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Consumer Protection Topics - Credit Reports

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Credit Reports Basics

A credit report is a detailed record of how you've managed your credit over time. Credit reports are used most often by lenders to determine whether to provide you with credit and how much you will pay for it. Credit reports are also used by insurance companies, employers, and landlords.

Your credit score is a number that is developed by a computer model based exclusively on the information in your credit report, and it is intended to predict, for example, how likely you are to repay your debts. For most major scoring models, whether you repay loans as agreed (on time) is generally the most significant factor influencing your score. Another key component of your credit score is how much you currently owe on each account compared to its original loan amount or credit limit. Additional factors include how long you have had your current loans and credit cards, the types of credit accounts you have, and how many recent "credit inquiries" you have.

You can request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — once every 12 months, as well as under certain other circumstances, such as if you've been denied credit or employment based on your credit report or if you believe you may be a fraud victim.

To order your free annual report from any of the three major credit bureaus, there is only one place to go: www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228. Remember to review each report carefully, as the information in your file at each bureau may vary. And, if you receive a notice that a lender or another entity used a credit report from a company other than one of these three credit bureaus, request your free copy from that bureau, too.

If you are interested in knowing your credit score, you can order one for a small fee from a number of outlets, most of them accessible online. When doing so, though, think carefully before signing up for a subscription to additional services, which can be costly. If a lender uses a credit score to help set material terms (such as the interest rate) on your loan or credit card, the lender, in most cases, must inform you of the score and related information free of charge.

Consumer Protections Available

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) promotes the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of information maintained by credit bureaus. Consumer protections under the FCRA include:

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