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Pennsylvania residents looking to get a handle on their credit are about to get some help.

Starting today, state residents can receive one free credit report annually from each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus -- Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.

Anyone over the age of 18 who has a credit history can get a credit report, said David Rubinger, a spokesman for Equifax.

The Federal Trade Commission imposed obligations on the credit bureaus to provide free credit reports starting Dec. 1 last year in a staggered geographic rollout starting from the West Coast.

Therefore, by virtue of being in one of the last states to be considered under the rollout schedule, all students in Pennsylvania are able to take advantage of the Act if they have not already.

Meredith Wooten, a Political Science graduate student, sees good reason to check her credit report.

"You can check against credit fraud," she said. "I have been doing it once a year since 2002 because I had someone steal my check-card number and buy a bunch of computer software online," Wooten said.

However, protecting against fraud is not the only reason to check a credit standing regularly. Poor credit can adversely affect credit-card applications, mortgage applications, housing rentals and career opportunities with certain employers.

According to a 2004 report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, 79 percent of the credit reports surveyed contained mistakes of some kind, while up to a quarter of the credit reports surveyed contained serious errors that could result in the denial of credit, such as false delinquencies or accounts that did not belong to the consumer.

Although TransUnion spokes-man Clifton O'Neal disputed the validity of these figures, he nonetheless stressed the importance of being aware of one's credit standing.

"It gives a holistic view of your credit over time," O'Neal said.

Rubinger noted that the Internet was the most convenient delivery mechanism for credit reports.

"Once you pass the authentication process, you get our report immediately," he said, adding that consumers should go to the consolidated Web site rather than the individual bureau Web sites for their free credit report.

To request your free credit report, call 877-322-8228 or visit

Extra Credit How to read a credit report - There are five basic parts of information on a credit report: vital statistics, public records, collection agency, credit accounts and inquiries. - Check for any inaccuracies, misspellings or erroneous listings in your personal information. - Review public records for any errors in bankruptcy, liens or judgements. - Check for errors in credit accounts, namely accounts that are closed but still listed as open. Make sure your payment history is correctly reported. - Inquiries will reveal who has accessed your credit report to obtain credit approval (known as hard inquiries), as opposed to your own self-inquiry or promotional-offer inquiries (soft inquiries). - Any inaccuracies or errors should be immediately reported to the respective credit bureau. Unresolved disputes need to be followed up by asking for a letter of explanation to be attached to the report. By law, you are required to write a 100-word written explanation. - The credit report will not include a credit score, sometimes known as FICO score, nor will it include information about deposits, race, ethnicity or national origin. Source: TransUnion and Equifax

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