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December 2, 2004
Know Thy Credit Report

Just after watching Frontline's Secret History of the Credit Card - a very disturbing hour of television (you can watch the whole thing on their web site) - I serendipitously came across AnnualCreditReport.com, a site set up by the three major credit reporting agencies to comply with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, which requires these agencies to give consumers a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months if they request it.

Presumably to handle the volume of requests in a reasonable manner, they're phasing the program in geographically, from west to east, over the next nine months. West coasters, it's our turn first.

Here's the schedule:

  • Beginning December 1: Western states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming);

  • Beginning March 1, 2005: Midwestern states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin);

  • Beginning June 1, 2005: Southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas);

  • Beginning September 1, 2005: Eastern states (Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia), Puerto Rico, and all U.S. territories.

Of course you only get your credit report and not your credit (FICO) score which is the number that really determines how terrible the banking industry will make your life, for that you have to pay extra, but still, it's a good start. If they know more about your credit history than you do, it's bad news for you, good news for them. Take the opportunity to get anything you can from the bastards.

If you live west of the Continental Divide, that is. The rest of you will have to wait, or shell out the $8.


Previous Comments

You may not have to shell out $8 (which is always a good thing), many states require the credit bureaus (all three of them) to give you one free credit report per year. You have to call them to get the free copy, but the process is not too bad. Remember to get all three because incorrect or fraudulent information may only be on one of them.

Experian: 1-888-397-3742

Equifax: 1-800-685-1111

TransUnion: 1-800-916-8800

Another thing you can do via phone is stop getting credit card offers (for the most part) this number (supported by all 3 bureaus) 888-567-8688.

I haven't seen the Frontline special yet (a busy week) but this has been something of a focus on NPR all week.

The expectation is that while the credit agencies will have to comply, they'll simultaneously be trying to sell us "services" - from the above mentioned credit score, which is useful to know, to supposed security/monitoring services that in general aren't needed unless one's not going to bother to get and look over one's credit report. We're going to be bombarded with the credit industry's equivalent of Homeland Security alerts in a bid to play on vague fears much as the Bush administration's been doing.

While the three credit agencies are separate, the info generally quickly crosses over. With that in mind, the recommendation is that once the free credit report rules hit one's region the best course of action is to summon one from each of them every 4 months, moving in a rotation through the three. That provides maximum coverage, a better window for response, and generally makes the task far less honerous and far more useful than trying to do it annually. A key item to watch for is attempts to establish bogus credit in one's name, as reportedly the ID thieves often end up trying five, six or seven times before making a successful connection; you'll want to watch for those attempts.