Originally created 05/12/02

Cline: Reports offer a glimpse of your spending history



I lost my wallet about 10 years ago somewhere on the streets of Flagstaff, Ariz.

Aside from an insignificant amount of cash and a credit card that was promptly canceled, the wallet contained all the information a criminal would need to assume my identity.

I don't believe the wallet wound up in criminal hands. But I periodically obtain a copy of my credit report just to be sure - if someone makes credit purchases in your name, it shows up on your report.

The reports are maintained by three companies - Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. The reports list every credit account you have ever opened and whether you have abided by the terms of the account. The information is used to calculate your "credit score," a three-digit number designed to sum up your credit worthiness, with a score of 620 or higher considered "good."

It's easy to get copies of your reports, and if you're a Georgia resident, you can get them free. You can order toll free at (800) 685-1111 for Equifax, (888) 397-3742 for Experian and (800) 916-8800 for Trans Union.

You also can order reports online from the company's Web sites.

Equifax and Experian have the best automated phone systems, allowing callers to complete the order in a couple minutes. Make sure you've eaten and gone to the bathroom before calling Trans Union.

Identity theft aside, it's a good idea to get a copy of your report at least once a year to make sure all the information is correct. A typo by a data entry clerk can transform you from Mr. Dutiful Billpayer to Mr. Deadbeat Debtor.

Nearly one-third contain errors serious enough to result in you being denied credit, according to a recent study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

I requested a copy of my credit report last week, and, fortunately, the errors and omissions were minor. Trans Union, for example, lists my employer as the "Augusta Chronile." Equifax lists my summer job in college as my last known employer. Experian listed the Utah drivers license I had seven years ago as being current.

Here's some advice: fix the major errors, but don't try to make heads or tails of your credit score, which is calculated by computers using mathematical equations.

Trans Union said my score of 766 would have been higher if I didn't have a "low amount" mortgage and too few "specialty retail accounts." I guess I'm being penalized for buying a modest home and not having 10 credit cards.

My wife's score of 815 (which she has taken great delight in gloating about) was affected by having "too few satisfactory accounts" and "too many active accounts with a balance." Neither of those statements are accurate. If they were, how could she score 815 out of a maximum 934? Like I said, don't dwell on your credit score if it's in the good range.

I'll let you know if my score improves the next time I check my credit report. And, hopefully, there will be no evidence of identity theft. I'd be upset if there is another me out there, especially if he's driving a nicer car.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or dcline@augustachronicle.com.