Protecting Your Credit During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting financial challenges are straining many people’s budgets. A sudden and drastic drop in income can leave people in a position to make hard choices to keep up with expenses. Individuals may find they need to rely on credit through a credit card or bank loan to get through an unknown financial future. Unfortunately, these challenges are also bringing out the scammers.

Federal law gives everyone the right to request three free credit reports each year. To help individuals manage their credit obligations and keep an eye out for fraud during these challenging times, the three major credit reporting bureaus – TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian – now offer free weekly online credit reports through April 2021. The weekly free reports can be ordered online at the only official website: www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

The free weekly reports are only available when requesting a credit report on the official website. Two other options for ordering a free annual credit report from the three major bureaus are through the mail and by phone toll free at 1-877-322-8228. Note that the annual free credit report does not include a credit score.

“For some people, the free weekly credit reports will provide added reassurance during these times,” says Peggy Olive, UW-Madison Financial Capability Specialist. “For others, keeping up with weekly credit reports may sound overwhelming. If you prefer checking your free reports every four months, I’d encourage you to sign up for our reminder emails.”

The “Check Your Free Credit Report: 2/2, 6/6, 10/10” campaign from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension serves to make it easier to remember to order those free credit reports. Anyone can sign up to receive an email reminder from Extension three times a year—on 2/2, 6/6, and 10/10—on the campaign’s website at https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/creditreport/.

Each of the three major credit reporting bureaus has set up a website specific to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Equifax COVID-19 Credit and Financial Resources Center
Experian COVID-19 Resources & Credit Education
TransUnion COVID-19 Support Center

The three bureaus also offer a range of paid and free services, including credit monitoring and a sample credit score. Remember, a purchase or credit card information is never required to order the official free credit report.

Unfortunately, scammers and fraudsters are taking advantage of people’s stress and confusion about various financial programs related to the pandemic. Beware of scams that look like emails, texts, or phone calls claiming to be from your credit card company or lender. If you need to reach out to creditors, call the customer number on the back of your credit card or on your monthly bill, use their app, or visit their website online.

Understanding your credit report and score can help in making decisions today and protecting your credit worthiness in the future. The Extension “2/2, 6/6, 10/10” campaign website https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/creditreport/ provides information on reading your credit report, what contributes to credit scores, how to place a free credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit reports, and whether that’s the right decision for you.

Extension has also created short videos on credit-related topics, as well as topics related to avoiding scams, working with creditors, and financial resources available during the pandemic. Find a link to the videos on the Credit Campaign website.

For more information on credit reports contact Nancy Vance, Family Living Educator at Clark County Extension
715-743-5121 / nancy.vance@wisc.edu