Peggy Olive-Financial Capability Specialist UW-Madison Center for Financial Security and Carol Bralich-Family Living Educator, Extension Washington County
Because credit reports are so important to everyday life (they can affect obtaining an affordable loan or insurance policy, getting a job, or renting a home), Federal law gives everyone the right to request three free credit reports each year. And yet the Federal Trade Commission reports that only one out of every three Wisconsin adults checks their free credit report each year, making Wisconsin the sixth lowest of all the states.
The University of Wisconsin-Extension’s “Check Your Free Credit Report: 2/2, 6/6, 10/10” campaign wants to turn those numbers around by making it easier to remember to order a free credit report. Anyone can sign up to receive an email reminder from Extension three times a year—on 2/2, 6/6, and 10/10—on the campaign’s website: fyi.extension.wisc.edu/creditreport/
You can request the reports from AnnualCreditReport.com—one each from the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. There are three ways to order your free credit report: through the mail, by phone toll free, or at the official website AnnualCreditReport.com. While you can order all three reports at the same time, ordering one free report every four months provides the benefit of assuring that the information is up-to-date and accurate year round.
Note that the annual free credit report does not include a credit score. When ordering a free credit report, the credit bureau might also offer consumers additional paid services, including purchasing a credit score or credit monitoring services. These are optional paid services and a purchase is not required to order the free credit report.
“It is completely up to each individual to look over his or her own credit report for mistakes, old information that should be removed, or signs of identity theft,” says Carol Bralich, Family Living Educator, Extension Washington County. “Ordering a free credit report is relatively easy and will take most people less than 5 minutes. What’s not so easy is actually remembering to order your reports and keeping an eye on your credit worthiness throughout the year.”
Since the “Check Your Credit Campaign” launched in 2013, more than 1000 individuals from 70 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have signed up for an email reminder. Of the individuals signing up for these reminders in 2018, over two-thirds reported they had not checked their own credit report in the past year. Fortunately, receiving email reminders encouraged many individuals to order their free credit reports. According to a 2018 Extension survey, 70 percent of participants receiving email reminders had ordered one or more free credit reports during the previous year. While the majority of those viewing their credit report found no errors, almost one out of ten individuals contacted a creditor or credit bureau to fix an error, and 5 percent identified a way to improve their credit.
Getting access to reports
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, many consumers across the United States also have trouble accessing their credit reports because they cannot match the credit bureau’s detailed identity questions when ordering online. If you do not answer the background questions correctly, you will be denied online access to your report. You must then mail in a written request form with copies of specific documents in order to verify their identity.
“The biggest challenge we hear from individuals is not being able to access their free report online,” says Olive. “If the credit bureau website has different information on file for you, such as a previous address, you’ll be directed to mail in a paper request form, usually along with copies of documents like a driver’s license and utility bill listing the new address. The bureaus need to verify that you are actually the person you claim to be before mailing out your private information.”
In addition to email reminders, the Extension “2/2, 6/6, 10/10” campaign website https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/creditreport/, provides information and links for ordering, reading and understanding your free credit reports. You can also find out how to place a free credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit reports and whether that’s the right decision for you.
For more information on credit reports, contact Carol Bralich at 262-335-4479