Most of us spend quite a bit more money during the holidays, which may cause us to lose track of our finances just a bit. Unfortunately, scammers and thieves also know this to be true, so it’s very important you pull a copy of your free credit report in mid- to late-January and review it carefully to ensure it’s accurate.
By law, you are entitled to receive one free copy of your credit report annually from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion), so a total of three reports each year. I recommend pulling one copy at a time, three separate times throughout the year (January, May and September) rather than pulling all three at the same time. This helps ensure you’ll catch any mistakes or issues soon after they appear on your report.
Locating your reports. Simply visit www.annualcreditreport.com, scroll down and click on the red button that says, “Request your free credit reports,” and then follow the instructions. The reports you pull from this site are completely free with no strings attached (it’s the law). However, note your credit score will not be included with your credit report.
The difference between a credit report and credit score. Your credit report is really a snapshot of your credit use history — your personal information, what kinds of credit you use (credit cards, mortgages, loans), whether you have paid your bills on time, how much of the credit you have used and what is outstanding, banking information, public records and more.
Your credit score is a number assigned to you is a mathematical calculation based on the information in your credit report (usually ranging from 300-900). This number shows lenders how much of a risk you are in paying back debt.
What to look for on your credit report. Four key areas to review for accuracy:
• Personal Information. Your name, address history, Social Security number, date of birth and employment history.
• Credit history. This is the largest section of your credit report, and will contain information on all the credit accounts you’ve either opened or co-signed for, including accounts you’ve closed.
• Credit report inquiries. Whenever someone inquires about your credit, such as a landlord, lender, or insurance company, this information is recorded and remains on your report for up to two years.
• Public records. Any public information, such as bankruptcy, late child support or unpaid taxes, can stay on your credit report for up to seven years.
Comb through each of these sections and make sure all the information is correct. If you need assistance, contact your financial institution. It should assist you in reading your credit report, disputing any items, and provide advice for building or raising your credit score.