If you haven’t checked your credit report lately, you’re not alone. A 2016 survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International found more than half — about 54% — of Americans hadn’t even checked their credit score — the number constructed from factors in your credit report — within the past year. What’s worse, almost a quarter of respondents had never checked their score, making them extremely vulnerable to financial crime. Checking your credit report may seem like any other financial chore, but you shouldn’t keep placing it on the back burner. Similarly to getting a check-up at the doctor’s office, checking your credit report is a preventative measure you should take at least once a year with a bonus: it’s free.
What Is a Credit Report?
Your credit report paints a financial picture of your life. It is a complete history of your use of credit going back at least seven years, good and bad. This includes credit card accounts, student and personal loans, and mortgages, and information about how you use them such as payment history or accounts that have gone to collections. It may also include any utility and other bills that have gone unpaid and were sent to collections. There are three main companies that track your credit report: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
Don’t confuse your credit report with your FICO credit score. Your credit score is a numerical figure that is calculated by using the information from your credit reports. Banks and lenders weigh information from your credit report to create a credit score to gauge how responsible you are when it comes to credit. If your credit reports show a solid history of on-time payments and a good mix of different types of loans, your score will reflect that. Likewise, if your credit report shows lots of missed payments and debt collection accounts, you can expect a poor score.
Knowing the information that is currently on your credit report can help you stay ahead of fraudsters and give you details about how you can improve your credit score. If you don’t check your credit report annually, you may not be able to accurately track the health of your credit score, or know when someone has used stolen personal information from you. In addition to those benefits, checking your reports annually can be an exciting way to benchmark your financial progress.
Where to Get Free Credit Reports
You should check your credit report annually for yourself, but you may also need a report to apply for a car loan or to rent an apartment, etc. When you do need a copy of your report, you can get one for free from a few sources.
You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting bureaus. You can order a free copy of your credit report from all three bureaus from AnnualCreditReport.com. Like the name implies, you can only order each report once a year for free.
Since you only get one free report from each of the three bureaus per year, stagger them throughout the year. For example, once every four months, request a report from one of the bureaus.
If you want to get an update on your credit report more than once a year, but you don’t want to pay for it, there are a bunch of tools out there that offer credit monitoring for free.
Credit.com offers a Credit Report Card tool to monitor your Experian credit report. All you need to do is go to credit.com, and click “Free Credit Report Card” under the “Credit Cards & Score” tab to create an account. The report card updates every 14 days.
Credit Karma gives you access to your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports for free. You can also sign up for their free credit and account monitoring services. If you do, you’ll receive an email alert whenever your credit score changes, and you’ll be notified whenever a new account is opened. The reports update weekly.
Credit Sesame gives you access to your TransUnion credit report via their credit monitoring service. The service updates your report each month.
Mint.com, a free money-management website and app, gives anyone with a Mint account access to their free Equifax credit report. The report is updated every 30 to 60 days.
Quizzle offers a free VantageScore — a scoring model developed by all three credit bureaus — and a free Equifax credit report, which is updated every six months.
Once You Have Your Report
Once you see your credit report, you should check it carefully for any wrong or negative information impacting your credit score. Double check to make sure the open accounts reported all belong to you. Check that the payment information is accurate and all of the account balances are correct. If you find any errors, you should dispute them directly through the bureau websites. MagnifyMoney has a more in-depth guide about how to do that here.
You might not see any errors, but realize that you need to work on rebuilding your credit. A healthy credit score can be very helpful to you when making a large purchase like a car or first home. MagnifyMoney’s complete guide to help you rebuild your credit can be found here.
You may also notice that you’ve been a victim of identity fraud. That may take a few more steps to clear up, but you can find what to do here.