The actual process of drawing your credit report isn’t always as straightforward as it seems

Spot checking your credit report regularly is an essential part of maintaining a healthy credit profile. This gives you a chance to zone in on what debts you still owe on and alerts you to signs of financial fraud or identify theft.

But the actual process of drawing and understanding your credit history isn’t always a straightforward process. Here’s how to read and check your credit report like a professional.

Where to start

In South Africa we have five major credit bureaus that the banks and various credit providers utilize.

  1. Transunion:
  2. XDS (Xpert Decision Systems):
  3. Compuscan:
  4. Experian:
  5. CPB (Consumer Profile Bureau):

Begin by heading to either one of the five’s site, where you can pull a free credit report each year (every 365 days), one from each of the five credit reporting bureaus.

Before you starting requesting your credit report, decide whether you want to view just one or all of the five. If it’s your first time accessing your credit report, we suggest pulling a report from all of the credit bureaus for a complete overview of your credit portfolio.

This way, you can ascertain all incorrect information and errors before they do any further damage to your credit health. The following year, if you want to start pulling a report from each of the credit bureaus at different times of the year, that should be fine as long as you’re monitoring your credit profile and information with all five bureaus.

Gather your basic information together

You’re going to need to have your basic information on hand before you can access your credit history. The credit bureau site will ask you for personal details, such as your name, birth date, identity number and physical address. You’ll select which credit bureau – Experian, Compuscan, CPB (Consumer Profile Bureau), XDS (Xpert Decision Systems) or TransUnion – you’d like to receive your  report from, one at a time during the course of the year or all at once.

Next, you’ll be asked to answer some verification questions on the site to confirm your identity and prevent would-be identity thieves and fraudsters.

You may be asked to answer multiple-choice questions about previous physical addresses, employers, store card debt and other personal loan or credit card information. These questions can be surprisingly tricky, so think clearly before answering. If you have an older credit bureau report that you can refer to, that can be a good resource. Be advised that “none of the above” is often an answer option in these multiple-choice verification tests, and it may be the right answer.

If you fail this verification step, you’ll have to make contact with a company that specializes in providing this kind of service, like Kudough, a credit portfolio analysis on consumer’s credit portfolios.

Read your report

After accessing your credit report, print it and download it so that you have a digital copy on file.

While it may be 12 pages long, filled with numbers and unfamiliar names, don’t be intimidated by your credit report. You don’t need any sort of special training to read a credit report.

The specific credit bureau you used to pull your report will always have a “how to read your credit report” FAQ available online.

As you go through your credit history, you’ll see your personal information, including name, current and previous addresses, cellular and telephone number. The report will list previous and current outstanding debt, including clothing store accounts, credit card debt, personal loans, mortgage debt and more.

When you through your credit report you’ll see a list of “hard inquiries”, which you should recognize from previous credit card, loan, mortgage and other debt applications you previously applied for. These stay on your credit profile for a couple of years, until you settle and close the account or loan for example. You will also see “soft inquiries”, these are promotional inquiries, from companies looking to offer you some form of credit or insurance. You may not recognize these, but don’t panic. Promotional inquiries are only visible to you and don’t affect your score.

If you see misinformation or an error on your credit report – a debt you don’t recognize or an unfamiliar name or address – you can initiate a dispute with the relevant credit-reporting bureau to fix the error.

Be prepared for the next time

So you’ve downloaded your credit report, analysed it and noted the information reflecting on your credit history profile.

Now mark on your calendar, cellphone, tablet when you can request your next report. Remember it’s once a year (free report every 365 days) or you can constantly request a report, but from that point on you’re paying for each one beyond the first free report.

If you’ve noticed an issue with fraud or identity theft, it might be worth paying for a credit-monitoring service. If this is not the case, then you can expect to continue pulling your free annual credit report from each of the five bureaus in the future.

Anybody seeking debt advice can contact OUDS on 079 980 0822, for free assistance, help, or more information or visit our website.

Remember above all else that you are not alone out there. Contact OUDS directly for more information on our effective Phalanx services.

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