Credit Reports - Tenant Resource Center

Credit Reports

Note: Was your lease signed or did your concern start before 4/18/18? If so, please see the bottom of this page for law changes that may impact your situation. For quick summaries of the many many law changes, see our Law Changes Page.

What Does a Credit Bureau Do?

There are three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These bureaus gather information about a consumer's credit history from banks, loan companies, and other creditors and compile it into a credit report. The credit report is made available to other potential creditors, such as financial institutions and lenders, as well as insurance companies and landlords. Credit reporting agencies do not decide whether you are eligible for credit, but credit reports have a huge impact on your ability to receive credit (such as a lease).

Who Can Obtain My FREE Credit Report?

Credit bureaus do not need your approval before they release your report, and they do not have to notify you after they release it. However, federal law limits the situations in which credit reporting agencies can release your credit report. They may do so only:

  • In response to a court order
  • By your written request
  • In connection with a credit transaction for which you are being considered (with or without your knowledge) or are otherwise involved, such as a loan application
  • For employment or investment purposes
  • For the purposes of underwriting your insurance
  • If you apply for government benefits, or
  • For any other legitimate business purpose, such as renting.

Why Should I Look at My Own Credit Report?

It helps you prepare!

Since credit reports often have mistakes in them that can hurt your ability to get credit (including a lease from a landlord), it is a good idea to see a copy of your credit report once a year to check its accuracy. This provides you with the opportunity to correct errors and protect yourself from identity theft.

It can help you save money when you're applying for apartments!

Landlords are allowed to charge you up to $20 $25 for the actual cost of a credit check unless you provide a (free) copy of your own that is no older than 30 days. Wis. Stat. 704.085(1)(a) & (b), 2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 41 City of Madison tenants cannot be required to pay the cost of a credit check. MGO 32.02(2)((c) & 32.10(3), Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(b), ATCP 134.05(4) 

NOTE: Under the new laws, Wisconsin landlords are also allowed allowed to charge out-of-state applicants up to $25 for the actual cost of a background check. Wis. Stat. 704.085(2), 2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 41, Eff. 4/18/18.

Where Can I Get a FREE Copy of My Credit Report?

If you have been denied credit (including denied for an apartment), you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report. Simply request a copy from the credit-reporting agency that supplied the report to the creditor/landlord.

According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, as of September 20, 2010 all Wisconsin residents may request one free credit report per year from each credit bureau. Your FREE annual report MUST be ordered through a central clearinghouse:

Annual Credit Report Request Service - FREE Annual Credit Reports here! 
PO Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

NOTE: You can pay for additional copies of your credit report by contacting any of the three major credit bureaus. By law, they may charge up to $12.50 for each credit report (accurate for 2019, but these rates change about each year). Please note: These are the same bureaus that supply the free annual credit reports, but they ONLY offer those through the central clearing house listed above.

PO Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374

PO Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013

PO Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022

What Can I Do if I Believe the Information in My Credit Report is Inaccurate?

Write to the credit bureau immediately and describe the error in as much detail as possible. The agency must investigate your request and correct the error if one is found. If a correction is necessary, the agency must inform every business that has recently received your report that a correction has been made. If the dispute is not resolved, you have the right to file a brief statement describing the nature of the dispute with the credit reporting agency. This statement, or an accurate summary of the statement, must be included in any future credit report concerning you. Since the reports from the three major credit bureaus may contain different information about you, it is a good idea to obtain a report from each of them. Additionally, you should contact the company that provided the incorrect information. It may verify the mistake and write a letter on your behalf requesting that the credit reporting agency fix the error.

How Do I Protect Myself from Ruining My Credit Score?

Protect yourself because no one else will. Remember that it is your responsibility to know how much credit you are able to pay off each month. Creditors make money when you stretch out your payment or pay late. At the very least, make the minimum payment on all your bills. Late fees are expensive and many contracts say that missing one payment will result in a higher interest rate. Warn your kids that credit card debt can ruin their credit. Young adults are targets for credit cards they cannot pay off; educate them about responsible credit use.

Other Resources:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a government agency that enforces federal fair credit reporting laws. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-653-4261).

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a U.S. government agency that makes sure banks, lenders, and other financial companies treat consumers fairly.

Used with permission of Consumer Law Clinic
UW-Madison Law School - Intakes: (608) 263-6283



How do I get a free credit report?

Go to this website:  Annual Credit Report Request Service

Click to request report and decide if you want one or all three.  Answer some quick information about your address and past address.  The reports will all be available on line nearly immediately and you can print or save as a pdf after you answer some additional  financial information only you would know.

Will I get my credit score with my free report?

No.  The reports give you all the relevant information about late payments, who has requested your score, negative findings, etc, but to get the score they will ask for an additional fee.  Remember, if you are denied by a landlord due to your credit score, you are entitled to see a copy of that report.



The laws changed in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018. Many factors can determine which laws apply to your situation, including when the problem occurred, when the lease was signed or renewed, and when an eviction took place. If your lease was signed or problem started before 4/18/18 you will want to carefully review the language of the law to determine if it applies to your situation.

Purple text applies to leases and events as of 12/21/11 (2011 Wis. Act 108) Summary

Orange text applies to leases and events as of 3/31/12 (2011 Wis. Act 143Summary

Green text applies to leases and events as of 3/1/14 (2013 Wis. Act 76Summary WI, Summary Dane Co.

Blue text applies to leases and events as of 11/1/15 (CR 14-038) Summary

Maroon text applies to leases and events as of 3/2/16 (2015 Wis. Act. 176) Summary

Brown text applies to leases and events as of 4/18/18 (2017 Wis. Act 317) Summary

More information on law changes is available here. Have your lease available when calling the Tenant Resource Center so we can help you know what your rights and remedies are, including whether you can request double damages, court costs and reasonable attorney fees when you sue your landlord.

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