It’s time to take action! Step one on the road to repair is getting all 3 credit reports.
The good news? Its easy to get started. I will outline the steps you need to take below and soon you will be underway on your journey.
Fear of the unknown is what kept me from credit repair for many years. In fact, it was the main hurdle. It’s time to look behind the curtain and conquer that fear.
Don’t worry about that stack of unopened mail laughing at you from across the room. We’ll deal with that later. Credit Repair Judo is about going with the flow and using the available tools to your advantage. Let’s start with the easy, but very important first step of getting credit reports from all three of the credit reporting companies.
Why are we getting reports and not scores? Is there a difference? Keep reading to find out.
Know the Difference Between Credit Report and Credit Score
Your credit report includes information about you collected by the credit reporting companies. Some of this information is basic, like where you live. But it also includes information on how much debt you have, whether you pay your bills on time, and whether you have ever been sued or filed bankruptcy. It lists all of your creditors and how much you owe. It also records when someone has checked your credit.
Your credit score is the credit reporting company’s interpretation of that information. These companies use the hard facts in the credit report to come up with your credit score. While similar, each company uses a different formula in coming up with a final number. Sometimes, one company will have information that the others do not. Therefore, you will likely have a different score with each of the three major companies.
Credit bureaus collect this information on you in order to sell it to their customers. These are lenders, insurance companies, employers, and other businesses.
Your legal right to a free copy of your credit report every year applies only to your credit report, not your credit score. There are ways to get your credit score for free that I can show you, but for now we will focus on getting all 3 credit reports.
Right to Free Credit Report by Law
Federal law entitles you to a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months. This applies to each of the three major credit agencies. The Fair Credit Reporting Act is the law that provides this right. It is also full of other rights related to you and your credit. You can review the full law in PDF form here at the FTC’s website.
Since you have a right to get your report once every twelve months from each of the agencies, you could either get all three at once, or you could space them out over the year. Since we are starting the credit repair process from scratch, we are going to request reports from all 3 bureaus at once. We need to get a full picture of what is out there and correct any errors as soon as possible. Once we have done our repair, we will switch to spacing out those requests over time.
What are the 3 Credit Bureaus?
The 3 credit bureaus are the large credit reporting companies that the majority of lenders and businesses use to make lending decisions. The three main credit bureaus in the United States are:
While these companies are required by law to give you a free credit report every 12 months, they are not in the charity business. They make their money collecting data on you and selling it to others. They will also try to sell you your credit score while you are trying to get your free credit report.
For the most part, you don’t need to know much about how these companies came to be, you just need to know that the information on each of these reports may vary. Sometimes an account will show up on one report but not the other. That is why it is important to get your credit report from all three companies. Three companies means three times the chance for inaccurate information.
Getting All 3 Credit Reports
They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and for the most part that is true. If you look online for “free credit report,” you will likely find a lot of offers that aren’t necessarily free. However, you can get all three of your credit reports for free. I will show you how.
The best and safest way to get all three of your credit reports for free is at AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the official site created by the three credit reporting companies to comply with the federal law requiring free reports.
Once you get to the Annual Credit Report webpage, click on the section at the top title “Request yours now!” This will take you to this screen where you click on the red button at the bottom of the page:
Once you click the red button above, you will be taken to an online form to fill out with your personal information. The form includes your date of birth, social security number, and current and prior addresses. The good news is that you only have to fill this out once. It looks like this:
Once you fill out your personal information, you will be taken to a screen that will ask you which reports you want:
Since we are starting the credit repair process, go ahead and select all three credit reporting companies. Once you click next, you will be directed to the Experian website. It’s important to note that while this is a centralized place to get your reports, you are actually sent to the different bureaus one at a time.
Each credit bureau has its own verification process that you must pass before you can view your report.
Be Prepared Before You Start to Get Your Credit Reports
Current personal information is easy to remember. Where it gets tricky is when they have you verify your identity. They will ask you a series of questions about your past that may blow your mind. Remember, they are information trackers and they know a lot about you!
It is important that you know the answers to the questions they ask to verify your identity. Take the time to look it up if you are unsure. If you answer one of the questions wrong, you will not be able to view your report online. You will be forced to get your report through the mail which is a pain in the neck.
Since you won’t know in advance what questions will be asked to verify your identity, prepare in advance by doing this in the place where you have access to all of your important financial information, whether that’s your office or the backseat of your car. The extra time will save you in the long run versus getting booted out of the system.
Warning: Your Credit Score is Not Free
Once you get past the verification process and you are viewing your credit report, you will see several links offering to give you your credit score. These are not part of your free credit report that you are entitled to by law. There are variations on the offers, but most of the time they involve signing up for a credit monitoring service with the reporting agency. The screenshot below is taken from the TransUnion score review page:
If you click on those links, you will be sent to a page asking you to pay for your credit score. Remember, there is a difference between your credit report and your credit score. At this point, we only want to gather your credit reports.
A Walk Down Memory Lane: Your Credit Report
As you are directed to each of your credit reports, be prepared to either print or download your reports. Experian allows you to view your report again online if you take down the report number and go to experian.com/view. However, TransUnion does not allow you to view your report again after your session is over.
Pick the format you are comfortable with because we are going to be spending some time with these documents. Call it a walk down Memory Lane.
Remember that trip you decided to put on your card? Or that television? Eeek.
Don’t get too sentimental though. Now is not the time to beat yourself up over the stupid decisions you made five years ago. Credit Repair Judo is about using forward motion and looking to the present and the future.
The only point of reviewing your credit report is to check it for accuracy. Don’t be mad at yourself or mad at the credit card companies that you might think tricked you into making all of those purchases. Let it go and move on. In the next step, we will cover that process in more detail.
For now, pat yourself on the back. Getting all 3 credit reports is a great accomplishment. You just took a major step on the road to credit repair. I went for several years afraid to even look at my credit report or score. I was afraid of what I would find. When I finally took the first step and looked at my credit reports, it wasn’t as bad as I imagined. It was still bad, but the fear in my mind had blown it up so large, reality paled in comparison.
Nothing will change if you don’t take the first step:
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
Congratulations! By getting all 3 credit reports, you are now into the action phase!
Have you been hiding from your credit report? Did you take the plunge and get your credit report? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.