Credit information: Credit errors and consumer rights

Landlords commonly look at credit history when evaluating potential renters. Every consumer in the United States has the legally established right to access his or her credit report for free once every 12 months. There are three major credit reporting companies in the nation: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Each of them independently must give consumers a copy of their reports.

Because the three companies collect information independently of each other, the information on each report will vary. While they strive for accuracy, tracking information nationwide for so many consumers is difficult, and occasionally an error will occur, such as accidentally attributing a debt to the wrong person. This may be more likely to happen when two consumers have identical names, or are otherwise easy to misidentify.

In order to access their credit reports for free, consumers should be careful to use only the appropriate, authorized website, which can be found through the Federal Trade Commission. Other websites may advertise the same availability, but the FTC warns against using them.

The report may also be requested by phone or mail. It is generally considered wise to check credit records periodically to ensure there are no errors, and may be appropriate to do so when preparing to apply for a loan or other credit, since these records can affect credit approval and rates.