With only a few days left in the year, your day planner pages for the next few weeks may look like the flight schedule at the nation's busiest airport.

You probably won't like it when I tell you that there's one more task you may need to add to your list. Once a year, you can request a free copy of your credit report from the three major reporting agencies. If you haven't gotten yours yet this year, time's running out.

There aren't many free things in life, and this is one you should use to full advantage. Through one website, you can order credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion -- the three major bureaus that handle credit scoring. Alternatively, you can call 1-877-322-8228 to request your reports.

Even if you do no more than print out the reports and put them on your desk until January, you shouldn't let the opportunity go to waste. But make it your first New Year's resolution to go back and study the reports. If you need to revisit the website for any reason, you typically have only 30 days of access to your free credit reports. After that, except under certain circumstances, you'll probably have to purchase them.

As far as holiday tasks go, it's much more fun to deck the halls and make merry with friends and family. But as dull as it might be, checking your credit report is important because it will determine whether a bank will lend you money, and it will influence how much you'll pay for credit. If you want to buy a home, a car, or sometimes even rent an apartment, it's important to keep your report clean and free of errors. Any serious mistakes on the report may also be an indicator of identity theft.

In my experience, it's best to work from home if you're ordering your reports online. Each bureau will ask detailed questions to confirm your identity. Unless you're the type who can recite your outstanding mortgage balance and the account number of every credit card from memory, you may want to order your reports when you have your financial documents on hand.

When you get time to look at the reports, you'll find that each bureau uses a slightly different system to report the same information. Take a moment to study each, as the different formats can be quite confusing. Make sure you scrutinize all three reports. You may find different errors on each.

Serious credit issues will be among the first things you'll probably see listed on your report, if there have been any of those problems in your past. This includes items like liens and bankruptcies, as well as accounts sent to creditors for collection. You'll also find identifying information, including your name in its many variations, current and previous addresses, and date of birth. It may also include employment information.

Most of your report, however, will be filled with an astonishing amount of detail about your credit cards, mortgages, car loans, home equity loans, and other accounts. On a typical credit card entry, for example, you'll see listed the account number, the date you opened the account, your credit limit, your balance, and any amounts past due. You may also see a chart of your past payment history, or simply a note of any late payments.

Check each account carefully. Chances are, with so much information, you'll find an error or two. Look closely, in particular, at the account status. You may find accounts listed as open that you've closed some time ago. You may also find open accounts that you've long forgotten. Any account that you closed will probably be identified as closed by consumer.

Also look at your payment histories. Late payments count against your creditworthiness, so you'll want to dispute any incorrect item. If you find errors of any kind, file a dispute with the credit reporting agency. They'll let you know how to proceed, and instructions will be included with the credit report or on the agency's websites.

Then go back to your holiday festivities. Just think, if you finish this now, you'll already be checking one item off your January to-do list.

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