tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Free Credit Reports

I could hardly wait until today. March 1 is the first day I can get a free credit report. So on my lunch hour, I closed my office door, adjusted my computer screen and tried to get reports from each of the credit reporting agencies.

On a four-star scale, I would say I got a two-star experience.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the three credit reporting agencies to make reports available for free. People living on the West Coast have been able to get their reports since December 1. Most of the states in the Midwest had to wait until March 1, and the rest of the country phases in June 1 and September 1. Equifax, Experian and Trans Union are participating; reports can be obtained via the Internet, by phone or through the mail. Consumers are entitled to one free report from each company, one time per year. A consumer can get all three reports at the same time, or stagger the requests to get them throughout the year.

My portal to the three companies was The site worked well, although I was disappointed that each time I returned to the site after completing a download from one of the agencies, I had to re-enter my personal information. I was a little nervous about entering my Social Security number to make the site work, but I was placated by the promise of encryption and other security measures.

Equifax was the first company I visited, and it turned out to be my best experience of the three. I got an 18-page report on my credit situation. It told me how many accounts I have open, how much credit is available through each account, and my payment history for each one. I also got information about who has requested to see my credit report.

Most interesting was a unique report called the Equifax Credit Ranking. This little service tells me how my debt stacks up against peers, such as those living in my zip code area, my state and my country. For example, the report told me the average Minnesotan has $828 outstanding in credit card debt, the average person living in my zip code area has $863 and the average person in the United States has $972. I got similar reports for average car payments and mortgage payments. I was intrigued to learn that the average person in my neighborhood pays a $380 monthly car payment. That compares with a state average of $490, and a national average of $534. The average outstanding balance on those car loans is $9,668 for the neighborhood, $9,687 for the state, and $10,708 for the country.

Perhaps the most interesting feature in the Credit Ranking service was a chart that told me I am using only a very small percentage of the total credit available to me. In my neighborhood, people are using 19 percent of the credit available to them, about the same as the state average, which is 20 percent. The national average, the report says, is 25 percent.

Experian also provided a comprehensive report, although without the cool comparison data. I spent about a half an hour trying to access the Trans Union site, but never succeeded. I kept getting a message that said “site temporarily unavailable.” Oh well. There must have been a lot of other people excited about a new opportunity to get a free credit report, trying to get on the site.

If you haven’t already tried to do this on your own, I encourage you to do so. It is always an eye-opener to learn what the rest of the world knows about you.

No comments: