Checking your credit report

It’s one of the top questions I get — how do I check my credit? The problem is, people don’t do it enough. Just like you go to the doctor once a year for a check-up, you need to check your credit at least once a year.

You’ve probably seen the commercials with the catchy tunes that alert you to the fact that you’re allowed a free credit report each year. DON’T FALL FOR THE AD! While you are allowed a free report, the ad directs you to a site that will cost you. While it appears to be the real site, Free Credit Report, is not the real free site. You will be enrolled in a trial credit monitoring service if you check your report on that site.

The FTC tried to fire back with its own catchy tune, but it wasn’t quite the same.

Silly tune, but the right message. Go to the right site, Annual Credit Report.

Check your report year round
While the message is that you can check your report once a year for free, you can really keep tabs on it year round.

When you pull your report, you’ll have the option of choosing between three credit reporting agencies. TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian are the three major credit reporting agencies. Instead of clicking to check all three when you go to Annual Credit Report, click on one. Check that report, then go back to Annual Credit Report four months later and check the next report and so on.

Here’s a sample schedule:
January — Check Equifax through Annual Credit Report
May — Check Experian through Annual Credit Report
September — Check TransUnion through Annual Credit Report

If you follow the method above, you’ll be able to keep tabs on your report year round.

When you check the reports, only access Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian through the Annual Credit Report site. Don’t go directly to their sites unless you do it through Annual Credit Report.

Be ready to divulge personal information
Many people are shocked at the questions Annual Credit Report asks before they are able to see a copy of their credit report. These questions are needed so you can prove who you say you are. That way, it decreases the fraud and the possibility that a criminal can see your credit report.

You’ll be asked for your full social security number, along with previous addresses, previous banks, etc. Most of the time they are multiple choice questions and you have to pick which item doesn’t belong.

What’s in a report
Expect your report to be around 15-20 pages. That is normal. Your report has all the accounts you’ve ever opened even if they are closed.

Your report will list whether an account is open or closed, if you made your payments on time, and information on your balance.

The report WILL NOT include your score.

Your credit score
When you are done checking your report, you will be asked if you want to check your score. It typically costs around $10. If you click yes, make sure you are not enrolling into a monthly service or trial service that will require cancellation at a later date to avoid fees.

Make sure you are only agreeing to a one-time charge. This is a little easier to avoid if you choose the option through the annual credit report process rather than individually going to the credit bureau’s website. If you go directly to the agency’s website through an Internet search, you’ll see advertisements for a free credit score. You need to understand there is probably a hidden charge.

Your score can vary by agency, but it’s a good idea to have a ballpark figure of your score. You can always get your score for free when an agency pulls it for a line of credit or loan. You have a right under the law to request that report.

Disputing mistakes
At the end of your report, you will be given the option to dispute any mistakes. This can be a lengthy process, but make sure you complete. Mistakes are common on credit reports, and it’s important that you dispute them so they don’t count against you.

Keep a good paper trail of the disputing process.

If there is a negative remark on your report that you agree happened but it did so under extreme circumstances, you can leave a customer comment. This is important to note given the financial situation this country is currently facing. This may come in handy for someone. It may not change how the lender feels about extending credit to you, but it can’t hurt to explain why that bill was delinquent.

Related links you may like:
Click here to read how your credit score is calculated
Click here to learn the 10 consumer reports you should get each year

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