For a close look at credit reports, The Evening Sun's Georgia C. Marudas obtained copies of her own files from the three major companies, TRW Information Systems, Equifax Inc. and Trans Union Corp., and copies of her husband's files from Equifax and TRW. Here are the highlights:
* Although I've been working for 22 years, creditors might conclude I've been living in a cave. The reports contain precious little information about me, despite two house purchases, several car purchases, major credit cards and a host of retail accounts, none of which has ever been in arrears.
* None of the reports lists my spouse's name or indicate I'm married. To me this seems a big omission, considering that most credit data apparently have been reported under my husband's name.
His Equifax report, on the other hand, lists me as his spouse; his TRW report notes that his spouse's initial is G.
* My Equifax and Trans Union reports don't list any employer for me at all, and TRW lists the paper I worked at five years ago. My husband's Equifax report lists as his current employment a job he left in 1976. His TRW job listing is six years out of date.
* Ford Motor Co. was nice enough to report that I satisfactorily paid for a car. I can't say the same for General Motors, although you can be sure my name and signature were required when the car was financed through GMAC.
* The only live credit account appearing on my reports is American Express, which is accurately listed. Saks and Hechinger, where I haven't charged anything in ages, report to ++ TRW that I have accounts with no balance due, and Saks tells Trans Union.
But there is no listing of Hecht's, Sears, Montgomery Ward and Caldor, where I've been a steady customer, nor a trace of credit cards issued by MBNA and First Chicago Bank that I use. In fact, on my husband's credit report, all those accounts are listed as individual accounts, except for Hecht's, which is "undesignated." But his report lists him as an authorized user of my American Express account.
* My husband's TRW report lists a Citicorp Choice account that we never knew existed, though it's shown as more than 10 years old.
* The Equifax and Trans Union reports include forms for disputing anything that's incorrect, and both companies advise you of your rights. TRW's form, on the other hand, seems a lot less friendly, even hostile. Its instructions and method for disputing data are arcane.
And then the form adds, in bold type: "In some instances although the status of an item is accurate you may have an explanation of the circumstances. Since this is not a dispute of the accuracy of the item, the account will not be checked. These types of explanations should be provided to a credit grantor when applying for credit. DO NOT send them to us. In addition, we will not check any item if your dispute is frivolous or irrelevant."
* Equifax wins my vote for easiest to read, with Trans Union second. TRW, with pages of repetition and a myriad of codes, gets a Bronx cheer.
* While people are always telling you to call your local credit bureau, it's not as easy as it seems. TRW has no listing under credit reporting agencies in the C&P Consumer Yellow Pages, although the company has a Columbia office. However, a listing does appear in the Business Yellow Pages. Equifax lists a number but it doesn't work. Trans Union's number is listed, and it work.