You can ask for a free copy of your credit file by mail. There are two national credit bureaus in Canada: Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada. You should check with both bureaus.
Complete details on how to order credit reports are available online. Basically, you have to send in photocopies of two pieces of identification, along with some basic background information. The reports will come back in two to three weeks.
The “free-report-by-mail” links are not prominently displayed — the credit bureaus are anxious to sell you instant access to your report and credit score online.
If you can’t wait for a free report by mail, you can always get an instant credit report online. TransUnion charges $14.95. Equifax’s rate is $15.50.
To get your all-important credit score, you’ll have to spend a bit more. Both Equifax and TransUnion offer consumers real-time online access to their credit score (your credit report is also included). Equifax charges $23.95, while TransUnion’s fee is $22.90. There is no free service to access your credit score.
You can always try asking the lender you’re trying to do business with, but they’re not supposed to give credit score information to you.
What if I find an error in my credit report?
Well, you won’t be the first. In millions of files and hundreds of millions of reported entries, there are bound to be mistakes. Some are minor data-entry errors. Others are damaging whoppers. For example, we’ve heard of instances where negative credit files from one person got posted to the file of someone who had a similar name (the “close enough” school of credit reporting).
Some credit bureau watchers estimate that there are errors in 10 to 33 per cent of credit files. Some of those mistakes can be serious enough to hurt your credit status. That hit to your credit score can result in a denied loan or a higher interest rate. Across Canada, provincial consumer agencies collectively get hundreds of complaints annually about credit bureaus.
If you find something in your file that you dispute, you can write the credit agency in question and tell them you think there’s an error. The credit reporting agency usually sends along the form you need when it sends you the credit report. Use it to spell out the details of any information you dispute. The dispute forms are online, too.
Be sure to send along any documents that support your version of the matter in dispute. The reporting agency then contacts whoever submitted the information you’re disputing.
If the file is changed, you will be sent a copy of your new report and any company that’s requested your credit file in the previous two months will also be sent the corrected file.
If the item is not changed to your satisfaction, you have the right to add a brief statement to your credit file with your side of the story. You can also ask to have your credit file, along with your comment on the disputed entry, sent to any company that has requested your credit report in the previous two months.
You can also file a complaint with your provincial consumer agency.
What are credit monitoring services?
If you spot entries in your credit report that don’t seem to relate to you (such as charge accounts you never opened or bad debt notations you never got), you may be a victim of the rapidly-growing crime of identity theft. You should notify the credit reporting company immediately.
There are companies that will take the effort of checking your credit report off your hands — for a price. The credit reporting bureaus are, not surprisingly, very active in this area. At TransUnion, their credit monitoring service costs $14.95 a month and includes unlimited access to your credit profile and credit score. At Equifax, credit monitoring and identity theft protection starts at $16.95 a month.