It’s a brand new year! And that makes it a great time to put some credit housekeeping in place for 2015. You should have “Check my annual credit report” near the top of your list. You’re entitled to a free annual credit report from each credit bureau every 12 months.
I like to call stuff like this “credit housekeeping” because it’s kind of like the things you do to maintain your home and keep it in good shape. I get a report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) every four months. Why every four months? So I can get a snapshot of my credit history over the course of a year.
But you can also order all three at the same time, if you prefer. If you’re about to apply for a mortgage, you suspect fraud, or you’re in the middle of a divorce, that might be a good idea. Keep in mind that the reports will vary a little by bureau. Some lenders might report to just one of the bureaus, for instance. So don’t freak out if you order all three for the purpose of comparing them and then they don’t match up exactly.
Where to get your annual credit report?
Now, there are lots of offers out there for “free” credit reports and some of these actually have a catch. For instance, you might you have to sign up for a credit monitoring service to get the report. But these are not the official reports. Don’t let yourself get confused by this.
Here’s where you need to go: AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the official site (authorized by federal law) where you can get your free annual credit report. There are no gimmicks. This one is truly free and you don’t have to worry about sales pitches for monitoring services.
What are you looking for?
You want to check everything for accuracy, including your personal identifying information. Look at all the account information carefully. You’re reviewing the detail to look for errors or perhaps identity theft. You remember all the hackings in 2014? A fraudster will sometimes get personal identifying information and open new accounts in the person’s name. When you look at your annual credit report, look for new accounts listed that aren’t yours.
And let me tell you, the possibility of an error is real.
A Federal Trade Commission study found that one consumer in four had an error on a report that could have affected their credit scores.
And 5 percent of credit reports contained an error serious enough to cause consumers to pay more for insurance, car loans, and more.
If you find an error, this page on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website tells you how to dispute a credit error. If you suspect identity theft, here’s another page on the FTC’s website that will tell you what to do if your identity is stolen.
About Beverly Harzog
Beverly Harzog is a nationally recognized consumer credit expert and author of The Debt Escape Plan (Career Press, February 2015) and Confessions of a Credit Junkie: Everything you need to know to avoid the mistakes I made (Career Press, November 2013). Visit Beverly’s website at beverlyharzog.com.