Experian, TransUnion and Equifax now offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com.
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Checking your credit report regularly allows you to see what creditors see when they're evaluating your applications for loans and credit cards. Making routine credit checks part of your regular financial maintenance plan can help you see where your credit stands, spot problems that could suggest identity theft or fraud and take measures to improve your credit score.
Why It's Important to Check Your Credit Report
Checking your credit report is part of good credit hygiene. Regularly checking your credit report allows you to:
Stay Proactive Against Fraud
Checking your credit file can help you spot potential identity theft or fraud early. If you see an address that's unfamiliar, credit accounts you didn't apply for or activity on credit cards you have not used recently, a credit report can give you a heads-up. Much like a medical checkup, finding a problem early can keep it from growing.
Spot and Dispute Errors
Not all errors suggest fraud. A payment that was mistakenly reported late by a lender can badly damage your credit. If it was reported in error, you can dispute the mark with your lender or directly with the credit reporting agency on whose report the late payment appears and have it corrected.
You might also notice information that suggests a typographical error, such as when a lender reports an incorrect Social Security number (SSN) or an address with transposed numbers. You can dispute an incorrect SSN or other personal information and request to have it removed. To protect you from identity theft, your real SSN will never appear on your Experian credit report.
Make Sure Payments Are Being Reported as Agreed
Especially when you are building credit, it's important to make sure your on-time payments are being reported. If you get a credit-builder loan, for example, you'll want one that reports to all three major credit bureaus. Check your credit report to be sure that's happening.
Take Action to Improve Your Credit
Checking your credit report regularly can help you see where you might be able to improve. This is important if you plan to take out a loan, get a new credit card, rent an apartment or sign up for a new utility account. A good credit score can help you get a lower interest rate on a loan or credit card, and potentially reduce or eliminate a utility or rent deposit. Your credit scores are based entirely on the information in your credit report, so reviewing your report to see where you may be able to reduce debt and ensure information is current and correct can go a long way toward helping your scores.
How Often Should I Check My Credit Report?
At a minimum, check your credit report once a year, says Rod Griffin, senior director of public education and advocacy for Experian. Other times you should check your credit report include:
- At least three months before you plan to apply for credit to fund a big purchase, like a house, car or a boat
- If you get a notice about a data breach
- If your wallet, credit card or personal information (like your SSN) is stolen
- After a major change, such as opening a mortgage account or paying off your student loans
- If you see a dramatic swing in your credit score and don't understand why it happened (which could suggest fraud)
If things are stable, check at least once a year. Griffin suggests picking a date you'll remember—your birthday, St. Patrick's Day, Labor Day or whatever you choose. The time of year doesn't matter, but making a credit check part of your regular tasks does.
It's a good idea to check your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). And anytime there is an unexpected change on one credit report, you should check the other two.
How to Check Your Credit Report
You can easily check your Experian credit report for free anytime. Credit reports are easy to read―no complicated codes or jargon—and it shouldn't take more than a few minutes to read yours, Griffin says.
To see your Experian credit report, you'll need to share personal, identifying data, but the process is secure.
Griffin says it's important to check personal information, such as your birthdate, past addresses and SSNs associated with your account. A surprise there typically means that a lender made a reporting mistake, he says. But should you find a digit that is off or the number of a co-borrower, you can have it corrected by disputing the information.
You will also be able to see your payment history and amounts paid. If you've had late payments, collections or other credit setbacks in the past seven years, you will likely see those as well.
You can check credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.
How Experian Credit Monitoring Can Help
When you sign up for a free credit report from Experian, you also get free access to your credit score. Scores are updated every month, and score tracking (also free) can let you check on how you're doing.
In addition, you get free credit monitoring from Experian, which means you will be notified of changes in your credit report, such as when someone applies for credit in your name or an account is closed or paid off. Changes you did not expect can tip you off to potential identity theft and allow you to begin to recover when there is much less damage to unwind.
If you do find or suspect you have been a victim of identity theft or fraud, Griffin recommends placing a fraud alert on your credit reports. A fraud alert asks lenders to take extra steps to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name.
You'll also get an overview of your credit accounts to help you prioritize debt payoff and note your credit usage. Credit usage, or utilization, is an important factor in your credit score. Knowing how much of your available credit you're using can help you focus on things like paying down credit cards, which could give your score a boost.
If you would like all three credit reports to be monitored, as well as access to additional credit scores and identity theft insurance, Experian CreditWorksSM Premium offers those features.
The Bottom Line
Checking your credit report at least once a year is good credit hygiene. It can help assure you that your credit is healthy and your information accurate. Checking more often is wise if you plan to use your credit to make a big purchase or if you have been a victim of identity theft or believe you are at risk for it.
You can get a free credit report from Experian that updates monthly, and you can request free credit reports from all three major credit bureaus from AnnualCreditReport.com. If you find that your credit score isn't where you'd like it to be, you can begin taking steps to improve it, including signing up for Experian Boost®ø to make those on-time utility, cellphone and other bill payments work for you.