Protecting Your Identity: Credit Reports and Credit Freezes

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Protecting Your Identity: Credit Reports and Credit Freezes

If you plan on applying for a new job or applying for a credit card, car or home loan, you may want to check your credit report first. Establishing good credit or bad credit takes time, as does fixing errors that appear on your report. Discovering these problems while sitting in your bank’s loan office is less than ideal.

Employers and potential creditors look at your credit report as an indication of your character and creditworthiness for short and long-term loans such as a credit card, car loan or home loan. Even if you think you have good credit, periodically check the facts on your credit report anyway. Your credit report will outline your full credit history. And it can help you verify you have not been the victim of identity theft.

How Can I Look At My Credit Report?
An amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Fair and Accurate Transfers Act (FACT) requires each of the three consumer reporting agencies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once a year. To get a complete look at your credit report card, you’ll need to request a copy from each one: Equifax (http://www.equifax.com/home/en_us), TransUnion (https://www.transunion.com/), and Experian (http://www.experian.com/).

To request your free credit reports, visit the central source for credit reporting at www.annualcreditreport.com. From that site, you can view a copy of your credit report from one or all of the bureaus. Or call toll-free at 1-877-FACT-ACT to request your free annual disclosure from the agencies. Your report will be mailed to you within 15 days.

For verification purposes, you will be asked a series of security questions, such as how much your mortgage payment is each month, what county you live in and the make and model of your car.

Beware of bogus credit companies claiming to offer free credit reports. Entering the wrong web address may land you at a bogus site claiming so-called free credit reports. These may be a trap to gather your personal information. Remember, there are only three official credit reporting agencies, so double-check before disclosing sensitive information.

Each of the credit bureaus will try to sell you a detailed report. Some offer credit reporting packages for as little as $5.95 or as much as $68.70. You do not need to purchase these products. Proceed carefully on the websites, and click only on the free credit report offer.

We suggest staggering your reports so you check your credit 3 times a year (and 3 checks for your spouse):

In January, order a credit report from Equifax In March, your spouse orders a credit report from Experian
In May, order a credit report from TransUnion In July, your spouse orders a credit report from Equifax
In September, order a credit report from Experian In November, your spouse orders a credit report from TransUnion


Is there a way I can lock down my credit completely?

You can place a complete credit security freeze on your credit record. A credit freeze does everything a fraud alert does and more. First, it is permanent, not just for 90 days. Second, it prevents lenders from accessing your credit report entirely unless you specifically grant them access. This strategy prevents identity thieves from getting new credit in your name even if they have every bit of your personal information.

In some states, each credit bureau is allowed to charge a onetime $10 fee. If you have already been the victim of identity theft, the charge is waived. And some states do not allow agencies to charge for placing a security freeze. We recommend a credit freeze for people who have already established the credit they need. A freeze both reduces the frenzied marketing of additional credit opportunities and the potential harm of compromised personal information.

After a few minutes of effort and $30 in payments, your credit should be locked for life. Couples should lock down the credit file of each spouse. Here is how to accomplish securing your credit at each bureau:

-At Experian (888-397-3742), go to http://www.experian.com/consumer/security_freeze.html

-At TransUnion (888-909-8872), go to
http://www.transunion.com/personal-credit/credit-disputes/credit-freezes.page

-At Equifax (1-888-766-0008), you can put a lock on your credit by visiting https://www.freeze.equifax.com

The process is not standardized across the three credit bureaus. Each uses a different method. But with a little effort, your credit will be safe and secure.

Can I lift the credit freeze later if necessary?
Each bureau will give you a personal identification number (PIN). They are likely to be all different. Do not lose these. Trying to get a security freeze lifted when you have forgotten the PIN necessary to change your credit security is a catch-22 you don’t want to experience.

If you do apply for additional credit, you will have to remove the freeze temporarily.

If you plan on applying for additional credit cards or a new cable package, a credit freeze may not be advisable. Those promotions linked to new credit card applications will no longer flood your mailbox. But those deals are never a way to build real wealth anyway. Get the few credit cards you need, and don’t let any promotional offers suck you in.

Follow Austin Fey:

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Austin Fey is a Wealth Manager at Marotta Wealth Management, specializing in charitable giving and asset allocations. She is a regular contributor to our Marotta On Money articles, often giving advice to those just getting started in finance.

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David John Marotta is the Founder and President of Marotta Wealth Management. He played for the State Department chess team at age 11, graduated from Stanford, taught Computer and Information Science, and still loves math and strategy games. Favorite number: e (2.7182818...)