You know your credit score is important, but so is your credit report.
By reviewing your credit report on a yearly basis, you can catch errors and even fraud in your credit history and keep your credit record squeaky clean.
Credit scores can be tricky things.
Although FICO is the most commonly used credit score in America, other companies have stepped up to offer their own scores.
They're not always transparent about exactly how those scores are calculated, but the basis for nearly any credit score is going to be your credit history.
That means it's vital to periodically check your credit report to make sure that all your accounts are in good standing and that you haven't been the victim of identity theft.
This brings us to Experian.
History of Experian
Founded in 1996, Experian is the newest and largest of the three credit bureaus.
Experian maintains credit information on 220 million U.S. consumers and 25 million U.S. businesses, and demographic information on 235 million consumers across the U.S.
Experian provides a range of business services, from credit information for lenders to analytical software for detecting fraud.
Experian's credit report uses the same data its business services line relies on, so consumers can see the same information that lenders see about them.
In addition to providing credit reports, Experian also provides identity protection and monitoring services.
The three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion) have also rolled out the VantageScore through a joint venture, VantageScore Solutions, LLC.
The VantageScore is based on their proprietary scoring model and competes with the more commonly used FICO score.
Experian offers credit reporting services, as well as identity protection and credit monitoring services.
Credit Reporting Services
Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, all U.S. consumers are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus.
You can obtain this by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com, which is maintained by all three major credit bureaus.
From there, you can select to receive your report from Experian, or from another credit bureau if you prefer.
In addition to the free credit report, Experian also offers two tiers of monthly credit monitoring services: CreditWorks Basic and CreditWorks Premium.
This includes an updated Experian credit report every 30 days once you first log in and also includes credit monitoring and customer support.
This package is free, but it does not provide your credit score.
The premium package includes monthly three-bureau updates, updated FICO scores every 30 days and up to $1 million in identity theft insurance.
This package costs $4.99 for the first month and $24.99 per month after that.
You can also get your VantageScore through Experian either by buying a 30-day package for $14.95 or paying $7.95 to view it on a one-time basis.
However, you should know that personal finance websites and apps will also give you a VantageScore or other credit score for free if you join.
Identity Protection Services
The plus package costs $9.99 per month, and the premium package costs $19.99 per month.
IdentityWorks Plus includes Experian credit monitoring alerts, dark web surveillance alerts, fraud resolution support and up to $1 million in identity theft insurance.
The premium package also includes three-bureau credit reporting alerts, social security number trace alerts, court records and booking alerts, and sex offender registry alerts.
Each version comes with a 30-day free trial.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to sign up with Experian?
You can sign up with Experian online at www.experian.com.
How to get your Experian credit score?
What is a security freeze on Experian?
A security freeze prevents Experian from releasing your credit report to a lender without your permission.
A security freeze can be helpful if you suspect you've been the victim of identity theft and you want to prevent anyone else from applying for a credit card or loan in your name.
If you are actively shopping around for a loan, however, a security freeze on your account can delay or prohibit the timely release of your credit report to a lender.
How to freeze your credit with Experian?
The process for freezing your credit with Experian varies by your state of residence.
Typically, you'll need to contact the reporting agency and provide proof of your identity (like a government-issued ID), your most recent addresses and perhaps a copy of a recent utility bill.
You may also need to pay a fee, but this can vary by state and is sometimes waived for seniors and minors.
Be sure to find out the exact process for your state before applying to Experian for a security or credit freeze.
Experian provides a complete account of security freeze procedures by state here.
How to unfreeze your credit with Experian?
To unfreeze your credit, you'll need to contact Experian with proof of your identity, a personal identification number or password provided to you by the agency, and a statement requesting the freeze be lifted.
You may also need to name the creditor you'd like to receive your credit information.
How to cancel membership with Experian?
To cancel your membership with Experian, you'll need to call their customer service center at (877) 284-7942.
How can I dispute a score on Experian?
You cannot dispute a score with Experian, as a credit score is simply a reflection of the information in your credit report.
However, you can dispute information in your credit report that you believe to be inaccurate.
You can file a dispute by mail, by phone or online, and you can also check an ongoing dispute by going here.
How often does Experian update my credit score?
Your credit score can change continuously, whenever new information is added to your credit report.
If you buy Experian's CreditWorks Premium package, you can receive alerts whenever your credit score is updated.
How to read an Experian credit report?
When you review your credit report with Experian or any other credit bureau, you'll want to look for errors.
Make sure your identity information (e.g. name, address, phone number) is all correct, and make sure that you haven't been confused with someone else with a similar name.
Check to make sure that the status of your accounts has been reported correctly – for instance, make sure you don't have the same debt listed twice or any closed accounts listed as open.
How does Experian determine your credit score?
There are several different credit scores in the market today, but they are all essentially based on factors like your payment behavior, length of payment history and outstanding debt.
However, most companies are fairly secretive about exactly how their credit scores are calculated.
VantageScore Solutions, LLC, the joint venture owned by the three major credit bureaus, does not disclose exactly how the VantageScore is calculated.
These are the factors it considers, in order of most to least influential: payment history, age and type of credit, percent of credit limit used, total balances or debt, recent credit and available credit.
Fair Isaac Corporation is also somewhat secretive about precisely how its FICO Score is determined, but it's calculated roughly along these lines: 35% payment history, 30% amount owed, 15% length of history, 10% new credit, 10% types of credit used.
Thanks to recent changes, medical debts are no longer weighted as heavily as other kinds of debts, and tax liens and civil judgments are no longer counted by the major credit bureaus in consumers' credit files.
How does Experian improve your credit score?
Experian itself cannot improve your credit score.
You can improve your credit score by demonstrating good payment behavior.
If you pay credit card bills, student loans, mortgages, auto loans or other types of personal loans on time, this will demonstrate to potential lenders that you are a good credit risk.
Paying rent and utility bills on time typically will not affect your credit score, but if these bills are sent to collections, that could show up as a black mark on your credit report.
Here's where Experian comes in: Experian offers tools to help you monitor your credit.
An annual credit report is perhaps the most critical tool for keeping on top of your credit score – and for protecting yourself against identity theft.
A credit report will show you all the credit accounts opened in your name, and the standing of those accounts, be it good, poor or closed.
If you notice an account that's in poor standing, perhaps because you've forgotten about it, you will want to settle it.
And if you spot an account that doesn't look familiar at all, you'll want to investigate that with the financial institution in question and dispute that information with the credit bureau.
You should also know that IdentityTheft.gov is one resource you can turn to if you suspect you've been the victim of identity theft.
Why are my Experian and Equifax reports different?
Your Experian and Equifax reports are most likely different because one of your creditors chose to report your information to one bureau and not the other.
Are Experian scores accurate?
Experian scores are considered to be about as accurate as any other reputable credit score in the market.
Yet there's some debate about the efficacy of credit scores in predicting a consumer's credit worthiness in the first place.
A consumer with a stable income and sizable savings should theoretically represent a fine credit risk for a lender, but if that person has never taken out a loan or credit card before, they might not have a credit score at all.
What is a good credit score with Experian?
A score between 670 and 739 is typically considered good, while a higher score is considered very good or exceptional and a lower score is considered fair or poor.
What's the difference between FICO and Experian?
The FICO score is offered by the Fair Isaac Corporation and is the most commonly used credit score in the U.S. today.
FICO scores are based on information from consumer reports through all three of the major credit bureaus and are available to lenders through all of those same credit bureaus.
In addition to the FICO score, all three major credit bureaus, including Experian, offer their own credit score, the VantageScore.
Like the FICO score, the VantageScore is also based upon a borrower's payment history, but it's calculated using the three bureaus' own proprietary scoring model.
What information does Experian hold?
Experian holds personal information, public information on an individual, as well as credit and financial account information reported to the credit bureau by lenders and financial institutions.
What gets reported to Experian?
Most major credit cards and financial institutions report your credit and account standing to Experian, although not all of them do.
This may explain discrepancies between a credit pulled from Experian and a report pulled from another bureau.
Experian also draws information from public records.
What credit cards go through Experian?
Many major credit card issuers will pull information from Experian when considering an application and likewise, will also report your account standing to Experian.
Some credit card issuers will pull your report from all three major credit bureaus but may need to ask your permission before they do this.
In any event, it's best to read the fine print on a credit card application or check with the issuer to find out whether they pull information from Experian or from another credit bureau.
Is it safe?
In 2015, Experian was the target of a data breach that may have exposed as many as 15 million consumers' personal information.
However, data breaches are on the rise worldwide and financial services and insurance companies make particularly attractive targets.
In today's world, it's more unusual not to have done business with an institution that was compromised one way or another.
The 2015 breach notwithstanding, it is safe to pull your credit report from Experian.
Is it worth getting an Experian credit report?
In short, yes. If you're on a budget or are not particularly concerned about the risk of identity theft, you may not want to pay for any of Experian's monthly packages.
However, it's always worth the time to run your credit report once a year just to make sure that all your accounts are in good standing and that no fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name.
Is Experian a hard inquiry?
Checking your credit report or credit score with Experian will not show up as a hard inquiry on your credit report.
A hard inquiry will happen when a lender checks your credit when you apply for a loan or credit card.
Checking your own credit will show up only as a soft inquiry and will not hurt your credit.
Experian: Our recommendation
Experian has built a name in the market as one of the largest and most reliable sources of consumer credit monitoring services.
It offers a wide variety of tools for monitoring your credit and preventing identity theft.
Only you can decide whether one of its paid subscription services is right for you, though.
A savvy consumer should first pull their free annual credit report before considering a paid subscription.
The free credit report is the most valuable tool of all.