debt

Each spouse entitled to free credit report

Steve BucciQuestionDear Debt Adviser,
My wife and I have very good credit. But I have a couple of questions. I check my credit report every four months with the three bureaus. Since they only allow one name, I use mine. If I were to check again using my wife's name, would that be a different request? Or would I be charged because I checked twice within the same year? Most of our credit is in both names. But we have made some separate transactions, so our reports won't exactly match.

Also, what is the FICO score? I get three different scores on three different scales. Is FICO some kind of average? How can I find it? Keep up the good work.
-- Bob

AnswerDear Bob,
Thanks for the kudos. You are following advice that I often give for monitoring credit to prevent problems. That is, take advantage of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions, or FACT, Act regulation that allows each person a free copy of his or her credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus as well as other specialty reporting bureaus. I believe you're smart to stagger your requests and get a report every four months. I strongly recommend checking reports regularly to keep an eye out for identity theft and to assure that no errors have found their way onto your report. It's easy to order your free credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228. The bureaus will offer you other products and services while you are on the site, but you don't have to buy anything to get your free report.

You and your wife have separate credit files, so you are each entitled to free annual credit reports. I understand that you have quite a bit of joint credit, but as you mentioned, not all of it is. So, yes, you can order a report every four months for your wife as well as for yourself and not be charged. In fact, if your credit profiles are very similar, you'd benefit by getting one every two months, alternating orders between your report and your wife's.

I understand your confusion over credit scores. A FICO score is a number between 300 and 850 that predicts the likelihood of you defaulting on your next loan over the next two years. (It's called FICO because that's the name of the company that invented it.) The higher the number, the less of a risk you pose to lenders. You can order your FICO score for $19.95 at MyFico.com.

In addition, each credit bureau has a proprietary score of its own that may use a different scale. You get three different score scales for two reasons. One, each credit bureau has its own unique scoring formula. Two, the information included on each bureau's report will likely vary slightly.

There is also an up-and-coming player in the credit scoring market called VantageScore, which uses a scale of 501 to 990 along with the easier-to-understand alphabetical grades of A, for great credit, to F for -- well, not so great.

I have some good news for people like you and me who like freebies. As of Jan. 1, lenders who use a credit report or credit score in deciding you get less than their best rate are required, generally, to give you a notice. It must explain why you didn't get their top rate. And it entitles you to yet another free credit report. Alternatively, they may skip the notice and instead opt to give you the credit score along with the scale the score is based upon. It also shows how your score compares to others. It's free -- what a country!

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