Know Your Credit History

Repairing bad credit should be a priority for anyone with a checkered financial history but even those with spotless records should take notice: A 2004 survey found that 79% of credit histories contained some type of error and one in four included flaws grave enough to result in credit being denied.

Here's the good news: viewing your credit reports, finding errors and disputing them is easier than ever.

You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three nationwide credit-reporting agencies once a year. The reports have been available online to everyone since last September through a joint Web site and telephone number set up by the agencies, Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.

Go to (or call 1-877-322-8228), type in your information and in seconds you'll be looking at your own credit history.

(Beware of scam Web sites that promise free credit reports but actually charge a fee. Likewise, if you order through the individual agencies you will also be asked to pay a fee.)

You can view the credit report on file with each agency and you might be surprised at how many errors there are. Big or small, note any errors and ask the respective credit agency to investigate your claim. You may be able to dispute the erroneous information online via a link from the page displaying your credit report but the Federal Trade Commission recommends you put your dispute in writing and send it certified mail.

State why you believe the information is inaccurate and request that it be removed. Include a copy of your credit report with the questionable information circled and copies of any supporting documents you were able to obtain.

The credit bureau will investigate your claim and if the information is indeed found to be false, you can ask the credit bureau to send a notice of the correction to anyone who received your report in the last six months.

The FTC even provides a form letter for disputing information on your credit report and the addresses of the three credit agencies online at its Web site,

If an investigation does not resolve your dispute, you can ask to have a short explanation, written by you, included on all future copies of the report.

Also, ask your bank if there are any local credit bureaus that might have a file on you and follow up in a similar fashion.

Copyright (c) 2006 MarketWatch, Inc.