According to the Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG), a survey they conducted found that 79% of credit reports featured errors -- that's nearly four in five, suggesting that the odds are strong that your credit report isn't as clean as it should be. Worse, 25% had serious errors -- bad enough to lead lenders to refuse you credit when you need it, perhaps to buy a house or car. (Home-buying and mortgage tips.) A bad credit score can even be the cause of some people not getting certain jobs or even not being able to open a bank account.

It's easy and tempting to just ignore your credit rating, especially if you have no big borrowing plans at the moment. But do so at your peril. As PIRG noted, "Three national credit bureaus, Equifax (NYSE:EFX), Experian, and Trans Union, collect and compile information about consumer creditworthiness from banks, creditors and from public records such as lawsuits, tax liens and bankruptcy filings. The so-called 'Big Three' each maintains a file on nearly every adult American. The resulting credit report amounts to a consumer's financial resume. The credit score calculated from this report is a consumer's financial SAT."

A recent New York Times article pointed out additional problems with the system's status quo, such as that some collection agencies are adding to our credit reports disputed or questionable claims, and these don't always get removed from our reports in a timely fashion.

The Times also noted that, "Lawyers and consumer advocates say the system is overwhelmed. Rather than truly investigating complaints, they say, the big credit bureaus make only cursory checks." It also cites industry insiders defending themselves by pointing out that 80% of cases are resolved within 10 days.

So what should you do? Be informed. Read all about credit issues in our Credit Center. Get a copy of your credit report (all three, actually), and check it for errors. (You can get all three in one fell swoop in Fooldom.)

Finally, feel free to discuss this topic with other consumers on our Consumer Credit / Credit Cards board -- or just pop in to see what folks are saying. That board is famous for inspirational stories from people who have dug out from tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.