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Checking and reading your credit report

The final section is the inquiries. That's a list of everyone who asked to see your credit report.

"Any time anyone gets into the report, it'll post an inquiry," Ulzheimer says. "If you call the credit bureau and ask for a copy, it will be on there. It's a very detailed entry record. It's great for the consumer."

Inquiries are divided in different ways on different reports but they do distinguish hard pulls from soft pulls. "Hard" inquiries are ones you initiate by filling out a credit application. "Soft" inquiries are from companies that want to send out promotional information to a prequalified group or current creditors who are monitoring your account. The soft inquiries are only shown on reports given to consumers, according to Sweet.

You may have heard that a large number of inquiries can have a negative impact on your credit score, but you're probably OK.

"The vast majority of inquiries are ignored by the FICO scoring models," Ulzheimer says. "They're not the steak in the steak dinner."

For instance, the FICO scores ignore inquiries you request yourself. Rate shoppers need not fret either. The score counts two or more "hard" inquiries in the same 14-day period as just one inquiry.

"You could have 30 in two weeks and it only counts as one," Ulzheimer says.

Fixing mistakes
If you find a mistake on your credit report -- an account that isn't yours or a disputed amount -- you'll need to fill out the form that comes with the report.

The process takes time because the creditors have 30 days to respond to a charge of a discrepancy, or 45 days if the dispute regards data in your free annual credit report. As long as a charge is in dispute, that dispute will show up on your report. Long-time lenders say it's common for reports to have errors. Some estimate that as many as 80 percent of all credit reports have some kind of misinformation.

Now, that you've read your report, dispute any mistakes you find by contacting each of the credit bureaus that report the error. Experian, TransUnion and Equifax allow you to do this online, but you may also submit your dispute by phone or mail.

If you suspect fraud, get a fraud alert placed on your credit file by contacting the fraud department of the credit bureau and explaining the situation. Alert other appropriate agencies as necessary.

While you can't delete negative but accurate and verifiable information, you can submit a 100-word consumer statement that explains the reason for the negative data. Your explanation will remain on your credit file until you remove it or until the data in dispute gets removed.

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