Protecting Your Credit During the COVID-19 Crisis
When a crisis hits, it’s important to stay on top of your finances as best you can and monitor your credit.
Due to the hardship caused by COVID-19, all U.S. consumers can get free weekly online credit reports now through April 20, 2021 from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax by visiting annualcreditreport.com.
As the Coronavirus outbreak continues to evolve, your credit might be the last thing on your mind. During times of emergencies though, such as global pandemics or natural disasters, you should know the state of your finances and keep your credit on your radar. Along with your physical health being a top priority, so should the state of your financial health and wellness.
Normally, your credit report is available every 12 months from all three credit bureaus–TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Given the vast number of consumers’ financial health being impacted by the current economic conditions, online access to your report is now available on a weekly basis. Visit annualcreditreport.com and follow the prompts.
Remember your credit report and credit score are two different things, and your report will not include your credit score.
- A credit report is a statement of your credit activity and current credit situation. It includes a history of your loan payments and status of credit accounts.
- A credit score is calculated from your credit history and behavior–information found in your credit report.
There are four main ways you can acquire your score, including checking your credit card or other loan statements, talking to a non-profit certified credit counselor, using a credit score service (be sure you know what you are signing up for and how much it really costs!), or buying a score directly from one of the three credit bureaus–TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax.
There are additional ways you can be proactive with your credit. Follow these steps to help keep your credit on solid footing.
- Pay your bills on time, if you can.
Even if it gets difficult, try to make at least the minimum payment by their due date. Late payments negatively affect your credit score.
- Contact your creditors and service providers.
If you get to a point where you can’t pay all your bills, contact your creditors and any service providers such as utilities, phone company, etc.
- Check your credit regularly.
Now is a critical time to make sure your credit reports are accurate. If you identify potential fraud, you can respond before it damages your credit.
- Be extra protective of your identity.
Unfortunately, during times of crisis, scams and identity theft are at an all-time high. Protecting your personal information is essential. You can place a free security freeze on your credit files which prevents people from accessing your personal information and using your name to apply for credit.
- Get financial assistance, if needed.
Certified credit counselors can offer advice on how to repay your debts in a manageable way.
- Dispute inaccurate information.
If you find inaccurate information when reviewing your credit report, you can file a dispute with each credit bureau. Each bureau has an online dispute center, which is the quickest way to file a dispute.
How to Order Your Credit Report
Don’t contact the credit reporting agencies individually. The free reports are available only through annualcreditreport.com and 1-877-322-8228.
You’ll need to provide your name, address, social security number, and date of birth. If you’ve moved in the last two years, you may need to provide your previous address. For security purposes and to verify your identity, you may be asked for information only you would know, like your monthly mortgage payment.
Beware of “Imposter” Websites
The only website authorized to fill orders for the free annual credit report you are legally entitled to is annualcreditreport.com. Other sites that claim to offer “free credit report” or “free credit monitoring” aren’t part of the legally mandated free annual credit report program and in some cases have strings attached to the “free” product being advertised.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) works for you–the consumer–to prevent fraud and unfair business practices in the marketplace. If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam, you can file a complaint with the FTC (ftc.gov/complaint) and/or the Attorney General of your state.
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