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Check your credit report before you buy a home

Our credit reports and scores have a huge impact on the interest rate a lender offers us, so it's important that they offer a positive image of the way we manage our debts. If you're getting ready to enter the home buying arena, access and study your reports as early as possible to allow time for corrections to be made before the lender checks your credit.

Online Credit Reports

The three major credit reporting agencies all offer fee-based plans to check your credit report online. Even though each agency uses a different format to display reports, they all contain the same basic categories of data--but don't be surprised if the actual details about your past and present history are different on each report.

The three major credit reporting agencies are:

Other companies, such as MyFICO.com, are licensed to provide reports and scores based on the information collected by the three major credit reporting agencies.

The first time I checked my credit reports, I found that one agency listed my maiden name, but not my married name.

It showed my current address at a home I hadn't lived in for 16 years and a past address in a city where I've never lived. The same reporting agency listed two social security numbers for my husband and showed an auto loan as an open account with a balance due, even though payoff had been made 12 months prior.

It didn't take long to for the errors to be corrected, but it wasn't an overnight process. The cleaner your reports are, the fewer questions your lender will ask, so get all mistakes handled as quickly as you can.

Each agency offers consumers many report variations, including:

  • A credit report with no credit score.
  • A report that includes your current credit score.
  • A 3-in-one credit report that lets you see a side-by-side comparison of records from all three agencies, with or without scores.
  • Other products, including services that notify you when your credit history is requested, daily and weekly notification of all changes to your file, and subscriptions that allow you to access your report on a regular basis.

Each agency will ask you to establish a user name and password. They'll ask you to verify your social security number. They'll also ask you a series of multiple choice questions about your credit history--all designed to ensure you are who you say your are.

Equifax and TransUnion reports can be viewed for 30 days, but Experian's report vanishes after you logoff. Be sure to print it before you exit.

3-in-One Reports

In my personal tests, the information pulled from each agency was the same as the data found on its Web site. But the credit scores generated for the "other" agencies--the agencies that did not actually sell the report--were not accurate. So I feel more comfortable ordering individual reports from each agency.

Printed Reports

The cost is $8-$10 per report when ordered by mail, but many states give consumers the right to receive a report at a reduced rate.

Include the following with a mail order request:

  • Your payment
  • Your full name and address
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your current address and most recent former address

Visit each agency's Web site to find current mailing addresses.

Free Credit Reports

You are entitled to a free credit report if:

  • you have been turned down for credit or employment (due to your credit report) during the past 60 days
  • you believe your credit report contains fraudulent information
  • you are on public assistance
  • you are unemployed and plan to apply for unemployment benefits within the next 60 days

Some offers for free credit reports require that you subscribe to a service or buy products to get the free report. Read the fine print.


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