Checking Your Credit Report

Several years ago, one of my employers did a routine background check that included pulling my credit report from one of the three bureaus. They were confirming that the details on my resume matched the details on my credit report, which is common for companies in that industry. They discovered that in addition to living in Pittsburgh, PA for college, I spent some time living in rural Pennsylvania a hundred miles away from Pittsburgh. The only problem was I didn’t live in rural Pennsylvania ever.

I joined the many millions of Americans who had errors on their credit reports. I was very fortunate because I wasn’t applying for a loan. Even if I were applying for a loan, the erroneous information wasn’t negative. My identity wasn’t stolen, I didn’t have mysterious lines of credit, and the appearance of an unknown address, while inconvenient, didn’t hurt me in anyway. Getting it removed was a pain though and took about a month of calls, faxes, and emails because I had to prove I didn’t live at that address.

This underscores the critical importance of checking your credit report every year. I was diligent about keeping my identity safe (for good tips on that, check out the government’s ID Theft site). I was smart about who I gave my information out to and it shows, I haven’t had any problems with ID theft. The one thing I couldn’t control were the weaknesses in the voluntary credit reporting system companies rely on for credit information. That’s why you should check your credit report every year. Keeping an eye on your credit report is an important part of money management.

Always use AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s the website set up by the government to help you get your credit report from the three bureaus. Don’t go anywhere else to get your report. Checking your credit report regularly can prevent financial issues in the future.

Stagger your requests. There are three bureaus, so I make a request to one of the three bureaus every four months. In January, I request one from Experian. In May, I request one from TransUnion. In September, I request one from Equifax. When January rolls around again, I request another one from Experian because the once a year clock has reset. This means that I’m only three months away from having a fresh copy of my report. Each bureau keeps their own copy of your report but this gives you the best chance at seeing the errors as quickly as possible.

You won’t get a credit score. The bureaus will not give you a credit score associated with your report because they aren’t required to, for that you’ll have to buy it from them or go through a third party service. There are sites that give you free credit score estimates and the accuracy of the free credit score estimates is decent, so I’d use the estimates unless you are getting a loan and want to know for sure.?If you haven’t requested your report lately, I recommend you do that today so you can catch the errors as early as possible (it’s estimated that 70% of credit reports contain at least one error!).

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