Maintaining a good credit score is an important part of effectively managing your finances. And of course, your credit score is dictated by the specific details that make up your credit report.
Your credit score will impact things like your ability to get loans and lines of credit, the interest rates that you’ll pay, rental applications, and even job applications. Because your credit report and credit score carry so much influence, it’s something worthy of your attention.
Although credit reports are important, they’re not always accurate. If yours includes data that’s not accurate, it could be hurting you without your knowledge. For this reason, it’s a good habit to check your own credit report occasionally to make sure there are no problems or inaccuracies.
On top of the possible inaccuracies, it’s also important to monitor your credit report to deter identity theft, and catch any issues sooner rather than later.
But credit reports can be kind of confusing if you’re not familiar with them. With that in mind, this article will cover the topic of getting and checking your credit report, as well as how to fix any problems or inaccuracies that you might find.
→ Related reading: How is My Credit Score Calculated?
How to Get a Free Copy of Your Credit Report
According to Federal law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report once per year, but you will need to request it. To get that free copy, go to AnnualCreditReport.com. You’ll be able to get a copy of your report from each of the three major bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) each year. You can request all three at once, or request them at separate times if you want to spread it out.
Your reports at the different bureaus can vary because not every tradeline will be reported to all three bureaus. If you haven’t checked your report in a while, I would recommend getting a copy from all three bureaus now, but you could do just one or two now if you prefer.
It’s important to note that you will get a copy of your credit report, but it will not include your credit score. But in just a minute, I’ll show you where to get your credit score for free.
In order to request your free report, you’ll need to provide your personal information like your:
- Date of birth
- Social Security Number
- Previous address
After you’ve verified your information, you’ll be able to download your credit report almost immediately. You’ll only be able to get access once, so either save it to your computer or print a copy to review.
→ Related reading: Debt Snowball vs. Debt Avalanche
How to Get Your Credit Score for Free
Both your credit report and your credit score are important. Each one can tell you something on it’s own, but you need both in order to get the full picture. The free reports that you will get from AnnualCreditReport.com will not include your score. Don’t worry, there is an easy way to get your score for free, and I’ll show you two options.
Credit Sesame is a free service that provides you with your credit score and with basic credit monitoring. It takes just a minute to sign up and then you’ll quickly get access to your credit score. I’ve personally used Credit Sesame for more than a year.
While Credit Sesame is very useful, the free plan does not provide you with the actual credit report. You’ll need to get that from AnnualCreditReport.com.
In addition to the basic free plan, Credit Sesame also offers some upgraded plans with additional benefits like access to your full credit report, advanced monitoring, and daily refreshes of your credit score. For the purpose of this article, all you need is the free plan (that’s the plan I use).
Credit Karma is fairly similar to Credit Sesame, and you can also get your credit score by signing up for a free Credit Karma account. Like Credit Sesame, Credit Karma will also provide you with basic credit monitoring that will notify you of important changes.
Things To Check on Your Credit Report
Once you have downloaded a copy of your credit report, here are some of the things that you’ll want to check.
Is Your Personal Information Correct? – Make sure that all of these are correct: name, address, past addresses, SSN, phone number, and any other personal details that are listed. If anything is off, you’ll want to notify the credit bureau that is showing the wrong information (more on that in a minute).
Are All of the Accounts Yours? – If any of the accounts listed on your report, including any that are showing up as closed, are not yours or you don’t recognize them, notify the credit bureau.
Is the Payment History Correct? – Verify that your payment history for the different accounts on your credit report is accurate. Specifcally, you want to be sure that any reports of late payments are accurate. The credit report will only show delinquencies of at least 30 days.
Are the Listed Account Balances Accurate? – Each tradeline on your report will list the balance. Check to be sure that the listed balance is correct. Keep in mind that balances change frequently and this information is not updated in real-time, so it won’t be 100% accurate, but it should be fairly recent.
Are the Listed Credit Limits Accurate? – Credit cards and revolving accounts will list a credit limit. Check to be sure that the listed credit limit is correct.
Is the Status of Your Accounts Accurate? – Each tradeline will list the date the account was opened, and closed accounts will also list the date the account was closed. Check to be sure that all of your closed accounts are being reported as closed. Keep in mind that credit card accounts will remain open until you close them. You may stop using your card, but the account will likely remain open until you contact the issuer and request to close the account.
Were All of the Accounts Opened by You? – You should be able to recognize each account on your credit report, even those that are closed. With the name of the creditor, type of account, balance, opened date, and closed date, you should be able to identify every account showing up on your credit report. If there are any accounts that you do not recognize, contact the credit bureau.
Are There any Public Records, and Are They Accurate? – Public records are usually things like bankruptcies, judgments, tax liens, or even lawsuits. These items can have a big impact on your credit score, so if any public records are listed, take the time to be sure that they are accurate.
Do the Credit Inquiries Make Sense? – Your credit report will also show the companies that have been checking your credit or your credit score, but it’s important to understand that there are different types of inquiries. The Regular Inquiries will be from things like credit card applications or accounts that you’ve opened. They can stay on your report for two years and you should be able to identify all of these. The companies listed in the Promotional Inquiries section received limited information, they don’t impact your credit score, and you really don’t need to worry about them as much as the Regular Inquiries. The Account Review Inquiries are typically from companies that you currently have a relationship with, and they will also not impact your credit score.
→ Related reading: 7 Steps to Improve Your Credit Score Fast
What to Do if You Find Any Issues
If you find any problems with your credit report, you will need to contact the bureaus that are reporting incorrectly. If the issue is on the reports from all three bureaus, you will need to contact all three of them. If it is only on one, you will only need to contact the bureau that is reporting the inaccuracy.
Fortunately, they all make it pretty easy to file a dispute. All you need to do is go to their websites and enter the relevant details.
Links to dispute inaccuracies on your credit report:
Now that we’ve covered the relevant details, take a few minutes to request your free credit report from annualcreditreport.com and get your credit score for free from either Credit Sesame or Credit Karma. Staying on top of your credit will help you to catch any issues that may arise and protect your credit score.