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Requesting a teen's credit report isn't child's play

By

Credit Score Report
Reporter Jeremy M. Simon
Jeremy M. Simon is a former staff reporter for CreditCards.com who covered credit reporting and scoring issues.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Credit Score Report,
I've read conflicting information about how to obtain credit reports for a minor child. For example, TransUnion would not allow me to request a credit report for my 17-year-old son on his behalf. The bureau insisted on talking to him -- alone. They provided my son a phone number to call to request the report. We called, and it was all automated, so we won't know if the request will be approved or not. (We were told a report will be mailed.) A couple of years ago, I tried to pull his credit report off of AnnualCreditReport.com, but I was notified that, due to my son's age, we would have to make the request via mail along with providing tons of additional documentation. So I guess my question is this: How old does a child have to be to be able to request and receive a copy of his credit report? -- Julie

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Hey Julie,
The short answer to your question is: It depends on who you're asking.

As your son undoubtedly knows, there are rules that keep young people from doing certain things until they reach a set age. Accessing credit reports is among them. These restrictions -- whether they take the form of laws, guidelines or more informal rules -- are in place to keep minors and the rest of us safe. When it comes to credit, the major U.S. credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) want to protect children from identity thieves by limiting access to minors' credit reports. Those safeguards include minimum age requirements for requesting your own credit report and procedures that prevent some third parties from accessing that information.

Although it may create headaches for you and other parents, the bureaus need proof that you aren't trying to access your child's credit report with malicious intent. Those rules and ages vary somewhat by bureau, with TransUnion taking a particularly hard line against people who might potentially victimize a child.   

TransUnion says that borrowers must be at least 17 years old before they can obtain a copy of their credit report. (The bureau says it doesn't create reports for anyone it knows is under 17.) If an adult wants access to a minor's report, that can send up red flags. "Bottom line -- minors should not have a credit report. If they do, they're likely victims of ID theft. And in many cases, it's usually a friend of the family or relative that has committed this act," Cliff O'Neal, senior director of corporate communications for TransUnion, says in an e-mail. 

Although you say the bureau wanted to speak to your son directly, TransUnion wouldn't confirm whether that is the bureau's standard operating procedure to prevent ID theft. It doesn't want to disclose too much about its process because "we don't want to provide a road map" to potential ID thieves, O'Neal says.   

Another bureau, meanwhile, takes a slightly different approach. Experian allows anyone 14 years or older to request their own report online, (click "Minor child instructions") by phone or through the mail. As for the third bureau, Equifax didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.  

Of course, your son may not even have a credit report for the bureaus to send him. Since he's still too young to borrow, as a minor, your son would likely only have a credit history in a few cases:  

  • He is an authorized user or joint account holder on one of your credit accounts.
  • He opened a line of credit in his own name by altering his date of birth to suggest he was older.
  • He is the victim of identity theft, and someone else opened an account in his name.

Even if he does have a legitimate credit history, it may not be easy for you to access it, as you've discovered. Typically, the bureaus require the parent or adult guardian to send a written request for the minor's credit report, along with copies of documents that verify the child's identity. For example, adults can access their child's Experian credit report, provided they supply additional documentation. "We do so to protect the child from fraud," says Rod Griffin, director of public education for credit bureau Experian. "It is essential that we verify the person requesting the report is, in fact, a legal guardian or parent and has legal authority to obtain the report, and is not someone who is trying to victimize the child."

For more on how each bureau treats the process, see the CreditCards.com story "Step-by-step guide to checking your minor child's credit."

Since these policies differ, if you're denied a copy of your son's TransUnion credit report, I'd recommend you and he try again with another credit bureau.

Good luck!

-Jeremy

See related: Step-by-step guide to checking your minor child's credit, What to do when a family member steals a minor's identity, Parents' 5 other card choices for college-age children, Credit card authorized users, joint account holders differ,

Jeremy M. Simon is a former CreditCards.com reporter who wrote about credit scoring, economic data, credit card crime and other issues. He is based in Austin, Texas. He is a graduate of Vassar College and has previously worked for Thomson Financial in New York City, where he wrote about the stock markets, and Texas Monthly, as well as several publications in Austin.

 

Published: March 1, 2011



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