Helping an aging parent? Thinking of renting a room out to a tenant? Curious about what your spouse is hiding? These are situations when you might be interested in someone else’s credit report.
Getting a look at your own credit report is as easy as requesting one for free from AnnualCreditReport.com. But getting someone else’s is a little trickier and often impossible without permission.
When you can check someone’s credit report
There are legitimate reasons you might want to check someone’s credit — and these are outlined under the “permissible purposes” section in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Some of these permissible purposes require that you have power of attorney or written approval. Some require action by a court or government agency.
Here are some times when you can request another person’s credit report — and some tips for navigating the system.
Death of a spouse: Open, unchecked credit accounts can be a target for identity thieves. To protect your loved one’s assets and find out what issues you may have to address, you will need to see the person’s credit report.
First, alert the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, that your spouse has died and then request a copy of his or her credit report with a letter sent via certified mail. The letter should contain the following information for the deceased:
- Mailing address at time of death
- Social Security number
- Date of birth
- Previous addresses for the past two years
- A copy of the death certificate
Be sure to request that a “do not issue credit” notation be added to your spouse’s report, and ask to be notified immediately if anyone tries to open a credit account in his or her name.
Helping a family member make decisions: Bruce McClary, director of media relations at ClearPoint Credit Counseling, says families who come in for help often need to pull a credit report for a family member to see where problems lie. This could include parents helping a college student sort out finances or those helping an aging relative. Military spouses with power of attorney also may need to access a husband’s or wife’s report to take care of financial issues at home, he says.
You can get a consenting relative’s credit report online through a credit reporting agency once the relative has granted you access. Your relative will need to go through the process with you so that he or she can answer the agency’s identity-verification questions.
Checking out prospective tenants: You can ask those who want to rent from you to provide current copies of their credit reports. Because they can get their reports for free, it will save you the cost of buying it, with their permission, from any number of third-party tenant-screening companies such as National Tenant Network or American Tenant Screen.
Determining how much a spouse can pay for child support: Under the FCRA, this request has to come from the head of a state or local child support enforcement agency (or a state or local government official authorized by the head of such an agency).
Though a credit report doesn’t contain salary information, a judge may ask to see the report to take a look at a person’s financial health — whether he or she has a mortgage, an equity line of credit or a record of bankruptcy or late payments, says Tena Friery of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
Investigating whether someone’s using your child’s Social Security number: If your child is getting credit card offers in the mail, or if you’re told the Social Security number is already in use when you try to open a financial account for the child, that’s a big red flag.
Children should not have credit reports before they are 18, but if you suspect fraud, check when they are 16, advises Jay Foley co-founder of the Identity Theft Resource Center. If a report exists, that gives you two years to clean it up before the child enters adulthood. Be aware, though, that repeated checks of a child’s credit might trigger the creation of a file, which you don’t want before the child reaches age 18.
Checking out a job applicant: Employers may want to check applicants’ credit information because they are interested in how potential employees handle money — and federal law allows them to. Employers must get applicants’ permission, and a tough job market makes it hard for a job-seeker to say no. Employers who turn down potential employees because of something they find in the report are required to inform them that something in the credit report disqualified them from being hired.
Employer credit checks are controversial, as people hurting from the recession are getting turned down for jobs that could help them get back on their feet. In 2011, California became the seventh state to pass a law limiting an employer’s ability to check credit reports unless that information is vital to the job’s duties. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 61 similar bills in 29 states and Washington, D.C., were introduced or pending in the 2011 session.
Some information may remain private
The information available to those checking a credit report will differ, based on the reason it’s requested, says Doug Minor, author of “Anatomy of Credit Scores” and founder of Easy Credit Relief in Westlake Village, Calif.
Employers, for example, generally obtain credit reports from third-party companies and aren’t able to see the applicant’s credit score. The report will also be modified to delete personal information on specific accounts.
Minor says some curious spouses are under the impression that they are entitled to see their spouses’ credit reports, but that’s not so. Trying to get that information under false pretenses is a very bad idea and potentially actionable, he says.
Under the FCRA, anyone who acquires another person’s credit report without that person’s permission is liable for damages sustained by the affected person up to $1,000, plus attorney fees.