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Getting and Reading your Credit Report
Can I get a free copy of my own credit report?

Yes! There are many ways to get a free copy of your credit report.

  • If you are turned down for credit, employment, or insurance within the last 60 days. Take the written proof of your turn down and mail it to the credit bureaus, requesting your free report.
  • If you were charged higher rates and fees or deposits based on a credit report issued by a credit bureau, you have the right to get a free copy from that bureau
  • If you certify in writing that either you are unemployed and plan to seek employment in the next 60 days
  • If you are on welfare
  • If you write to say you were a victim of fraud
  • Some states have laws requiring the bureaus to provide one free credit report per year.
  • If you are too impatient to wait for this, you can always order your credit report online
Help! What are all those codes on my credit report?

There should be a separate key or explanation mailed with the report. Sit down and spend some time to try to read it. If it still looks like Sanskrit, you might ask a trusted friend to go over it with you. Or someone in your personnel office at work, or the dean of students office at your school, or behind the railing at your bank, might be willing to help you. (It's not their job to do this, so remember that you're asking a favor. You may be charged a fee.


What are "inquiries" on my credit report?

Whenever you or anyone else asks for a copy of your credit report, the request is supposed to be noted as part of your credit history. If you apply for lots of credit cards in a short time, this will produce a flurry of "inquiry" notes on your credit report. Lenders often turn this around and assume that a flurry of inquiries means you've recently applied for lots of credit, so they turn you down on that basis even though the inference is not strictly valid.

If a lender cites "excessive inquiries" as a reason for turning you down, this is what has happened. The lender has guidelines for how many inquiries in what period of time is too many. Unfortunately, you have no legal right to challenge this policy or even to know what the specific criteria may be.

Don't give your name or address to a merchant until you're actually ready to apply for credit there. Some merchants illegally run credit checks on you as soon as they have your name and address, even though you have not applied for credit, to give them an idea of what to sell you and how. (I'm told many car dealers do this.)

I don't know what legal recourse, if any, you have against unauthorized inquiries.

If lender A sees inquiries from B, C, and D but no new accounts, A may assume that B, C, and D turned you down for credit. Figuring "better safe than sorry," A may then turn you down just because it assumes B, C, and D turned you down. Again, this is a judgment call on the part of A, and you have no legal right to challenge it. If you have not applied for any credit recently but have been, say, looking at cars at several dealerships, you might want to let the lender know this in case it's taking unauthorized inquiries into account.


Can you provide any information on profit and loss charge offs?

Profit and loss charge offs are (usually) mostly used by credit card companies. They write the debt off on their books as uncollectable and do not spend time, lawyer's fee on collecting them. They are considered a serious black mark on your credit report...next to a bankruptcy or foreclosure.

However, even if these companies aren't actively trying to collect from you, these debts ARE still owed by you to the company. If you refinance your house or apply for a loan, most mortgage companies WILL make you pay these debts off. The reason: these debts can be turned into a lien against your property.

Liens matter to a mortgage company because:

  1. When you sell your home, the moneys owed (plus interest) will have to be paid off in order to clear your title.
  2. These debts are in a higher position than a mortgage, meaning they get paid off FIRST before the mortgage company gets its money. If they have to foreclose, and you have lots of liens on your home plus a mortgage, they could potentially lose thousands of dollars.
However, if you're never going to buy a home, or at least not for 7 more years (that's when the profit and losses will drop off your credit report), it won't affect you, except for having bad credit. If you buy a car, you won't be asked to pay these debts off, or any thing other than real estate. But your credit will really stink for a long time...good luck getting a low interest rate car loan! Again, charge offs are almost as bad as having a bankruptcy, plus you still owe the money.

If you have to get this stuff removed from your credit report, you can:

  1. Pay them off
  2. Declare Bankruptcy.

This isn't a bad option. If you keep your credit clean and open three new charge accounts (even gas cards), you can get an A paper (the best rates and terms) loan in 2 years.


Who makes sure that agengencies and creditors follow the laws?

The Federal Trade Commission, (FTC #202-326-2222) is responsible for enforcing federal credit laws.