We are busy people in these busy times, so the last thing any of us want or need is one more thing to do. But there are some things that simply cannot be sacrificed, and checking your credit reports is among them. Yes, it takes time and effort, but it’s minuscule compared to the time and money it could cost you allowing fraudulent activity and/or negative listings to accumulate unchecked on your credit reports. Just consider these worst-case scenarios.
If you don’t check your credit reports, you may not discover you are a victim of fraud.
If and when thieves steal your identity, they may use your personal information to open credit lines in your name. These accounts will appear on your credit reports, which isn’t the worst of it. If they max out the balance, your credit utilization ratio suffers. If they make late payments, or the account is sent to collections or charged off, your credit score takes a huge hit. Your credit also gets points against it for every inquiry made to your credit, for every credit application submitted by the identity thief.
If you don’t check your credit reports, you may not discover erroneous negative listings.
Credit bureaus are not infallible. Quite the opposite, in fact. Consumers discover errors on their credit reports all the time. It may show late payments on an account you’ve always paid on time. It may show a high balance on an account you’ve paid down to zero. It may show an account in collections that you have since paid off. Your credit score takes a big hit under any one of these circumstances.
If you don’t check your credit reports, you may not discover negative listings that are disputable.
If you have negative listings on your credit report, you have the legal right to dispute their legitimacy, erroneous or not. This is an especially effective strategy for old debt that has been sold from the original credit to a collection agency. Rarely do the necessary documents of proof get included with the sale. And if they cannot prove you owe the debt, then you are not legally obligated to pay it. Not only that, but the negative listing must be removed from your reports.
If you haven’t checked your credit reports in more than a year, do it now.
You are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Be sure to get a copy from all three, as what gets reported to one may not get reported to another.
Once you have your credit reports in front of you, here is what you need to look for:
- Fraudulent credit activity. If discovered, contact the credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on your reports. Then, contact the creditor’s fraud department to notify them of the situation and close the account. File a report with your local police. And, finally, file a complaint with the FTC.
- Erroneous listings. Write letters of dispute to the credit bureaus that reporting the erroneous listings. They then have 30 to 45 days to respond. If they are unable to find and provide proof of the negative listing, it must be removed from your reports.
- Negative listings. Whether they are accurate or not, you have the legal right to dispute any negative listing on your credit report. Again, if the credit bureaus cannot find and provide proof of a debt, or any negative listing associated with it, said listing must be removed from your report. And, if the debt itself is in question, and unproven, you are not legally required to pay it.
You can request your free annual credit reports from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax through AnnualCreditReport.com.