Q: How can I order a free copy of my credit reports?
A: Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, consumers nationwide are entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three main credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You can order free reports by phone at 877-322-8228 or online at www.annualcreditreport.com (and only that website; beware of imposter sites).
You can also request the reports by mail, but that requires downloading a request form at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/requestformfinal.pdf.
Fill out the printed form and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Ga. 30348-5281.
Q: To clean up a credit report, who do you contact? The creditor that was paid in full or the credit bureau?
A: Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit bureaus must fix errors on credit reports, unless your claim is frivolous. What you need to do is present them with proof that the debt was paid off.
Each of the three main credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion -- allows you to dispute information on your credit report online, by mail or by phone. Be prepared to present documentation proving your claim.
A credit bureau must investigate disputes and remove or correct inaccuracies within 30 days, or continue reporting information it verifies as accurate. During its investigation, it will present your documentation to the creditor that provided the information in question; if the information is found to be inaccurate, the creditor must report the error to all three credit bureaus so they can correct the information.
If a credit bureau fails to investigate your dispute a month after it was made, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
Creditors will often fix errors on your behalf, so it's worth asking before submitting a dispute with a credit bureau, especially if the error was a result of fraud. But, ultimately, it's up to you to make sure your credit profile is accurate. Periodically check your reports for errors, especially before applying for a loan or new line of credit.
For more information or to file a complaint, visit www.ftc.gov/credit or call 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).
Q: I'm being harassed by a debt-collecting law firm that calls three or four times a day. The calls are for someone else. I called my phone company, but it couldn't help. Is there anything I can do to stop this?
A: Collection agencies must abide by the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits phone harassment. It also outlines specific rules regarding communication with people other than the debtor.
For details on the law or to file a formal complaint, call the Federal Trade Commission at 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357) or visit http://ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/fdc.htm.