How to Check Your Credit in 6 Easy Steps
by Christy Bieber | Updated Sept. 2, 2021 - First published on March 26, 2019
Checking your credit on a regular basis is one of the most important money-managing tasks that should be on your to-do list. Checking your credit is vital so you can correct mistakes, spot signs of identity theft, and make sure you have a reasonable credit score.
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1. Decide whether you want to check your credit report, credit score, or both
Your credit report is a detailed summary of all of your financial accounts, as well as of inquiries made by lenders when you applied for credit.
When you pull your credit report, you can see all the accounts you currently have open, as well as accounts you've recently closed. Your report details the current balance on your credit cards or loans as well as your credit limit. It also shows whether you've always paid on time or have been 30, 60, or 90 days late. Judgments against you and charge-offs are also shown on your report, as well as lenders who've looked at your credit recently in response to your request to obtain financing (these are inquiries).
Pulling your credit report is important because you want to see if there are inquiries you don't recognize or accounts you didn't open -- both of which could indicate identity theft. You also want to find out if any creditors are reporting inaccurate info, such as late payments you didn't make.
Your credit score, on the other hand, is a three digit number lenders use as a shortcut to determine if you're creditworthy. You actually have tons of different credit scores, as credit scoring agencies and lenders have proprietary formulas they use to assign you a score. The two most commonly-used scores are your FICO® Score and your VantageScore, both of which run on a scale from 300 to 850.
You'll want to check your credit score because your score affects whether you'll be approved for a mortgage, personal loans, or credit cards. It also affects the rate you'll pay for financing, and whether landlords and other companies will consider you trustworthy or high risk.
2. Visit the right website
If you want to check your credit report, you can do so at AnnualCreditReport.com. This site was authorized by federal law to provide free copies of your credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You're entitled by law to receive one report from each of these credit reporting agencies for free each year.
Unfortunately, when you check your report on this website, you will not be able to see your credit score for free. If you want to check your credit score, you'll need to look elsewhere.
Many credit card companies allow you to sign into your online account and check your credit score for free, including the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. Discover also allows anyone to obtain a free FICO® Score -- you don't have to be a customer.
3. Request your report or score
Once you're on AnnualCreditReport.com -- or on a site that allows you to check your credit score -- you'll need to actually request your report or score.
If you're checking your credit score, you can typically start the process just by clicking a button to "Continue" or "See Your Score." But, if you're checking your credit report, you'll need to decide which report to select.
Because you're allowed to see a report from each major credit reporting agency once a year, it can make sense to space out your requests. You could pull your TransUnion report in January, your Equifax Report in April, and your Experian report in August, for example. That way, you're looking at your report several times throughout the year and can easily spot mistakes.
If this is the first time you've been to AnnualCreditReport.com, it doesn't matter which report you request first and you can go in any order. If you've already pulled one of your reports during the year, you'll need to pick a different one.
4. Input your information
In order for your report or score to be pulled, the website you're on is going to need to get some identifying information from you. This includes your Social Security number, full name, date of birth, current address, and other addresses you've lived at in the past two years.
This is all valuable and important personal information, so make certain you're on a reliable website before providing it.
If you're signed into your credit card's online account and are requesting they provide you with your credit score, you may not need to input all this info since the site already knows who you are.
5. Verify your identity
Once you've requested your credit report, you'll be asked some questions to verify your identity. These questions are designed to be things only you know the answers to. You may be asked how long you've had a mortgage on a property you own; what your monthly bills are; what make, model, year, and color your car is; questions about your family relationships, or other details strangers wouldn't know.
It can sometimes be hard to remember the answers to these questions -- but if you get them wrong, then you may not be able to see your credit report.
Depending on the site you're using to pull your credit score, you may also need to verify your identity before you can see your score. However, many websites that offer free credit scores will ask you to register. This means you input your info once, create an account, then come back again to check your score without going through the whole identity verification process.
6. Review your report or score carefully
After you've verified your identity, you'll see your report or your credit score. Be sure to look at each carefully.
If you see mistakes or problems on your report, you can dispute inaccurate information by contacting each of the credit reporting agencies. If your credit score is lower than you expected it to be, this can send up a red flag that you should check your credit report to see what's bringing down your score.
Check your credit on a regular basis
Now you know how simple and easy it is to check both your credit report and your credit score. Go check yours today, and keep checking them often so you'll know how you're doing with building credit -- and can correct any problems quickly if you see something on your report or score that concerns you.
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