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My wife and I would like to see a credit report on our 20-year-old son. He is a college student, and we are responsible for virtually all of his expenses. We want to ensure he doesn't have credit/debt that we don't know about.

Is this possible without his knowledge or permission?

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    It may be possible, but I think what you should be more concerned about is whether it is legal. – littleadv Feb 24 '15 at 20:14
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    Why can't you just ask him for his permission to obtain his credit report? – Ben Miller - Reinstate Monica Feb 24 '15 at 20:24
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    The number one thing teens like is trust from there parents. Ask him / her if you can obtain the credit report and have him / her provide you one. Going around there back and getting their credit report at that age is not so nice. – JonH Feb 24 '15 at 20:49
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    Can you, yes. As a parent you probably have all of the relevant information just like a spouse might spy on their significant other without permission. Is it legal, no. – Ender Feb 24 '15 at 21:50
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    How can your son pull a credit report on you? – user253751 Feb 25 '15 at 6:06
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Can you pull a credit report on your adult child, spouse - or even any other adult for that matter? If you have access to things like national ID (Social Security number), can answer security questions related to addresses they have previously lived and outstanding major debts they may have (house loans, car loans, etc), then sure you physically can.

Now, is it legal to do so? According to Experian (a credit bureau) obtaining someone's credit report without their permission is considered identity theft and fraud, even if you do not use it for some nefarious purpose. Even if you are a parent, it is a violation of federal and state laws and is punishable by fines and imprisonment.

Can they find out? Absolutely! Answering a question wrong (according to Visa), or in some other way tripping a security alert (such as if the person has intentionally put a "freeze" on their account and opted-in to some identity theft protection scheme, such as one requiring a special pin), will cause your attempt to fail and often require calling the company directly to provide additional verification information (which of course you may not have and is less predictable). Depending on the monitoring scheme, a monitoring service might even send an email or letter to a person directly if such an attempt is made (but this does vary by service and bureau).

Even if you do it correctly, all requests are logged and often are noted on credit reports regarding past inquiries - so if in the future they run their credit report they may see the inquiry they will know they didn't request (that's weird, this is the first time I've ever checked my credit...). If the person is using a mailing address you don't know about, like a PO Box or a friend's house to get mail (so you don't know about their card/statements/loans), then you will almost certainly lock the account and a fraud alert will be sent in a way you can't intercept. That's going to be an unpleasant set of conversations!

The alternative: As Mint.com suggests, just get their permission! You can request it so you can go over the importance of good credit with them, or you can tell them outright you are concerned that they may be getting themselves into debt. You can bribe them with getting them a for-fee credit score and analysis at your expense, or extort them by demanding that if they don't like it they can live somewhere else...how you play it is up to you.

But horror stories are easily avoided, and you can use the opportunity to actually get a credit report and sit down and go over it together. Do they know what a report is and what's on it? Most adults twice their age sure don't!

Parenting tip bonus: if you are open and honest and explain why you'd like to get a credit report and sit down with them to discuss it and they freak out - bingo, you've got an answer that something is wrong and it didn't cost you a dime and you didn't break the law.

Now, to be completely clear, if they don't respond well to the credit report that isn't evidence of some kind of guilt or impropriety (a thanks to the comments for pointing out this potential misinterpretation). However, what it does indicate is your relationship may be out of whack - imbalanced or unhealthy in some way. You could be in a co-dependent situation where you are covering for them so they don't have to be responsible or independent (bad for both of you), or they may be hiding from reality, or you may have have developed serious trust and boundary issues that need to be addressed, or any of dozens of other possibilities!

All of these are possible - they might be really screwing up, or maybe you are, or maybe you both are, or maybe it's all ok and you can relax. I hope this makes clear the importance of figuring out what reality is and dealing with that, which is the foundation of personal financial health and healthy personal relationships, too!

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    or maybe they just don't want to share the personal detail of their life. Even spouses can have secrets from each other. I'd be uncomfortable sharing financial details with my parents even though there is nothing to worry about. – Femaref Feb 25 '15 at 10:15
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    I would totally freak out if my parents would ask me about this, even though there is nothing there. It is absolutely not my parents business, just like it is not my business to inquire their credit reports. – eis Feb 25 '15 at 12:55
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    @eis the OP states they are supporting their son and paying expenses. Presumably they feel that any debts he runs up will be theirs to pay as well. This makes for a slightly different situation than pure nosiness and "none of their business" – Kate Gregory Feb 25 '15 at 13:09
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    Bonus Bonus Parenting Tip: Offer to go through the process with them so that they learn the importance of and process of getting their own credit score. – Zibbobz Feb 25 '15 at 15:39
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    And now we transfer this to parenting.stackexchange, right? – corsiKa Feb 25 '15 at 20:00
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"{son's name} - it's important that you check your credit report to make sure there are no fradulent credit lines opened in your name, like someone using your identity for credit cards. You can check it for free once every year from each of the three agencies - let's sit down and check yours this weekend, so you can see what it's like to pull the report and what information is on it."

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