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Retrieve a Copy of Your Credit Report

A recent amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) allows consumers to request a free credit report once every 12 months. For more information, visit:

https://www.annualcreditreport.com

You are also entitled to a free copy of your credit report if you've been denied credit, insurance or employment and request the report within 60 days of notice. Additionally, you may be eligible to receive a copy free of charge if you can prove that (1) you're unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days, (2) you are on welfare, or (3) your report is inaccurate because of fraud.

Also, many companies on the Internet offer free credit reports, then charge you fees to receive it annually. Keeping track of your credit is crucial, and worth the expense.

The three major credit reporting agencies are:

What's in your report?

If something does not look right to you, call the companies listed and explain anything that you do not understand. Late payments, in particular, are noted. If a payment is 30 days late, it would accumulate a late charge and interest fees, but would not be reported on your credit report until it hit 30 days past due.

Lenders scrutinize credit reports. If there is something that does not look good to them, it's easier to deny your application all together than call for an explanation.

Checking your report

Sometimes old notices that have been rectified remain on your report. Bankruptcies should be removed after 10 years; other negative marks after seven. Information concerning a lawsuit or a judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer.

If you find false information, the credit reporting company has to support the information it has. If it cannot, it is obliged to remove it. If the support is not true, contact the company which made the claim. Send copies of any documents supporting your position, and request that the corrected information be sent to the credit bureaus reported to.

If there is still a dispute over the accuracy of the item, you have the right to include a 100-word statement explaining your version of the disputed item that will be included in future reports.

What's in your credit score?

Credit "scoring" is used by creditors to determine your creditworthiness. A statistical program tabulates your credit score based on the information contained in your credit report. This score serves as a snapshot of your financial picture at any given time. Go to myfico.com to see how a credit score is calculated and about how to improve your score.

Estimate your credit score

Want a quick idea of how lenders are likely to rate your credit? The FICO Score Estimator, created by the inventor of the FICO score -- Fair Isaac -- will evaluate the information you provide and estimate your credit score range based on that information. 

The impact of student loans on your FICO score

If you are interested in learning more about how student loans affect your FICO score, please click here. The impact of installment loans, lender type and deferment is discussed in detail.

Need advice on protecting your FICO score while student loan shopping? Click here for more information.

How to protect your credit from identity theft

Identity theft is the deliberate and unauthorized assumption of another person's identity to commit a crime. Victims of identity theft suffer damage to their credit ratings that would adversely affect their ability to open future lines of credit, such as mortgages, car loans and some education loans. To find more information on how to protect yourself from identity theft, please visit the Office of Inspector General's MISUSED website.