Free credit reports may help consumers improve their scores
Federal law gives everyone the right to request three free credit reports each year. Individuals can request one free report each from the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion online at the official website AnnualCreditReport.com. Two other options for ordering a free credit report are through the mail and by phone toll free at 1-877-322-8228. While you can order all three reports at the same time, ordering one free report every four months lets you keep an eye on your information throughout the year.
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. A purchase or credit card information is never required to order the official free credit report.
The “Check Your Free Credit Report: 2/2, 6/6, 10/10” campaign from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension wants to make it easier to remember to order those free credit reports. 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. More than 1000 Wisconsinites across Wisconsin have already signed up for email reminders.
“We know the added nudge from the reminder emails helps people to follow through on ordering their free credit report,” says Peggy Olive, UW-Madison Financial Capability Specialist “In our 2019 year end survey of campaign participants, one-third had checked their email before signing up for an email reminder. After getting email reminders, three-quarters of participants had checked their credit reports in the past year.”
According to the survey, the majority of those viewing their credit report found no errors, but that still left 6 percent of respondents who found an error on their report and needed to contact a credit bureau. In addition to fixing errors, 7 percent identified a way to improve their credit.
Options to improve your credit report and score “There is no such thing as one credit score that is used by all creditors,” says Olive. “The typical individual with a credit history may have hundreds of different credit scores across the credit bureaus that are used for different purposes, such as car loans, credit cards, mortgages, or setting insurance rates. That being said, there are some common steps individuals can take to improve these various credit scores.”
The number one action consumers can take to improve their credit score is to make on-time payments to creditors. When creditors choose to report to the three major credit bureaus, the credit report will show a record of on-time payments along with any 30, 60, or 90-day late payments. Late payments will stay on a credit report for up to 7 years and recent late payments especially will lower a credit score.
Another action to consider is to lower your credit utilization ratio. This means using less available credit on a credit card or paying down an existing loan. If an individual has a $1,000 credit limit on a credit card, for example, maintaining a balance of $250 or less is a frequent recommendation. To increase your credit score, some creditors further recommend using no more than 5% of your available limit on a credit card, or $50 in this example.
New options for increasing credit scores were also rolled out in 2019. Experian introduced their Experian Boost product that allows individuals to agree to give the credit bureau access to personal bank account information. This information is used to track bill payments that may not otherwise be reported to a credit bureau, such as rent payment or utility bill. On-time payments are reported using bank account information, but missed or late payments are not reported. This product could be helpful for individuals with a limited credit history and positive payment history, with more information found at Experian.com.
The UltraFICO Score is another new option that is being piloted through select financial institutions nationwide. The UltraFICO Score does not add information to a credit report, but does provide the option of adding additional points to a FICO score pulled by a creditor through the Experian credit bureau. The UltraFICO Score factors include the length of time financial accounts have been open, the history of positive account balances, frequency of back transactions, and evidence of cash on hand, such as a minimum $400 account balance for the previous three months. Participating financial services and more information is found at fico.com.
In addition to email reminders and links to credit resources, the Extension “2/2, 6/6, 10/10” campaign website, fyi.extension.wisc.edu/creditreport, provides information 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.