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The average American consumer is said to have $8,000 to $10,000 in credit card debt. It’s not surprising that personal bankruptcies also are rocketing at unprecedented and alarming rates. That also explains why consumers are bombarded with commercials from firms claiming to be able to fix bad credit or to restore good credit.
The truth is, they can’t.
More than ever it’s important that American consumers know how to check their credit reports with the three national credit reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. Credit reports are consumers’ credit histories that potential lenders, landlords and employers often check before extending a loan, signing a lease or offering a job.
If consumers find inaccurate information, such as a loan that does not belong to them or incorrect Social Security number, on their report they can and should contact that bureau to request that it be corrected.
Correct information, even if it negatively reflects on the consumer, cannot be removed by anyone. For example, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy stays on a consumer’s credit report for 10 years. Consumers who have been taken to court by a creditor or have had a collection in the last seven years will see these items appear on their credit reports for up to seven years.
Financial experts recommend consumers annually order copies of their credit reports from each of the three national credit reporting bureaus. Here’s how to order a credit report from the three national credit reporting bureaus. Remember, consumers who have been denied credit, insurance or employment within the last 60 days are entitled to a free report from the bureau that the creditor used.

To order a report online with a credit card, click on the Experian website. To order a report using a check or money order write to Experian. Include the following information: first name, middle initial, last name, spouse’s name, your date of birth, Social Security number, home address and previous address for last five years. If you have moved in the last six months, include two proofs of residence, such as copies of driver’s license and utility bills. Cost is $8 in most states. Call Experian to verify. Send check, payable to Experian, and letter to: Experian, P.O. Box 2104, Allen, Texas 75013-2104

To order a report using a credit card over the telephone, call Equifax. To order by mail, send a letter with the same information as listed above for Experian and a check. Cost is $8.50 in most states, but call Equifax first to verify. Send check, payable to Equifax, and letter to: Equifax, P.O. Box 105873, Atlanta, Ga. 30348

Trans Union
To order a report, write a letter, including the same information required by Experian and Equifax. Cost is $8.50 in most states, but call Trans Union to verify. Send check, payable to Trans Union, and letter to: Trans Union, P.O. Box 1000, Chester, Pa. 19022