Law allows residents to obtain free credit reports

By Dirk Vanover

For students concerned about their credit history, a recently passed law has made it easier and cheaper to obtain their credit reports.

Beginning March 1, Illinois residents can receive a free copy of their credit report once a year from the three national credit-reporting agencies.

An amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the three national credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and Trans Union – to provide consumers upon request with a free copy of their credit report every 12 months.

Gail O’Connor, spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, recommended ordering a report from one of the three credit companies every four months so consumers can better monitor their credit history.

O’Connor said college students should check their credit reports because they are at a time in their lives when they are just beginning to establish credit ratings. She said it is important to closely guard bank account and Social Security numbers.

“It’s important at any stage to keep an eye on your credit and make sure you are the only one in charge of it,” O’Connor said.

“The law is long overdue. It should have been done a long time ago,” said Tom Betz, senior attorney of the University’s Student Legal Services (SLS).

Betz said SLS helps about 75 to 100 students per year with credit report problems. He said it is important to watch your credit history because it can affect your ability to obtain loans when you are older.

“There’s a lot of inaccurate information in credit reports. There’s a lot of garbage in them,” Betz said. “People need to not just get the report, but read it, check it and dispute any inaccuracies. Even if it seems small, it can make a difference later.”

Betz also said students should check their reports regularly so they can attempt to get incorrect information removed, which can be a difficult process.

“They fight you tooth and nail every time you try to get an inaccuracy removed,” Betz said.

University graduate student Aaron Glass has had difficulty removing information from his credit reports. Glass’ credit report listed the debt from his dad’s credit card, for which he was an authorized user, on it. Glass has attempted to get the information removed, but he has had little success.

Glass said he thinks the law will help people with their credit history, but he said he wishes it had been passed sooner.

“I just ordered my reports a few months ago to check them and had to pay about $10 for each one,” Glass said. “It would’ve been much nicer if I could have gotten them for free.”

Cris Daugherty, branch manager for Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Central Illinois, said her organization typically has credit report consultations with 40 to 50 clients per month ranging from inaccurate information on reports to problems with identity theft. She is a supporter of the new law.

“I think it’s going to be a very good thing,” Daugherty said. “It will impact students in a good way.”

Daugherty said everyone, including college students, should check their credit reports and make sure the information is correct.

“At several colleges incoming freshmen are targeted with scams,” Daugherty said.

She said there have been high incidents of scholarship and student loan scams and urged students not to give out their Social Security numbers without investigating an organization first.

Daugherty also pointed out that free credit reports can also be obtained from the three companies if someone is a victim of identity theft, or if someone has been denied credit based on information provided by a reporting agency.