No one cares about your money as much as you do. That’s why it’s important to make sure you keep an eye on your credit report.
Your credit report is what tells lenders, landlords, insurance companies and employers what kind of credit risk you are. It shows whether you’re paying your bills, whether you’re paying them on time, and how much debt you have.
If someone steals your identity, they can open fraudulent accounts in your name, wrack up debt (in your name), and ruin your credit rating. While you should always keep a close watch on all of your financial accounts, making sure to check your credit report is one more way of protecting yourself when it comes to your finances. If you know what’s on your credit report before you apply for a mortgage or auto loan, you’ll be much more successful in getting the loan. A clear understanding of your credit report can help you avoid an uncomfortable conversation with a future employer or landlord.
Federal law allows you to check your credit report for free from each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) every 12 months. It’s relatively simple to do and takes less than 15 minutes to check your reports.
Here’s how to check your credit report for free:
- Visit AnnualCreditReport.com. There are plenty of other places that claim to do this (usually with hidden fees), but only AnnualCreditReport.com is sanctioned by the federal government and completely free.
- Click on the link to request your reports.
- Fill out the form with your information, including your social security number.
- Select which credit reports you want.
- Answer the detailed questions from the credit bureau. They’ll ask highly specific questions regarding your credit history to make sure you are who you say you are.
- Review and Print Your Credit Reports.
- Dispute any errors you find. Each credit bureau provides information on their website on how to dispute any errors on a report.
If you’re planning to apply for any type of loan or are planning on renting an apartment or house, you may choose to check all three reports from each of the credit bureaus at once. Just use the steps listed above for each credit bureau.
But if you’d like to monitor your credit report all year long (a good idea with all of the security breaches at retailers), you’ll want to request just one of the three reports every four months. For example, you could request your report from Experian now, and then four months from now, you could request your report from TransUnion. This method allows you to check in on your credit reports quarterly and note any unusual activity throughout the year.
A review of your credit report not only helps you protect your identity, it can go a long way in motivating to clean up your finances. A long list of lenders and debt with a wishy-washy payment history is a good sign that it’s time to start managing your finances better. And if you’ve already made some positive changes to the way you handle money, a review of your credit report will help you realize just how far you’ve come.