You may be currently satisfied with your mortgage and lack of car payments, but somewhere down the road, you’ll probably end up needing a loan of some sort. But before you go to a lender, you should check out your credit report first — a bad report might translate to higher interest rates if you don’t clean it up.
You could get a free credit report by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com, but most lenders also take a look at your credit score, which, depending on the kind of credit score you’re looking for, may need to be purchased. FICO credit scores are the most popular credit scores used in financial transactions, and they’re available through myFICO.
As alternatives, you can also check out the three major credit bureaus to determine if they offer products that are suitable for your needs. So what do these agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — offer to consumers?
Check Your Credit Score From Credit Reporting Agencies
Here’s a summary table of what you can order from myFICO, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. I also provide some details of what you’ll receive from these bureaus in the rest of this article:
I’ve actually reviewed Equifax in an earlier article discussing where you can pick up your Equifax credit report and score. You can get your Equifax credit report by itself for $11.00 but if you want to add in your Equifax FICO score, it’s $15.95 for Score Power. This matches the regular price for a FICO standard score and report bundle that is offered through myFICO.
The sample credit report from Equifax shows accounts, charts of debts by account type and a debt to credit ratio, a section for account age, inquiries, and an area reserved for potentially negative information. In the accounts section, you’ll see your mortgage, revolving credit accounts like car loans and credit cards, and an Other section for items like an American Express card or 30-day accounts.
If you don’t want to read your credit report online, you can order it by phone or by mail. Now if you find an error on your report or want to correct an item, you can start the dispute process online.
Experian is another one of the major credit bureaus. It offers a credit report for $15, including a PLUS credit score. However, take note that what you’ll get from them is NOT a FICO credit score but rather any one of their own proprietary scores (e.g. Experian Plus or Vantage Score). Unfortunately, Experian made the decision some time ago to no longer offer FICO scores to consumers, although they continue to supply such scores to lenders.
The sample report from Experian shares basic information about you, and includes info about your employer; a credit summary that lists types of credit including real estate, revolving, installment, and collections; public records like liens and bankruptcies; credit inquiries, account histories, and an explanation of the PLUS score. Though there are plenty of details, I still found the format easy to follow.
The third credit bureau you may want to check in with is TransUnion. If you want to see your credit score and report, you’ll need to sign up for their 3-in-1 Credit Report for $29.95, which comes with a credit score. According to the fine print, this isn’t a FICO score, so I’m not sure if this is the best option for most consumers, plus it’s also quite pricey.
A TransUnion credit report will show your personal details along with your account information, balances, and payments; the status of your accounts (if they are open or closed, the dates the accounts were opened, if the accounts are current and in good standing); who’s accessed your credit report (potential creditors or employers); and addresses and phone numbers for your creditors.
In addition, there’s the TransUnion Credit Monitoring service that’s offered through TrueCredit.com. It’s free for 30 days, then it’s $11.95 a month. With this service, you can access your credit score and report as many times as you wish; look at a customized analysis of your credit history, scores, and reports, and benefit from identity protection measures. For more details, please visit this link.
Comparing Your Credit Reports Plus The Free Yearly Alternative
As mentioned, you can always go to AnnualCreditReport.com for your free yearly reports. This site was set up by the three credit bureaus to allow consumers to obtain their reports at no cost. Be wary of similar sites, which may charge you for an annual or monthly subscription to another service in order to access your “free” reports. I actually cover credit monitoring services and programs that offer free trials in more detail, in my FreeCreditReport.com review.
On the whole, the credit bureaus are likely to provide you with similar-looking reports, so why would you need all three? Suppose you had a bill that ended up in collection sometime ago, but has since been resolved. Now if this incident does not get updated or reported to all three bureaus, then your credit reports from various agencies will have differences, and a lender using the information from any one of your reports may formulate a different (or potentially incomplete or inaccurate) assessment based on the data they receive. It’s also useful to monitor all three credit reports for signs of identity theft. If you’ve moved as much as I have, there’s the risk of a new tenant residing at one of your previous addresses potentially applying for credit cards through mail offers that are intended for you.
One final tip: it’s also a great idea to space your credit report orders around three or four months apart. If you’ve decided to pay for your credit information, then staggering it this way will be less costly. Or you can also compare prices to see if one credit reporting agency offers a comprehensive 3-bureau report for a discounted price. Just be careful that you don’t sign up for a pricey monthly subscription that you don’t want to keep.
For what it’s worth, I found the Equifax site the easiest to navigate. Their Compare Products page lays out their different offerings in a comprehensive manner.
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