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Which consumer reports you need

By Janna Herron ·
Friday, November 30, 2012
Posted: 4 pm ET

The federal consumer watchdog sent specialty consumer reporting agencies a warning this week: Provide free consumer reports in an easy way when asked by a consumer.

But the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which announced the warning Thursday, didn't say if and when you, as a consumer, should ask for these specialty reports.

These files contain the history of certain types of consumer practices, whether it's check-writing, medical payments, insurance claims or past rentals. The data are gathered by these specialty consumer reporting agencies and then shipped as reports to landlords, insurers and potential employers to help them evaluate your risk. These reports can affect insurance premium prices, the size of your security deposit, and even your ability to land a job.

There are hundreds of these agencies out there, and a large majority of them probably have data on you. (Most people will wind up in a report unless they haven't written a check or rented an apartment before.)

But you don't have to be in the dark about it. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you're entitled to a free consumer report from any of these agencies once every 12 months. All you have to do is ask.

"You could essentially claim one consumer report a day for an entire year," says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at "But that's like being a consumer report hypochondriac."

A consumer would likely find that many of the consumer reports are redundant, Ulzheimer says, since the companies that create them pull records from the same sources. Instead, pull your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion -- once a year. These reports are more widely used. Also, check out your Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, or CLUE, report from LexisNexis when you apply for auto or property insurance, Ulzheimer says.

Leave the other consumer reports alone until they affect you. For example, if you are turned down as a tenant because of a specialty consumer report, then maybe it's time to check out that report. Under the FCRA, the landlord must provide the contact information of the company that provided the report.

If you find any errors on the report, you have the right to dispute them and the consumer reporting agency must investigate your claim. If you are unsatisfied by the agency's response to your dispute, you can file a claim online with the CFPB.

Were you aware that agencies were gathering data on you?

Follow me on Twitter: @JannaHerron

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