In a world where personal data is routinely breached, it makes sense to check your credit information to make sure it’s accurate — and that it’s not being used without your knowledge.
Federal law gives you the right to see your credit reports for free at least annually. Get started by checking your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus.
Some experts suggest staggering your free credit reports so that you get one from a different credit bureau every four months. If that seems like too much, reviewing them annually is much better than not reviewing them at all.
You can check your credit report at any time without impacting your credit by using free credit monitoring sites like NerdWallet.
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Why you should check your credit report
Incorrect information in your credit file could suggest that it has been mixed in with someone else’s or that you have become a victim of identity theft.
Other errors, like outdated information or a payment wrongly reported late, could hurt your credit scores, which are calculated from information in your credit reports. That could impact the products and rates you qualify for.
How to check your credit
You can get your free annual credit reports online at annualcreditreport.com or by mail. If you place a fraud alert on your credit, you are entitled to an additional free credit report from each bureau, and some states mandate additional free reports.
What’s in your credit report
Your credit report contains personally identifying information, including your birthdate, Social Security number, address, previous addresses, phone numbers, credit accounts and payment history. It may also include repossessions, collections, foreclosures and bankruptcy filings.
In addition, it has a record of who has accessed your credit information. You may see the names of your creditors, marketers (for pre-qualification offers), creditors you’ve applied to, and your own credit checks.
Other reports you’re entitled to see
Your credit reports are not the only collections of personal data that businesses look at when deciding whether to accept you as a customer and at what rate. Insurers, employers, banks, apartments, utilities and subprime lenders may check specialty reports.
You have a right to a free copy of those reports every 12 months, as well. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau keeps a list of available reports and recommends checking them as needed.