A big part of maintaining good credit is checking your credit reports frequently. You should check them once per year, and more in certain situations. Here are the details.
(To learn more about credit reports, including what they are, how to get them, what to look for in them, and how to clean them up, visit our Credit Reports & Credit Scores topic area.)
Check Your Reports Every Year
You should get a free copy of your credit report from each credit reporting agency every year. A good strategy is to spread out your requests throughout the year, instead of getting them from all three agencies at once. Every four months, request a report from a different agency; that way, you’ll be able to check your report three times a year, for free. Look for old or inaccurate information. Also check for anything that looks fishy—it could be a sign of identity theft.
(To learn how to get your free annual credit reports, see Getting Your Free Credit Report.)
Check Your Reports Before a Major Credit Purchase or Refinance
If you’re planning to make a major purchase (like a house or a car) or a major financial commitment (like refinancing your mortgage), you may want to review information from all three agencies well in advance -- especially if you haven’t been diligent reviewing them regularly.
Here’s why this is important:
- It gives you time to get the credit reporting agency to add missing information and dispute incomplete or inaccurate information. (To learn how, see How to Correct Information in Your Credit Report.) That way, no matter which credit report your lender uses, your credit file looks as good as possible.
- If your lender purchases a combined report from a reseller, the information provided by the three major agencies is as consistent and favorable as possible. (A reseller is a credit agency that assembles and merges information from other agencies into a single report for use by a third party, often a mortgage lender.)
- You will be aware of negative information that you may want to discuss directly with the potential creditor in order to minimize its impact.
If you have already received your annual reports from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies within the last 12 months, you will need to pay a fee of about $10 to receive them again. (See Paying for Additional Credit Reports.)
Check Your Reports Whenever You Are Entitled to Free Reports
In certain situations, you are entitled to receive additional free credit reports, for example, you are turned down for credit, your credit limit is reduced, you are offered less favorable credit terms than you requested, or you are unemployed and seeking employment. (See Getting Additional Free Credit Reports.) Take advantage of these situations to review your reports again.
Check Nationwide Specialty Credit Reports
Don’t forget that nationwide credit reporting agencies other than the three big nationwide agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) also must give you a free report every twelve months if you request it. (See Getting Credit Reports From Specialty Consumer Reporting Agencies.)
Consider whether you should check those reports as well. If you are planning on moving to a new rental, have had problems with bounced checks in the past, or are planning on getting a private health insurance plan, for example, you may want to find out what is in specialty reports about you on those topics.
To learn more about cleaning up your credit report and rebuilding credit, see our Credit Repair topic area.
This is an excerpt from Credit Repair, by Margaret Reiter and Robin Leonard (Nolo).