Do you know what’s on your credit report?
Three credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — are storing detailed information about your spending and borrowing history right now. This information is used by all kinds of companies to make decisions about how much to charge you for everything from personal loans to car insurance.
If you aren’t keeping tabs on your credit report, you have no way of knowing what’s on it. But far too many people aren’t giving their credit report the attention it deserves.
The major mistake you’re probably making
Checking your credit report on a regular basis is both simple and important.
“Checking your credit report is an essential part of maintaining a healthy financial life,” advised Natasha Rachel Smith, a personal finance expert at TopCashback. “You can save thousands of dollars in interest over your lifetime by being proactive about your credit.”
Unfortunately, 27% of Americans ages 18 to 37 responding to a recent CreditCards.com survey said they’d never checked their credit reports or scores. Among those younger than 30, that number was 36%.
Though older Americans are more likely to have checked their score at some point, half of the survey respondents said they hadn’t checked their score in the past six months.
This is a big problem because your credit report could have errors or even indicators that your identity has been stolen. If you don’t catch those problems early, it could cost you.
Why should you check your credit report?
Regularly checking your credit report is important for a few big reasons.
The information on your credit report is used to determine your credit score, which affects your life in major ways. It’s used to decide if you’ll be approved for loans and what interest rate you’ll be charged.
In most states, insurers can use your credit history to set rates for car insurance. Landlords can check your credit when deciding whether to rent to you. Some employers even check your credit before hiring you.
“People with lower credit scores end up paying as much as 30% more over their lifetime for goods,” warned Samuel Rad, a certified financial planner and UCLA instructor. “Checking your credit report can help you keep a healthy high score.”
Mistakes on credit reports are common, warned Rad, and data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) confirms this.
Credit report errors are the third most common cause of consumer complaints made to the CFPB. Seventeen percent of all consumer complaints relate to credit reporting problems, and most of those complaints deal with credit errors.
Checking your report not only helps you spot mistakes, but it can also be a good way to notice fraud.
“Unless you take a close look at your credit report, you may not notice if someone else has been using your personal information, such as your Social Security number, to apply for credit,” Smith warned. “It’s crucial if you notice any unfamiliar accounts to call the issuer and confirm your suspicions. If theft is confirmed, file an identity theft report.”
You can contact local law enforcement and contact the credit bureaus to report fraud.
Watching for fraud is especially important in light of major data breaches, including the 2017 Equifax attack that allowed hackers to access personal information belonging to 143 million Americans.
If your data falls into the wrong hands, this makes you more vulnerable to identity theft. An estimated 15.4 million consumers were victimized by identity fraud in 2016, according to a study released by Javelin Strategy & Research.
By regularly checking your credit report for unauthorized accounts in your name or unexpected judgments against you, you can find out if you’ve been victimized by fraud and take action.
How often should you check your credit report?
Checking your credit report should become a routine habit. Many financial experts recommend checking your report every four months.
In addition to checking your credit report — which shows all the accounts you have open, your payment history, your debt balances, and any judgments against you — regularly checking your credit score is also a wise habit.
Your credit score is the number you’re assigned based on an analysis of the data in your report. It’s ultimately used by lenders to make decisions about whether to extend you credit and on what terms.
Tracking your score over time can also help you see if you’re making the right financial moves. As you develop a history of on-time payments and pay down debt balances, your score should gradually rise.
How can you check your credit report?
You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com to obtain one free copy of your credit report every year from each of the three credit bureaus. If you want to keep regular tabs on your credit, pull one of these credit reports every four months, spaced evenly throughout the year.
You’ll need to input some basic identifying information, including your name, your current and previous address, and your Social Security number. You’ll also be asked to answer some questions to verify your identity.
If you want to check your report more often, you can purchase copies directly from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. You can also sign up for a free account at Credit Karma to see your credit score, obtain a copy of your credit report, and check details on open accounts and payment history.
Checking your credit report takes only a few minutes, so it’s a simple habit to start. And if something does go wrong, you won’t find yourself being denied a credit card or personal loan because of a simple credit report mistake.
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