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.
You should get a free copy of your credit report from each major credit reporting agency (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) 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. (For a checklist of the recovery steps you need to take if your identity has been stolen, see Stolen Identity? Take These Recovery Steps.)
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 might 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:
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. The agencies' websites sometimes hide the charge for ordering one credit report and advertise a low cost or a free copy with a 30-day or longer trial membership for one of their services, such as credit monitoring. If you don’t want the service, be sure to cancel it within the 30 days to avoid the high monthly fees. (See Paying for Additional Credit Reports.)
In certain situations, you're entitled to receive additional free credit reports, for example, you're 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. Take advantage of these situations to review your reports again.
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 might want to find out what is in specialty reports about you on those topics.