Why You Need to Check Your Credit Reports -- Even if You Know Your Credit Score

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 21, 2021 - First published on June 10, 2021

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A pen next to a piece of paper that says credit report.

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Checking your credit report a few times a year is a good idea. Here's why.

When it comes to managing your personal finances, there are certain key moves worth making, such as:

  • Follow a budget
  • Keep tabs on your savings
  • Review your credit card balance in the middle of your billing cycle to make sure you're not racking up too large a tab

But that's not all. You're also going to want to make a point to review your credit reports during the year.

You actually have three different credit reports, one from each of the three major credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Generally, and ideally, the information contained in those three reports should be similar. But one piece of information you're apt to find missing in those reports is your actual credit score.

Believe it or not, your credit reports don't include that number. To get it, you'll generally need to either buy it for a modest fee, get it from your credit card company, or check to see if your bank offers it for free.

Knowing your credit score is important. If it's high, you'll be more likely to get approved for a new credit card or loan. If it's low, you may get denied. But even if you know your credit score, it's still important to check your credit reports. Here's why.

More than just a number

While your credit score can give you a snapshot of your financial health, your credit reports offer a lot more detail about why your score may be sitting at a certain level. Your credit reports contain important information, such as:

  • Existing loan and credit card balances
  • Various accounts and how long they've been open
  • Any delinquencies, such as late or missed payments

That's all essential information to have because it may be able to help you boost your credit score if that's your goal.

Say your credit score is stuck in the low 600s and you want to raise it. If you check your credit reports, you might see a few outstanding debts you never paid off, or you might realize that your credit card usage is higher than you thought. This means you're carrying a large balance relative to your total spending limit across all of your cards, which is a bad thing for your score. Having that information could help you focus your efforts on bringing that number up.

Another reason it's important to check your credit reports? It can alert you to fraud or credit report mistakes.

When you check your credit reports, you may notice an open credit card account with a small balance that you don't recognize. It could be that someone opened that account in your name, is slowly racking up charges against it, and is attempting to leave you to foot the bill. That, too, is the sort of thing you'll want to investigate -- but if you don't check your credit reports, you may not realize the issue exists.

How to check your credit reports

Usually, you're entitled to one free copy of your credit report every year from each reporting bureau. But due to the pandemic, you can request a free copy on a weekly basis between now and April of 2022. You can go to each bureau's website individually to get your credit reports or access all at once at annualcreditreport.com. No matter which route you choose, it's important to know what information those credit reports contain -- even if you already have your credit score committed to memory.

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