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Why Pay to Peek at Your Credit File?

We've told you about the slow rollout of the new rules under the Fair Credit and Reporting Act (FACTA) that will eventually give all Americans one free peek per year into their credit file.

Half the nation can now take advantage of the federally mandated freebie: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. But if you're part of the half still waiting, you might not want to let your file go unchecked.

If you're planning any banking maneuvers within the next three to nine months, it is worth the price of admission to order your credit report now. (Fool Credit Center sponsor TrueCredit offers readers a single report with data from the three major credit reporting agencies, as well as one free credit score, for $29.95.) Interested third parties will be checking your credit if you want to finance a car, buy a home, refinance, or apply for a Puppy Palace Visa. Even if you've done nothing credit-wise lately, you might be floored at how many entities conduct regular background checks -- a list of inquiring minds is included in your file.

If you live in one of the aforementioned states, simply head to www.annualcreditreport.com and take a free once-yearly look at the rundown of your borrowing and banking history, courtesy of Uncle Sam and the new, improved FACTA. There you'll have the option of reviewing your "consumer disclosure" from one, two, or all three of the major credit reporting bureaus -- Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.

While the "free" states are reliving their youthful "spendiscretions," the rest of us have until June 1 (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) or Sept. 1 (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and all other U.S. territories) to claim that we've been credit angels all along. (Residents of Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont already get one free annual report thanks to savvy state legislators.)

If there are any dings of your own doing on your report, or mistakes made by the companies reporting account activity (studies show that up to 25% of reports contain serious errors), it can take a while to patch things up. Here are seven credit moves to make before you apply for a loan.


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