Your credit: The secrets to taking more control

Readers write in telling us that they feel as though they have no control over their credit. They find out after the fact when someone checks their credit report and have little or no control over what's actually in that credit history. Here's one recent comment we received on that issue:

Do you believe we have a real say so in controlling one's credit? It seems like the credit issuers have the upper hand over the consumer. I want to have no more than two credit cards open at a time. I want the credit bureaus to contact me each and every time someone requests any info concerning my account. We have little control, if rules change to favor the consumer maybe the crooks will have a harder time with one"s credit. I want more control over what these bureaus do with my info. Do you agree?

The best way to get immediate control of who's looking at your credit report is to lock your credit file with each of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You will have to pay $10 to each of the bureaus to lock your credit history and another $10 to reopen it if you want to let someone look at your credit report, but it does give you total control over the report. There are firms out there promising to lock your credit, like LifeLock and TrustedID, but you'll pay at least $10 per month for the service.

The new law that made it mandatory for credit bureaus to allow everyone to lock their credit score started in November 2008, but few people know about it. Before that time certain states required that credit bureaus make that service available. It's always been available for people who were victims of identify theft, but why wait until you're a victim?

If you lock your credit reports, you will need to write a letter (and pay $10) asking for the credit bureaus to reopen your credit reports in order to apply for credit. So don't lock your credit reports if you are thinking of buying a house, buying a car or applying for a credit card in the next few months. Wait until after you're secured the credit you want. But once you're credit is locked, only creditors with whom you already have an account will be able to look at your credit report unless you're contacted first.

You should also make a practice of checking your credit report annually. You can do that for free at Annual Credit You will have to link to each of the credit reporting agencies directly from that website. When you get to the agency, you'll usually find the free link hidden at the bottom of the page. Search for that free link or you'll be signing up for some type of paid monthly service. After getting your report, correct any errors you find.

Lita Epstein has written more than 15 books including the "Complete idiot's Guide to Improving Your Credit Score" and "Surviving a Layoff: A Week-by-Week Guide to Getting Your Life Back Together."
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