Addresses are part of the identifying information in your credit report, but they don’t affect your credit score. However, if your credit report shows an address you don’t recognize (as opposed to a place you recently lived), that could be a sign of identity theft.
We have discussed checking your credit reports for errors here at Keeping Score before. Right now is a great time to do that across all three bureaus since you can pull them all as often as weekly for free.
Just go to AnnualCreditReport.com. As a reminder, there is no damage to your score from pulling your own credit report. This week we are going to examine how addresses are used in credit reporting.
Why your credit report might show the wrong address
Mailing addresses are part of the identifying information in your credit report. This information includes your name, date of birth, Social Security number, employer, telephone number and both current and mailing previous addresses. This information comes from you (the consumer) via the lender when you apply for credit since credit applications routinely require this information. This is the main way address information gets updated.It is worth noting that in the bad old days of credit granting when credit decisions were made by a lender sitting across the desk from you, where you lived might well have made the difference between getting a loan or line of credit or being declined. This practice was called redlining and was part of a system that ended up discriminating against minorities and those new to the U.S. Credit scoring has done a herculean job of leveling the credit granting field and thereby removing personal bias, intentional or not, from financial decision making.
It is not uncommon after a move for your credit reports to not show your new address but instead still show a previous address for a time. That could be one reason a wrong address is listed. Changes of address are generally sent to one’s existing creditors and once the creditors have that information, they will, in turn, pass it on to the credit bureaus the next time they update their reporting. But not all creditors update information daily or even monthly. As a result, it may take a little while for the information to get to the bureaus. As soon as it does, your file is updated.
However, a wrong address can also be red flag because it may be an indicator of identity theft.
See related: How to protect yourself from credit card fraud
What to do if you suspect identity theft
If your report shows an address that was never yours or you don’t recognize, identity theft may be the culprit. Carefully check the rest of your reports for accounts that don’t belong to you. You will want to report any fraudulent accounts to the creditor in question, as well as to the credit bureaus.
Speed counts here. You only have to report the theft to one bureau, who will in turn report to the other two. The Federal Trade Commission also recommends that you place a fraud alert on your account to prevent further damage. I recommend that you place a credit freeze and an extended fraud alert instead. A fraud alert tells a prospective lender that something untoward may (or may not) be going on with your account. It requires them to exercise additional caution when opening a new account or making changes.
But it does not close the door to identity theft. A freeze will do that by locking your file so no one can look at your file without your express permission. You can freeze and unfreeze accounts easily and without cost. Freezing does make it a little more cumbersome to open new accounts, but that’s the idea.
While this may be inconvenient to you at times, it will make it impossible for someone else to pull your credit report to open a new account. That makes it worthwhile in my book. If you think you have been the victim of identity theft, I recommend that you check out the Identity Theft Resource Center for advice and help. This is a nonprofit organization, and its resources are free.
How credit bureaus determine your current address
The address information on your credit report comes from your current creditors. Generally, the only way the bureaus know there has been a change is when a creditor tells them. As long as your address in current with all of your creditors, your current address should be the one that is listed on your credit reports. You may have to give it a few billing cycles (read months) for the new address to show up, but eventually, it will.
Will a wrong address hurt your score?
Identifying information just helps the computers be sure they put the right information in the right file, and it has no bearing on your credit score. So, having a wrong address show up on your credit report will not affect your credit score in any way.
But if someone pulls your report for another reason – for instance, a potential employer or landlord – having the wrong address may cause confusion. Correct information is crucial to avoid such confusion, and that’s another reason to know what is on your reports at all times. But it may also be an indication that someone else’s info is on your report.
See related: How to dispute errors on your credit report
What to do if your credit report shows the wrong address
As noted above, if you move you will want to contact your creditors. They will notify the credit bureaus of the change in address. But if you don’t have open accounts or want to move the process along, you should know that you do have the right and ability to directly contact the bureaus to make changes to your identifying information.
Be aware that you will have to provide proof you are who you say you are if you are the one making the request (and not a creditor). You should also know that employer information and telephone numbers are usually only updated when new credit is added. So, if you want that information updated and included, you will have to make the request.
The same is true if you need to report a name change due to marriage or divorce. There are several steps to changing your name, starting with the Social Security Administration. Once that has been accomplished, you can get your driver’s license changed as well as letting your creditors know of the name change. Again, if you need to do this directly with the bureaus, you will likely have to submit proof.
As I noted in the beginning, all three bureaus are offering free weekly credit reports through April 2022, so now is the time to check your reports to be sure that all of your information – identifying and otherwise – is correct. There is no time like the present to set your mind at ease when you can do it for free and do it often.
Remember to keep track of your score!