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January 2005
Interested in Getting Your Free Credit Report?

   Beginning March 1, 2005, a new federal law will allow Wisconsin consumers to order a free credit report. Your credit report includes information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you have been sued, arrested, or filed bankruptcy. The three nationwide credit-reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union—sell this information to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses who use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, and renting or purchasing a home. For these reasons, it’s important to regularly review your credit report.

   How do you get the free credit report on or after March 1? The three agencies have established a joint toll-free number and website address where you can order your free report: 877-322-8228 and www.annualcreditreport.com. Be sure to carefully type this web address because similar-sounding websites will charge you for the credit report. You may also write for your free report by filling out the form at www.ftc.gov/credit and mailing it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5281. Do not contact each credit-reporting agency separately since the above addresses are the only address at which they will accept your free credit-report request.

   You will be asked to provide your name, address, and social security number and you may also be asked for information that only you would know to ensure you are who you say you are. If you request the report online, you will receive it immediately. If you call or write, you should receive the report in several weeks.

   What if you find errors? The National Public Interest Research Group reports that nearly 80 percent of credit reports contain mistakes and fully 25 percent contain serious errors that could cause credit to be denied. Therefore, if you find errors, you should report them to the credit-reporting agency in writing.

   Be careful of scams and read sales pitches carefully. Do not respond if you receive an e-mail or pop-up ad claiming that it’s from any of the three credit-reporting agencies—it is a scam. You will also want to carefully examine any fee-based service the three credit-reporting agencies may offer to you when you apply for your free credit report because each agency is viewing this as a marketing opportunity. Also, be careful of other so called “credit-reporting” companies that may offer you a “free” 30-day trial period since you may become one of a number of consumers who forget to cancel before the 30 days have expired and then are charged a fee.

Exploring the Insurance Maze, Continued

   I expected considerable feedback on last month’s article about insurance, and I was not disappointed. I greatly appreciate all the comments I received. Two persons made comments that I want to discuss here. First, Herb from Cincinnati, Ohio, mentioned that there are many high-quality fraternal benefit societies doing business in Wisconsin, and I agree. Our state has many high-quality local town mutual insurance companies as well. Second, Bob from Eau Claire noted that some commissions charged by independent insurance agents could exceed those charged by agents working for specific insurance companies. Here, too, I agree. Once again, make sure you fully understand what coverage you are receiving from your policy, the term of your coverage, and its cost including commissions. An educated consumer is a wise consumer.

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