How to Check Your Credit Report
Checking your credit report is one of those tasks that’s important to do regularly. If you don’t check your credit report, you run the risk of not catching it if someone steals your identity. That’s reason enough to check it right there. You may also end up being charged higher interest rates for things than you might otherwise receive if there are incorrect items on your report.
There are three credit reports that you can receive for free each year: one from TransUnion, one from Equifax, and one from Experian. Thanks to the FACT Act, you can receive each report once per year. To do so, go to annualcreditreport.com, call 1-877-322-8228, or request it by mail by filling out this form and then mailing it to the address provided on the form.
Reviewing your credit report
When you get your report, it will list accounts that you either currently have or have had in the past, payment histories and statuses, some personal information (such as your name, former names, address(es), and sometimes your employer(s).
Look over the information on it to be sure that it is accurate. If there are things on the report that are incorrect, follow the procedures given to file a dispute. Do the same thing if you see things on there that do not belong to you. I would dispute the errors with each credit reporting company that shows them on their report. (So you may end up disputing the same error with all three companies.)
You may also want to put a fraud alert on your credit file, and file a police report if it does turn out that your identity has been stolen. Chances are, there might be a few small errors the first time you check your report. That’s not a reason to panic — just get it straightened out.
Your credit report is not the same as your credit score
What you won’t get for free while checking your credit report is your credit score. Instead, the companies will ask you if you want to buy your score. I don’t really see a reason to do so beyond curiosity, unless maybe you are actively trying to improve bad credit and want some feedback.
If you do buy your score, it will likely be a Vantage Score, which is not the same as a FICO score. Remember that you don’t have to buy your score in order to get your credit report. You CAN get your credit report for free once a year without spending a dime, so just say no to the offers if you don’t want them. (You can also get it for free if you have recently been denied credit.)
When to check your credit report
So when you should check your credit report? It’s up to you. Some people check all three of their reports at once on single a date that they’re sure to remember each year (such as the last day of the year, the first day of the year, or their birthday). Others check one report every four months, rotating through the reports so that they end up checking each report once a year.
An advantage to doing them all at once is that you’ll have it done, and it may be more convenient. An advantage to spreading them out throughout the year is that you’ll have a more up-to-date picture of your credit history on an ongoing basis. Do what works best for you — the important thing is to check your report regularly.