Calling a credit bureau can be daunting. First, you have to hunt down the credit bureau’s contact information, then you have to make it through the dreaded automated customer service purgatory to reach an actual person—if it’s even possible to get a live person at all.
“A lot of people are afraid to call credit bureaus because they don’t want to get bogged down in bureaucracy or be on hold for hours,” says Zara Mohidin, co-founder of Fig Loans.
In addition, there’s often confusion about what answers credit bureaus can provide and when it’s important to call a bureau.
To help you wade through all of the uncertainty, we asked finance industry and credit experts to provide some insight on these topics.
Contact Information: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian
To begin with, it’s important to understand that there are three major credit bureaus, and each is required by law to provide consumers with a toll-free number that’s staffed during regular business hours. The phone numbers for each of the credit bureaus are below:
When to Call a Credit Bureau
It’s a good idea to contact a credit bureau whenever you notice any administrative inaccuracies on your credit report, such as misspelled names, incorrect address information, or erroneous employment information.
Further, if there are credit cards, collections, missed payments, or anything else on your report that you don’t recognize, contacting the credit bureaus is critical.
“Always call the bureaus if you notice a sign of fraud on your credit report,” urges Mohidin, who says one in four consumers have an error on their report that could be pulling their credit score down. “And getting your identifying information correct is important so that you are rewarded for on-time credit payments.”
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit bureaus must investigate any items you dispute and correct the information if it cannot be verified.
“If you disagree with the results of a credit bureau’s investigation, you can ask the bureau to include a consumer statement (to that effect) in your file and your future reports,” explains Freddie Huynh, vice president of credit risk analytics at Freedom Financial Network. These statements allow you to offer extra explanation, such as why you missed a payment.
Additional Reasons to Call
Keep in mind that correcting inaccuracies with one of the bureaus does not mean it will automatically be corrected by the others. It’s important to review the individual reports of all three credit agencies.
Huynh, who was previously the lead data scientist at FICO, stresses that though information is largely similar across all the credit reporting agencies, there can be variations between the reports.
In addition, when disputing something on your report, the burden of proof is on you, says Greg Oray, president of Oray King Wealth Advisors.
“Gather any documents that may help your case and have them available,” says Oray. “If you’re having trouble working with a representative or the reporting bureau to resolve your case, consider hiring a legal service that specializes in these matters.”
If you’d like to freeze your credit, you’ll have no choice but to speak to a credit bureau.
How to Freeze Your Credit
Understanding what it means to freeze your credit is critical, particularly in light of the recent Equifax security breach that exposed the personal information of millions of consumers.
A credit freeze, also called a credit lock, is a tool that restricts access to your credit report. Taking this step makes it far more challenging for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.
“Placing a credit freeze is similar to putting your credit cards in a bowl of water in the freezer—no one can use the credit until you ‘thaw’ it,” explains Andrew Housser, CEO of Freedom Financial Network. “With a credit freeze, creditors cannot see your credit history. If a scammer tries to open credit in your name, the creditor is unlikely to issue credit without knowing the history attached to your name and Social Security number.”
However, it’s important to note that freezing credit requires contacting each of the three credit bureaus separately.
Freezing Credit with Equifax
Equifax provides detailed instructions about how to place, temporarily lift, or entirely remove a freeze on its site.
Consumers may also request a freeze in writing or over the phone. You can request a security freeze by calling 1-800-685-1111 (NY residents call 1-800-349-9960) or submit your request in writing to the following address:
Equifax Security Freeze
PO Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348
Putting a freeze on your account, or lifting one, requires some personal information, including your Social Security number, address, and more.
It’s also important to note that as part of initiating an Equifax freeze, you will be provided with a PIN during the process. This PIN will not be emailed to you, so make sure you write it down.
Freezing Credit with TransUnion
You can freeze your credit with TransUnion via its website. TransUnion offers two different services on this front—locking your credit and freezing your credit.
Locking your credit via TransUnion is a process controlled by you, and there is no fee. You have instant, independent control over who accesses your credit information. This approach also means you have online, real-time ability to lock and unlock your account as often as you want.
Freezing your credit file with TransUnion means the credit agency controls who has access to your information. There are fees associated with both freezing and unfreezing your credit with TransUnion. In addition, there is a waiting period for a freeze to be either placed or lifted via this approach.
Freezing Credit with Experian
Experian provides an online form to initiate a credit freeze on its website. You can also freeze your credit by calling Experian at 1-888-397-3742 or sending certified or overnight mail to this address:
Experian Security Freeze
PO Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
While this bureau doesn’t charge victims of identity theft who’d like to initiate a freeze, there are fees for others seeking to take this step with their credit. The fees vary by state of residence and range from about $3 to $10.
What You Need to Know about Credit Freezes
When initiating a freeze, keep in mind that lenders need credit reports to determine if you’re eligible for credit. After your credit is frozen, no one can pull your credit report. That means it won’t be possible to get approved for a loan or credit card in your name.
Credit freezes, however, do not affect your overall credit score in any way and they will not prevent you from accessing an annual credit report.
While a credit freeze can keep identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name, it does not prevent thieves from using your existing accounts. So it’s important to keep monitoring your credit and accounts.
The Downsides to Calling Credit Bureaus
Not all experts think calling a credit bureau is the best approach. Don Petersen, an attorney, recommends calling a bureau for only basic administrative questions—such as updating an address or asking if you’re affected by a recent data breach.
For most other issues, Petersen advises his clients to write to credit bureaus or submit disputes online.
“The consumer will not have a record of what was said when they called,” explains Petersen. “Most consumers struggle to understand the system and would be much better served by taking the time to memorialize their dispute in writing and, obviously, save a copy of their letter.”
If you do prefer to call a credit bureau to get to the bottom of a question or concern more quickly, Petersen urges consumers to follow up in writing after the telephone conversation. Include the name of the representative you spoke with in the letter as well as details of what transpired in your conversation.
And finally, send the letter via certified mail with a return receipt requested, Petersen instructs.
“Call with very simple questions,” Petersen says. “But if you’re trying to initiate a dispute, it’s best to do it in writing so that you have a record.”
Keep an Eye on Your Credit
Every now and then, pull your credit report and review it carefully—you can obtain your free credit report at Credit.com. Look for any inaccuracies or other issues in the report, and if you spot something unusual, make a few calls to the credit bureaus. Always investigate suspicious activity on your credit report, and if you’re worried about identity theft, mitigate the issue with a well-placed credit freeze.
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