One of the most important aspects of financial discipline is to understand your credit history. If you understand what’s on your credit report, you can see what information lenders are using to determine whether or not you qualify for loans. You can also see what they’re using to determine your credit score. Keep reading this blog on how to get your annual credit report for 2020 in free.
Certain items on your credit report may be hurting your credit score. However, it’s possible that those items aren’t supposed to be there. There are laws surrounding what credit bureaus can legally keep on your credit scores. Despite this, mistakes do get made sometimes.
You also may be a victim of fraud, but you might not know it. Some fraudulent items can exist on your credit report and hurt your credit score, even if they’re clearly evidence of identity theft or some other crime.
The good news is, you don’t have to be left in the dark about your credit. The US government guarantees every US citizen the right to a copy of their credit report once every year. Best of all, the US government mandates that the credit bureaus provide this report for free.
So how do you get your free annual credit report for 2020? Let’s discuss.
What Is A Credit Report?
Your credit report is an annotated history of your debts. It’s used by lenders to see your overall credit history.
What Information Does A Credit Report Contain?
Your credit report contains information going back up to 7 years for most things, 10 years for other things, and past that for a select few items like tax liens.
It contains a history of payments made on your debts, including but not limited to: credit cards, car loans, mortgage, student loans, and lines of credit. It also contains a history of balances held on those items.
Your credit report also contains information about past due payments, items in default, items in collections, and bankruptcies. This information is highly useful for lenders and employers who don’t wish to rely on just a credit score.
What Is Your Credit Report Used For?
Items on your credit report are used to calculate your credit score. Your credit score is a three digit number between 300 and 850 that gives lenders a general idea of how creditworthy you are.
However, lenders don’t just want to see your credit score. They also want other info, such as your income, your total debt balances, and your debt payment obligations. Although your income isn’t included in your credit report, the other items are. For this reason, lenders don’t just want to look at the credit score: they want to see the whole picture.
To learn more about your credit score, read our article on the quick & dirty guide to your credit score!
How Do You Get A Free Annual Credit Report for 2020?
It’s very easy to get your free annual credit report for 2020. All you have to do is go to the Free Annual Credit Report website, located at https://annualcreditreport.com. This domain is owned by the US Government, and is the only place that you should go in order to get your free credit report.
To get your free credit report, go to that website and follow the instructions. You can get a credit report from each of the three bureaus, for a total of three credit reports per year.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You can get free weekly credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus until April 2021, for COVID-19 assistance. This way, you can get more than three credit reports this year for free.
How to Remove Hard Inquiries from your Credit Report
Credit inquiries refer to requests made by businesses to check on your credit. They are made to credit bureaus and the record becomes part of your credit report. According to FICO, these inquiries are classified as either hard inquiries or as soft inquiries. Each is different and it affects your creditworthiness differently. Before we look at how to remove hard inquiries from your credit report, let’s understand a few of the terminologies.
Soft inquiries are those made by you when reviewing your own credit. They can also be made by businesses that are on the lookout for new clients. These inquiries do not have an effect on your credit score and as such may not be a cause for concern.
Hard inquiries are inquiries made by lenders or businesses that you give authorization to when applying for new lines of credit. They are listed in your credit report with each appearing as a single inquiry. Inquiries made within a 45-day period are listed as a single inquiry; this usually happens when you are ‘rate shopping.’
Why should you remove hard inquiries from your credit report?
A single hard inquiry may not affect your score if your credit is good. However several inquiries with a short credit record can lower your credit score significantly. This in turn impacts negatively on your creditworthiness.
Removing a hard inquiry can increase your score by up to 5 points. Getting rid of a few of these inquiries can significantly increase your chances of being eligible for a loan and getting one at a good rate.
Removing hard inquiries from your report
Expert Tip: Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act you are within your rights to dispute erroneous hard inquiries made on your credit report.
Credit bureaus are mandated to provide accurate and actionable reports. This means that hard inquiries authorized by you will remain in your report for the natural duration which is 2 years. After this, the hard inquiries will disappear automatically.
That said, some fraudulent and erroneous inquiries can find their way into your report. These items are disputable and form the bulk of hard inquiries that you would wish to be removed from your report. Here are the steps to follow;
Step 1: Check your Credit Report
Start by getting your credit reports from the bureaus. To better identify the erroneous or mysterious hard inquiries, compare reports from the three major bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Identify the inquiries from credit grantors that you do not recognize.
Step 2: Get Information on the Creditors
Using the credit report provided by the bureaus find the addresses of each creditor whose inquiry you dispute. Of the three major bureaus, Experian lists these addresses. For the others, you need to match the creditors’ addresses with the Experian report or get the info from official websites. You can also go the long way and call the 800 phone directory and ask for the creditors’ address or an official number and inquire from them directly.
Step 3: Write a Letter to the Creditors
Armed with the addresses of each creditor, write a letter notifying them of the disputed inquiries. The letter should include any documentation that supports your claims. These can be payment records that contradict the items in dispute. Request them to contact the reporting bureau that they gave the information to and have them remove the items from your records.
Step 4: Write a letter to the Credit Bureau
Write a letter to the credit bureau whose report you dispute. Clearly identify and circle the items in a copy of the credit report. The reporting bureau will carry out investigations to ascertain your claims. They will do so by collaborating with the information provider to weed out the errors. This should be completed within 30 days, after which they are supposed to remove the items in question. The removal will depend on whether your claims are found to be true, if not the items will remain in your report.
The above steps give you a 2-pronged approach to having hard inquiries removed from your credit report. One is by requesting (in writing) the company whose inquiry you dispute, to contact the credit reporting agencies and notify them of the mistake. The other is by writing to the credit bureaus and having them investigate the inquiries in question; both of which are within your rights.
Top 5 Ways You Could Become a Victim of Identity Fraud
Identity theft happens when an individual or group of individuals takes personally identifiable information like names, date of birth, social security number, your address, and your mother’s maiden name among others. Once they have this information, they will pretend to be you and use it for their own financial gain without your knowledge.
The recent technological advancements have made it easy for your identity to be stolen. Individuals interested in your personally identifiable information will either use technological and non-technological schemes. Below are the top 5 ways you could become a victim of identity fraud.
Data breaches are one of the most common sources of stolen identity information, but we’ve written an entire article on data breaches here.
Social engineering when an individual or groups of individuals decide to make use of malicious activities to manipulate one psychologically and convince him to reveal personal information. The individual will, first of all, investigate the victim to gather as much information as they can. This information will allow him to identify any weak spots and any other areas that can be capitalized on to gain the trust of the victim. To convince the victim of their legitimacy, the perpetrator will take charge of the interactions and engage the victim fully. Once the victim believes they are legitimate, the perpetrator then proceeds to ask for more information that is then used to carry out identity fraud.
To avoid being a victim of social engineering, ensure that you stay diligent at all times and follow these tips:
- Don’t open emails or attachments from unknown sources.
- Be cautious of enticing offers that appear too good to be true
- Use multifactor authentication
- Ensure your antivirus is updated
Credit card/debit card theft
Credit cards and debit cards have personal information that can easily be used to commit identity fraud should they land in the wrong hands. One can easily open a bank account or acquire another credit card using those details. The new cards can then be used to make payments and rack up charges.
Protect yourself using these tips:
- Write the initials CID “See ID” in the signature panel at the back of the card. This will require merchants to ask for other forms of ID before authorizing charges.
- Keep your card in plain sight every time you make a payment
- Learn how to identify genuine and secure sites before using your card on any site.
- Don’t give card details via phone
Man in the middle attack
This type of attack occurs when an attacker intercepts communication between two parties by eavesdropping or modifying the traffic between the two. The attacker is then able to gather sensitive information such as passwords and usernames or personally identifiable information.
A man in the middle attack allows the attacker to interfere with the communication process or create a fake network to divert traffic to. The data collected is then checked for any valuable information that can be used to steal your identity. This is a difficult attack to detect since it’s carried out discreetly.
Use these tips to detect any man in the middle attack:
- Regularly check your credit card reports to find out any strange transactions and charges
- Always check the legitimacy of all websites you visit, especially those you fill in personal information.
A phishing attack is carried out when an attacker sends misleading emails to potential victims in an attempt to trick the victim into giving out personal information. The attacker will pretend to be a genuine person or institution seeking help or wants to do business with the individual. Even though it’s one of the oldest cyber-attack methods, it’s still one of the widest spread and the techniques and messages have become more sophisticated. Examples of phishing schemes:
Vishing, also known as voice phishing. This attack is carried out when instead of sending an email, the attacker calls the victim and pretends to be working for or representing a legitimate company or person. The main purpose of the attack is to get the victim to reveal as much personal information as possible. In some cases, the victim will receive a robocall informing him that he has won something is therefore required to provide personal information before it’s delivered.
Search engine phishing
The attacker creates a website that has extremely unbelievable offers. The website will be indexed into search engines like Google and yahoo making it easy for them to show up in search results. Anyone who visits the site is rewarded with incentives and convinced to provide personal information if they want to enjoy the offer.
The attacker will pretend to be a legitimate entity and send spam text messages to victims. The messages appear to be urgent and make the recipient feel like if they fail to take action by providing the required information, they’ll suffer losses.
Malware based phishing
The attacker comes up with a malicious program that’s meant to look like a genuine program. The program records everything you do on your computer and sends this information to the attacker.
Use these tips to protect yourself from phishing attacks:
- Be careful about downloading and installing any software
- Don’t dial back unknown numbers
- Research all companies that contact you
- Check the padlock symbol on websites in the address bar
Stealing of personally items/ dumpster diving/mail theft
The attacker can go through your trash in an attempt to get anything that contains personally identifiable information that can be used to steal the individual’s identity. In some cases, an individual’s mail or personal items can be stolen. Depending on what has been stolen, the attacker can use the details gained to steal the person’s identity.
Use these tips to protect yourself:
- Lock your mailbox
- Shred everything in a manner that will make it impossible to read anything.
- Contact the credit card company immediately if it’s stolen.
Learn more about protecting your credit from credit fraud!
Simple Ways To Improve Your Credit Score Before Buying A House
Making just about any big purchase today requires a check on your credit score, including buying a car, taking out student loans, renting an apartment, and obviously, getting a credit card. Considering just how many different things require your credit score, it shouldn’t be any surprise that many things can also affect it. Sometimes credit scores can get hit hard and require deliberate efforts to repair. What about if you’re planning on making a purchase as large as buying a home, how can you get your credit score high enough to qualify for a mortgage? Below are a few of many tricks that some Americans use to boost their credit score as simply and quickly as possible.
Know Your Credit Card Reporting Dat
Every credit card company will send a monthly report of the balances on every credit card they have issued. These dates vary from company to company and are often on a specific day of the month that doesn’t necessarily coincide with the end of the month. Getting in contact with your credit card company and asking them what day they send their monthly report will give you a perfect timeframe to know when to aim for a payment on your credit card. Of course, it would be even better if you were able to pay the credit card off in full before this date.
For the best results, you want to aim for a credit utilization ratio of less than 10% across all your credit cards, but less than 30% will still give you a positive statement on your credit history. Calculating your credit utilization ratio is rather simple; you take the balance and divide it by the credit limit, then multiply the result by 100. (i.e. $1,500 balance on a limit of $5,000 will give a utilization ratio of 30%) For multiple cards, simply add all the balances together and divide that by the added total credit limits.
Raise Your Credit Limit
If you are having trouble keeping your credit utilization under the 30% or 10% in order to improve your score, consider asking for a raise on your credit limit. This way, you won’t have to balance payments and purchases strictly in order to keep your credit utilization ratio lower. Take the same credit card as above with a $5,000 limit; if the limit was raised to $10,000 and you didn’t change your spending habits, you would still have a $1,500 balance. This would give you a utilization ratio of only 15% versus the 30% it had been.
Do some research before pursuing this avenue, as applying for a raised credit limit will give your credit score a “hard” check, which will penalize your credit score for up to a year. If your application is accepted, however, then the long-term payoff will certainly be worth the short-term hit to your credit score.
Diversify Your Credit
Spreading your credit out across multiple different accounts may seem like a catch-22, if spreading your credit out too much is what gets some people in trouble with their credit score. However, most lenders are more interested in approving new loan applications or credit limit applications if they see that you have a variety of accounts in your credit report, as long as they are all kept up-to-date on their payments. Such variety comes in the form of multiple credit card accounts and installment loans like auto loans, student loans, and, yes, even mortgages. Not only does having multiple accounts on your credit report help to diversify your report, it can also help to build your credit history since installment loans typically span years.
Wait To Apply For Loans
If you’re looking to raise your credit score in order to qualify for a mortgage, then wait to apply for the mortgage. As mentioned earlier, applying for more credit, which includes a mortgage, will give your credit score a “hard” check, which will hurt your credit score. Applying for loans, credit limit raises, and new credit cards all within a short time frame will definitely hit your credit score and can make each subsequent credit increase have a worse interest rate or even cause you to get rejected from some of the applications.
The lowest credit score that you will want to aim for is 580, unless you are applying for a VA-backed loan, which is specifically for eligible veterans and their dependents, and do not have a minimum credit score requirement set by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Non-veterans should look at FHA loans, which have approvals as low as 580, but a score of 620 or higher will help you get better interest rates. Until your credit score is at least at the lower limit, it’s best to hold off applying for that home loan just yet.
Monitor Your Credit Score
Lastly, and most importantly, make sure you’re aware of your current credit score and all your current credit accounts. Sign up for credit reporting services, either through your credit card company, bank, or a third-party credit-monitoring software. Be careful of where you choose to monitor your credit, because some avenues of checking your credit will actually count against your credit score if you check it too frequently. This can also help to keep you familiar with your payment history and keep you on your toes to help save you from missing a payment. Lastly, checking your credit score history can alert you to errors in your credit report, or alert you to a situation where someone may have fraudulently opened credit cards or took out loans in your name.
Hopefully these tips will give you the game plan you need to boost your credit and apply for the mortgage to buy the home of your dreams. Fixing your credit score isn’t a quick process and it can become very complicated in certain situations. Consulting with professionals about your credit report and setting up a personal game plan is the best way to boost your credit score.
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