By Gail Vaz-Oxlade
Did you ever see the CBC Marketplace episode where they asked 100 Canadians to check their credit reports for errors? Forty of those people found problems. Not exactly confidence-building when it comes to what those reports are saying about you, right? So when was the last time you checked your credit report? Don’t you want to know what those credit bureaus are saying about you?
The two main credit bureaus in Canada are Equifax and TransUnion and both have websites where you can order a copy of your credit report. If you ask for your report to be mailed to you, there’s no cost. If you want an instant download, you’ll pay for the convenience. In both cases, there won’t be any effect on your credit score. While a “hard pull”—lenders checking your credit history—does impact your score, a “soft pull”—you checking—does not.
The next step is to read the report carefully to check for mistakes. Gloss over nothing. Is your name spelled correctly? Are the addresses given yours? Is your date of birth correct? Even small errors can be signals that your file has been confused with someone else’s. Yes, this happens all the time. Once, when I checked my credit report I found that a creditor had reported me as delinquent for card I’d reported lost. Despite my attempt to clear up the mistake, the credit bureau would not change the information because the department store card stuck to its story. It’s one of the reasons I refuse to carry a department store card of any kind. Since those folks can pretty well say what they want—there’s no real verification process—their mistakes can ruin my credit without me being able to do squat. So I just don’t go there.
There are mistakes you can correct. My friend Tash found the wrong birthday on her file and found out her mother’s information was being recorded on her file. She fixed that. And my friend Donna found that the same loan was being reported twice, making it look like she’d borrowed twice as much. She called her bank and got them to fix the information on her file.
Ask for old information to be removed from your file. Most records are kept for seven years, so if you had a spotty credit history in your youth, but have subsequently cleaned up your credit behavior, make sure those mistakes are removed as soon as possible from your file.
If anyone offers to clean up your credit for you—yah, there will be a charge—just say no. If you’ve damaged your credit history, you’re going to have to be a good little borrower and wait out your past indiscretions even as you build good credit files. And if there are mistakes, why would you pay anyone else to fix them for you? That’s your job. It’s your credit history.