When was the last time you checked your credit report? If you’re afraid to do so, you’re not alone. According to a 2017 survey by WalletHub, about 14 percent of Americans are too scared to take a peek.
Although we all know we should keep on top of our credit reports, most people aren’t aware of how easy it is to do so. Many people report that they don’t check their credit score regularly for two reasons: they don’t want to pay, and they don’t have time. Luckily, you can check your credit report for free, and there are apps which can keep you up to date on any changes.
Why would you want to check your credit report in the first place? There are myriad reasons. Not only can good credit get you a better interest rate on that auto loan, credit card, or mortgage; it can also get you better deals on your cell phone contract, give you lower auto insurance rates, and make it easier for you to rent property.
Checking your credit report will also help you catch any potential errors. According to the FTC, about one-fifth of reports have mistakes in them. They may come about when a creditor misreports information, or they may result from fraud (for example, when someone uses stolen information to open a line of credit in your name). If you check your report frequently, you can catch these errors—which may be artificially lowering your score—quickly.
To view your credit report, head over to annualcreditreport.com. Here, you can see the reports from each of the three credit-reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You can pull one report per bureau every year. If you haven’t checked your credit reports in some time, it may be worth looking at all three at once. Next year, you may want to stagger them to make sure you catch new issues as they arise.
Once you access your reports, be sure to download or print each one. While the information in your reports doesn’t require special training to understand, there is a lot to process: each report could run to more than 25 pages. In addition to listing the places you’ve lived and other personal details, you will see the details of your current and previous debts—mortgages, credit cards, student loans, and so on.
You will also see what are known as “hard” and “soft” inquiries on your report. You should recognize all the hard inquiries—these occur when you apply for a line of credit and will stay on your report for up to two years. Unlike hard inquiries, however, soft inquiries have no effect on your score. They are simply promotional inquiries from insurance or credit companies who are interested in offering you credit.
Surprisingly, one thing you won’t see on your credit report is your actual credit score. To find this, you can sign up for a service such as Credit Karma or Mint.com. Not only will these services let you view your score, they will also provide you with much of the information from your actual credit reports. While these services will give you updates much more frequently than once per year, they don’t replace checking your actual credit reports, which provide much more information.
If you find any errors on your report, you should initiate a dispute with the appropriate bureau or bureaus immediately. While fixing errors may take some time, it is always worth resolving them as it can help raise your overall score. Whether you find an error or not, however, make sure to make a note in your calendar to check your credit reports every year from now on. It will give you peace of mind and may help you improve your credit rating in the long term.