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Many Americans Are Watching Their Credit Reports

I’m Barbara Klein with the VOA Special English Economics Report.

More and more Americans are reading their own credit report. Credit reports are used by lenders to decide how risky it would be to offer a loan or credit to an individual.

The report holds information about a person's current loans and credit-card debt. It records late payments of bills and any unpaid loans. It all adds up to a credit history. These days, though, lenders often welcome people with bad credit histories. They are charged higher interest rates and other loan costs.

Some Americans want to read their credit report to know if they have been a victim of identity theft. They can see if any loans or credit cards have been opened in their name with stolen personal information.

Another reason is that credit reports are not always correct. They might contain wrong information or old information.

Before nineteen seventy-one, Americans could not see any of this information. Then Congress passed a law to give citizens the right to see and dispute their credit reports. Over the years, new rights have been added to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

One change, in two thousand one, permits people to see their FICO [FYE-coh] score. FICO is short for the Fair Isaac Corporation. That company developed a way to represent credit risk with a number. The number is based on information gathered by credit reporting agencies.

Fair Isaac says many lenders not just in the United States but around the world use its technology to create credit scores. But lenders are not the only ones interested in these numbers. As of May, the company says it sold ten million credit scores to individuals.

People with high scores can expect lower interest rates for loans. The idea is that the higher the score, the lower the risk. Paying bills on time and paying off credit-card debt improves credit scores.

There are three main credit reporting agencies. Two companies are Equifax, in Atlanta, Georgia, and TransUnion in Chicago, Illinois. The third, Experian, is owned by a British company.

These agencies will sell people a copy of their credit report. But Congress last year again amended the Fair Credit Reporting Act. As of this September first, all Americans can receive one free credit report per year from each of the three agencies.

This VOA Special English Economics Report was written by Mario Ritter. Our reports are online at I'm Barbara Klein.