Just mention the phrase “free credit report” and that incredibly effective and irritating commercial jingle is embedded in my head for the next few hours. I’m not sure if dating a girl with bad credit can really force you to end up living in her parents’ basement, but it is certainly true that you should periodically check your credit reports for accuracy and suspicious activity. But should you listen to the guy singing the maddeningly catchy jingle to get your report? No. And not only because you should not encourage maddeningly catchy jingles that will drive you insane.
Under federal law, you are entitled to receive one copy of your credit report from each of the three main credit reporting companies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.) These three companies have created a site (www.annualcreditreport.com) where you can access your credit reports for free. This site is the only site you should go to for a free credit report. You will be able to check each report once per year. If you wish, you can check all three at once, but it is advisable to check one every four months to more effectively monitor credit activity. Additionally, if you are denied credit, you are entitled to request a copy of your credit report free of charge.
Other sites will also provide your credit reports. Technically, the report itself is free, but these sites generally enroll you automatically in their credit monitoring program, which will bill itself to your credit card each month. While credit monitoring and fraud alerts may seem like a good idea, checking one of your credit reports every four months is usually sufficient protection, and will save you around $200 a year. Of course, these companies claim you can cancel your enrollment at any time during the free trial. This may be true, but I can’t help but remember the time I tried to cancel my enrollment in that compact disc club…
What about those commercials that tell you how important it is to know your score? Well, no one will give you your credit score for free. Www.annualcreditreport.com doesn’t include your score in its free report, but if you want, you have the option to purchase your credit score from each company when ordering your free report, and you will not be enrolled in any monthly service. It may be interesting to know your credit score, and you will be better prepared to understand how lenders view you, but the important part is the actual information contained in your credit report, not the score.
Once you have your free credit report, check it over for accuracy. If information is wrong or missing, or if there is activity that you don’t recognize, contact the credit reporting agency and begin the process of resolving it. After all, you don’t want to live in your girlfriend’s parents’ basement.