Experian, TransUnion and Equifax now offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com.
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You should check your credit report regularly―annually at a minimum—to help protect yourself and review where your credit accounts stand. It's important to monitor your credit report for changes you didn't anticipate so you can dispute entries you believe are wrong or detect fraud early. The information in your credit report can also help you take measures to improve your credit.
Your credit report contains the information used to calculate your credit scores, and making sure everything is in order is extremely important when you plan to apply for credit to finance large purchases, like a car or home.
What's Included in Your Credit Report?
Credit reports are maintained by the three national consumer credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Your credit report with each bureau may be slightly different, but will contain personally identifiable information, including the year you were born, address and more. It may also include information about current or past employers.
Your credit report also contains information about your history with credit and debt, provided by creditors, and a record of who has requested your information. Your credit report may be pulled when you apply for credit, an apartment or sometimes a job. In addition, your current creditors and others you do business with may have access to your credit report under certain conditions. You may also see a list of lenders who have requested information about you in order to send you preapproved offers.
Credit-scoring formulas use information about how you have managed your credit found in your credit report to calculate your credit scores. (Identification information included in your report is not used to calculate scores.)
Why You Should Check Your Credit Report Frequently
Knowing that the information on your credit report is accurate and up to date is essential if you plan to apply for new credit. Why? If information has been reported to the credit bureaus incorrectly, those inaccuracies appearing on your report could hurt your credit scores—possibly resulting in rejection or a higher interest rate when you apply for new credit. Additionally, if any fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name, your credit score could suffer as well.
Checking your credit report annually is the minimum for good credit health, and checking three to six months before you plan to apply for credit to finance a big purchase, such as a house, car or boat, is also essential. But there are other times it makes sense to check your report as well. Those include:
- After you get a notice about a data breach
- If your credit card, wallet or personal information, such as driver's license, insurance card or Social Security number, is stolen
- After you open or pay off a big credit account, such as a student loan, auto loan or mortgage
Checking often can help you stay proactive in keeping errors out of your credit reports and give you a heads-up if you have been a victim of fraud or identity theft. Detecting problems in your credit reports can keep them from growing worse or not being discovered until they keep you from getting credit you need. And disputing errors can keep your credit reports accurate and up to date.
How to Check Your Credit Report
You can see what is in your Experian credit report and monitor it for free whenever you like. Credit reports from all three credit bureaus can be accessed for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Credit reports are not particularly difficult to read, but they can be lengthy if you have a long credit history. When you look, you are checking for information that seems inaccurate or accounts you don't recognize. These might be legitimate: Sometimes a merchant uses the name of a bank to report, which you may not recognize at first. But they also could suggest fraud, which you would want to report right away.
If you find incorrect information on one credit report, it's a good idea to check the others, because it's likely that a merchant reported that information to all three bureaus.
It can be difficult to notice small changes in your credit reports, but Experian offers free credit monitoring, which can give you a heads-up when your Experian credit report is checked or when a new account is opened in your name. Signing up for credit monitoring can significantly reduce the effort involved in keeping on top of your credit reports and can quickly make you aware of activity you didn't authorize.
The Bottom Line
Checking your credit report is part of guarding your credit health. It should be done more frequently when you are preparing to use your credit to fund a large expense, but also when you know that you are at risk of fraud, such as after a data breach or when a credit, insurance or Social Security card is stolen.
At a minimum, it's a good idea to check credit reports at least once a year. In between annual peeks at your credit report, credit report monitoring can alert you to changes in your credit report. Experian's free credit monitoring can help tip you off to potential identity theft as well as help you avoid surprises when you apply for credit.