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Ask the Expert: Why Can’t I Get My Credit Reports?

(Image Courtesy of Jorge Franganillo)

We asked our Facebook fans and Twitter followers to share their most pressing personal finance questions. Now, John Ulzheimer, credit expert for Credit Sesame, weighs-in.

Q: I have requested our credit reports from Experian three times over the last six months. I never get an answer from them except that I need to verify my identity by sending them my social security card and driver’s license. I did so, but never received an answer. I have been declined for one particular service because of that and still can’t seem to get anywhere with this issue.

Before I dive-in, I’d like to point out that this question reminds us all of how essential it is to request copies of our credit reports from time to time. They’re simply too important to ignore. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to request copies of your credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditReport.com. Take advantage of it.

Despite the fact that they’re free, less than four percent of all free credit reports are claimed each year. In other words: a mind-blowing 96 percent of free credit reports go unclaimed. And, because they don’t roll over to the next year, we’re losing those free credit reports. So when you get done reading this article, please, go claim your free credit reports.

If you’ve already pulled your allotted annual reports, there are several sites, including Credit Sesame, where you can purchase your credit report for a nominal fee.

Now, back to the question. The reason this consumer is having a hard time claiming her credit report from Experian is because they’re not convinced of her identity. And, to be clear, this isn’t an Experian issue. She’s likely to run into the same issues at Equifax and TransUnion.

One of the most valuable collections of information is your credit report. You don’t want the credit reporting agencies to send them if there’s even a tiny possibility that they’re being sent to someone other than you.

To avoid this, the credit bureaus have a step in the disclosure process called “authentication.” They need you to authenticate that you are who you say you are, which is why they’re asking for that supplemental identification information.

In this case, chances are that there is something in the identification section of the credit report that is not matching the data being entered into the consumer form of the website. It could be an address, name, date of birth or Social Security Number. Until the request data input matches what is on file, Experian will never release the credit report.

In the second part of this question, the consumer notes that she was declined for a service because she can’t access her credit report. That’s not really how it works.

To clarify: The fact that a consumer can’t access their credit report has no bearing on whether or not they’ll be approved for credit or services.

Now, if the service provider can’t get a copy of the credit report, the consumer may be declined—which is the more likely scenario. Lenders and service providers won’t underwrite or approve loans or services without reviewing an applicant’s credit reports and credit scores.

This can become a problem when the consumer uses incomplete or inconsistent identification information when they fill out applications and apply for credit. For example, if Elizabeth Jones uses Beth Jones or Lizzy Jones when applying for credit—there will be problems. This can also be problematic for men whose name includes a generational suffix like “Jr.” or “Sr.”

Here’s what to do to fix the issue: gather copies of all of the credit related statements received each month. This should include any loan or credit obligation that likely is being reported to the credit reporting agencies, such as credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, and student loans. Look at how the name and address is displayed on the statement.  This is very likely going to be how your name is showing up in the credit bureau’s systems and it should hint at how to request a copy of your credit report.

If that doesn’t work then this quest is about to become even more difficult. Call the credit bureau and have them search their database by your Social Security Number. They can find any credit files associated with your SSN so as long as your SSN is actually what they have on file. Then, the problem should be solved.

Got a question for John? Tell us on Facebook or Twitter!

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