Information on how to check your credit report for free, correct any mistakes in it and tips on avoiding identity theft or credit repair scams.
A credit report includes:
- your name, age and address
- your job and where you work
- what debts you have
- your paying habits (e.g., do you usually pay on time or are your payments late, do you only make minimum payments)
A credit report does not include:
- a bankruptcy discharged more than 7 years ago, unless you have declared bankruptcy more than once
- the payment or non-payment of taxes or fines after 7 years
- convictions for crimes after 7 years
- criminal charges against you that were dropped
Credit reporting agencies
Consumer reporting agencies create and maintain credit reports. They collect information from various sources, like banks, credit card companies, mortgage companies and other creditors.
In Ontario, there are two major consumer reporting agencies:
- Equifax Canada
- TransUnion Canada
Agencies must register with the Government of Ontario.
In Ontario, the Consumer Reporting Act sets out:
- what a consumer reporting agency can report
- how a consumer’s credit report can be used
- when someone can request credit report
- what consumers can do if their files contain any information that is wrong or incomplete
The Consumer Reporting Act recognizes that businesses, landlords and employers need to have correct information. At the same time it ensures:
- that agencies collect, maintain and report your credit and personal information responsibly
- your right to know what is being reported about you and to whom
- your right to correct information about yourself that is inaccurate
A person who is found guilty of knowingly providing a consumer reporting agency with false or misleading information could be fined up to $25,000 or imprisoned for up to 1 year, or both. A corporation that is found guilty of the same offence could be fined up to $100,000.
Who can request a copy
By law, consumer reporting agencies must get your consent before they can share a copy of your report. They can provide a copy of your credit report to:
- lenders and creditors
- insurance companies
- potential employers (e.g., to assess applications for loans, lines of credit, insurance, apartment rentals or employment)
If a person denies you credit or increases a charge or fee — and if you request it within 60 days — you must be told:
- the nature and the source of the information
- the name and address of the consumer reporting agency reporting the information
Free credit check
We recommend that you check your credit report at least once a year. Nothing in your file should be a surprise to you. To get a free copy of your report, contact:
- Equifax Canada
- TransUnion Canada
You may want to contact both agencies because they might have different information on file. Your credit history and personal information must be easy to read.
If your credit report includes any information that is wrong or is not familiar to you, it could be a sign that an identity thief is using your personal information.
To correct information in your credit report that is inaccurate or incomplete, you:
- can ask the consumer reporting agency to correct the error
- may need to give proof to the agency that the information is not correct
- may ask the consumer reporting agency to notify anyone who received a copy of the incorrect report in the past 6 months to 1 year (depending on the type of information that was corrected)
Once the error is corrected, the consumer reporting agency must notify anyone who received a copy of the report that had the error in the past 60 days.
If your problem is still not solved, see the steps to file a complaint with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. They will ask the consumer reporting agency to provide more details about your complaint, and may order corrections on your file. We must have your written permission before your personal file can be accessed.
Prevent identity theft
If you want to be cautious, you can also pay a fee and get an alert to be included in your credit file. This alert warns a person to verify the identity of anyone who claims to be you.
A consumer reporting agency must put an alert in your file if you ask for one.
Consumer reporting agencies may charge a maximum fee of $5.00 to include this alert in your file. They must give this alert to anyone who receives information from your file.
When a person receives this alert, he or she must take reasonable steps to verify that he or she is actually dealing with you before proceeding with certain types of transactions, like:
- extending credit or loaning money
- entering into a rental contract for housing or an employment contract
- underwriting insurance
An example of a reasonable step that a person might take to verify that he or she is actually dealing with you is contacting you at the telephone number that you provided to the consumer reporting agency.
Avoid credit repair scams
Be wary of companies promising to “fix” bad credit.
Some credit repair companies claim that they can get negative information (e.g., a bankruptcy) taken away from your credit report if you pay them a fee. Fees are usually large and paid in advance of any service, which is illegal.
Be aware that:
- it’s illegal for credit repairers to accept advance payment or to charge a fee unless their services lead to a real improvement in your credit file
- it’s illegal for credit repairers to say that they can improve your credit file before looking at your consumer report
- credit repair companies must provide you with a written contract
- you have a 10-day cooling-off period to cancel a contract for credit repair services (this 10-day period starts when you get a copy of your contract)
- you can take a company to court if you cancel a contract during the 10-day cooling-off period and they don’t refund you for any money that you have paid them
- it’s illegal for credit repairers to make false or misleading claims
Maintain good credit
The only way to improve a poor credit rating is to pay your debts and allow time to pass to show that your payment habits have improved. Having a good credit record may make it easier for you to get a loan, a credit card or rent an apartment.
Here are some tips for maintaining good credit:
- always pay your bills on time (if you have a reason for being late with your payment, let the company know)
- don’t go over your credit card limit
- don’t apply for credit too often
- understand the total cost of everything you buy and add up monthly charges