As I previously discussed in this article about getting a free FICO score, it is important to know and understand your credit. The FICO score is a simple number that sums up everything about your credit into a three digit rating system.
However this does not give any details in why you received that score. That is why you should also be checking your credit report every year.
There are three different credit reporting agencies that lenders will inquire with. You should check all three for errors and to understand what your credit looks like so that you can make improvements. The three credit reporting agencies are TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Many different websites will offer you access to these reports for a price, and even the famous “FreeCreditReport.com” is not exactly free. FreeCreditReport.com requires you to sign up for a paid service to receive the free report and says you can cancel at anytime, but to find out that it is really difficult to cancel and you end up paying in the end.
There is only one true free site to get your free annual credit check without any bogus extra gotchas and that is AnnualCreditReport.com. This site allows you to get a free credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies once a year. Simply input your information on each of the agencies pages through annualcreditreport.com to instantly get your report. Be careful though because if you screw up on one of the verification questions then you will have to write to the agency in order to receive your report.
Once you get your report then you can browse through it for errors or fraudulent activity. They should all be pretty much the same although you may find a few things reported on one and not the others.
First check your Personal Information is correct. This includes your name, address and previous address's, and employer information. Your name may have some spelling variations and this is common and nothing to be alarmed about. Next is your Credit Summary and will list all your credit accounts you have with date they where opened and balances. Ensure you recognize all of these. Your Account History will show more information on your credit accounts such as your minimum payments, your last activity, past due payments. Check that this information is correct. Your Public Records section is to list any bankruptcies, judgments, and over due child support. The last section is Credit Inquiries. You will probably see many inquiries by agencies you don't recognize. This is common and is usually when you receive a “pre-approved” credit card application in the mail, the lender was allowed to inquire on your account for promotional reasons. These are considered “soft” inquiries and lenders will not see these when they review your credit report. However any self initiated inquires such as when you apply for a new line of credit are considered “hard” inquiries and will show up to lenders for about two years.
If you happen to find false information then under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, the agency has 30 days to prove that the information is valid or they must remove the data from your report. For more details on how to remove errors and a sample letter see How To Get Your Credit Report For Free.