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Know your credit

You may hear a lot about credit reports, but do you know how to get one, what information is included or how to improve it?

Sissy Osteen, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension resource management specialist, said a credit report is a document that gives details about the debts you owe and how you have paid them in the past.

"Depending on which credit bureau you request information from, the information may vary. This is because not all creditors report to all the bureaus," Osteen said. "If all your accounts aren't listed, that is fine. Different creditors are members of different credit reporting agencies. What you really need to look for on a credit report is if there are any errors."

Errors in a credit report can include anything from misspelling your name on accounts in your name that you did not open or have not used to accounts that are not yours and have been opened fraudulently. Any errors should be reported to the credit bureaus immediately to dispute them.

Osteen said the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act in 2003 mandated that each individual be allowed their credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies once per year.

The bureaus include Equifax, TransUnion and Experian and reports can be obtained from the website www.annualcreditreport.com.

"Some companies may advertise free credit reports, but often these free reports come with a contract for credit report monitoring," she said. "The only way to get your mandated annual reports is from the annual credit report website."

Osteen said a credit report includes several items including identifying information such as name, address, social security number, date of birth and employment information. It also has auto loans, mortgages and credit cards--with the date the account was opened, the credit limit, amount currently outstanding and payment history.

"Credit inquiries including those the consumer authorizes when they fill out an application, credit checks requested by you when you order a credit report and promotional checks done for advertising and promotional purposes, are listed on the report," she said. "Also expect to see public records like bankruptcy, collection accounts, judgments, liens and wage garnishments."

The information on a credit reports allows lenders to see whether you are a good credit risk or not. Creditors also use risk scores (credit scores) to determine whether to make loans. Credit scores are not included with free credit reports, but can be purchased at the time the reports are pulled.

"A yearly credit report is important for your financial health," Osteen said. "A yearly credit report will show what is going on with your finances and will alert you to problems you may have not been aware. It is a good idea to know what is in your credit history before you start shopping for credit. It is also the best way to ensure that your identity is protected."

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