basis to be sure fraudulent accounts haven’t been opened in your name. Putting a credit freeze on your credit report makes it harder for an identity thief to do so.
You’ll have to lift the freeze temporarily if you want to open a new account, but not to apply for a job, rent an apartment, or buy insurance.
There’s no cost for placing or lifting a freeze and you can still get your free report. You have to contact the CRAs individually to place a credit freeze.
While you can get free copies of your credit reports, there is no free annual credit score. Some companies you do business with may give you free credit scores or they may be included with a paid credit monitoring service. Your credit score is based on the information in your credit report, so if it’s good, your score will be good.
If you think there’s an error in your credit report, notify the CRA and the company furnishing the information in writing. Include any documentation you can to support your position.
They’re required to investigate the entry and remove it if they determine it’s inaccurate. If you’re the victim of identity theft, visit www.identitytheft.gov for instructions on how to resolve the problem.
Randy Hutchinson is head of BBB of the Mid South.
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