Feature article from the March, 2005 Newsletter

The Annual Free Credit Report -
Should You Bother?

You may have heard news reports about the new federal law that will allow people to obtain a free credit report once a year from each of the three largest credit reporting bureaus (they're called "bureaus" but they are not part of the government; they are private companies). The effects of the federal law will not reach the east coast until September of 2005. However, under a New Jersey law that has been in effect for several years, "The New Jersey Fair Credit Reporting Act", residents of New Jersey already have that right.

Why should you review your credit reports? To check their accuracy. Erroneous information in a credit report could prevent you from obtaining a new credit card, or from getting a home equity loan, or obtaining financing for other purposes. Your children's credit reports could have the same consequences and could also cause them to be denied a desired job. And since credit reporting companies do not verify items sent to them for inclusion in their reports, many reports include inaccurate, obsolete or downright false information.

People should review their credit reports on a regular basis and correct mistakes immediately. The reports can be ordered either over the telephone or via the reporting companies' Web sites. The contact information is given below:

Equifax: 800-685-1111 www.equifax.com
Experian: 888-397-3742 www.experian.com
Trans Union: 800-888-4213 www.transunion.com

If you find a problem, the credit bureau has 30 business days to investigate and must inform you of its findings within ten days of concluding its investigation.

One minor warning: These companies are not anxious to give out free reports. It may be hard to find the free report option on their Web sites, and the telephone agent may encourage you to buy a report instead, perhaps claiming that it will be more detailed. Take the free report first and decide after reviewing it.

If a credit bureau fails to supply a free copy of your report, or fails to investigate and correct inaccurate information, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs invites you to contact them immediately at: 800-242-5846 (Toll-free in NJ) or 973-504-6200.

This article is based on news reports and on information on the New Jersey government Web site:
George Morris also provided a valuable addition.

W. A. Shapiro