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Checking my credit report online
How to Check Your Credit Report
The actual process of pulling your credit report isn’t always straightforward.
By Susannah Snider, Senior Editor, Personal Finance | May 31, 2017, at 9:00 a.m.
Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com. (iStockphoto)
Regularly checking your credit report is an essential part of maintaining your financial health. It gives you a chance to zero in on what debts you still owe and alerts you to signs of fraud or identify theft.
But the actual process of pulling your credit history isn’t totally straightforward. Here’s how to check your credit report.
Start in the right place. Head to annualcreditreport.com where you can pull three free credit reports each year, one from each of the three credit-reporting bureaus.
Before you pull your credit report, decide whether you want to view just one or all three at once. Consider pulling all three if this is your first time accessing your credit report, says Gerri Detweiler, head of market education for Nav, a credit service for business owners, based in San Mateo, California. That way, you can catch all errors before they do any further damage to your credit health. “The next year, if you want to start staggering them, I think that’s fine as long as you’re monitoring your credit scores with all three bureaus,” she says.
You can also request your report via phone or mail. While these methods might not be as user-friendly as the online system, they are available for those who want to use them.
Get your information together. You’re going to need some basic information on hand – or in your head – before you can access your credit history. The credit report site will ask you for personal details, including your name, birth date, Social Security number and address. You’ll select which credit bureau – Equifax, Experian or TransUnion – you’d like to provide your report.
Next, you’ll be asked to answer some verification questions to confirm your identity and deter would-be fraudsters. You may be asked to answer multiple-choice questions about previous employers, credit card debt and other personal loan information. These questions can be surprisingly tricky, and you may get tripped up. “If you have an older credit report that you can refer to, that can be a good resource,” Detweiler says. Don’t forget, she adds, that “none of the above” is often an option in these multiple-choice verification tests, and it may be the right answer.
If you fail this verification step, you may be directed to request your credit report through the mail.
Utilization: How it Impacts Your Credit
Reducing your utilization rate can boost your credit score.
Read the report. After accessing your credit report, print it, says Rod Griffin, director of public education for Experian. If you don’t have a printer handy, download the report, so that you have a digital copy on file.
While it may be 25 pages long, filled with numbers and unfamiliar names, don’t be intimidated by your credit report. “You don’t need any sort of special training to read a report,” Griffin says.
As you scroll through your credit history, you should see your personal information, including name, current and previous addresses and telephone number. The report will list previous and current debt, including student loans, credit card debt, mortgage debt, auto loans and more.
Scroll through to see a list of hard inquiries on your credit report, which you should recognize from previous credit card, auto loan, mortgage and other debt applications. These stay on your file for a couple of years. You will also see soft inquiries, or promotional inquiries, from companies looking to offer you some form of credit or insurance. You may not recognize these, but don’t fret. Promotional inquiries are only visible to you and don’t affect your score.
If you see an error on your credit report – a debt you don’t recognize or an unfamiliar name or address – you can initiate a dispute with the credit-reporting bureau.
You might be surprised by what’s absent from your free credit report: your credit score. If you want to check your credit score, you’ll have to do that separately. Try heading to sites such as Credit Karma, Credit.com and Credit Sesame, which may hand out free scores (in exchange for registering with your personal information). Your credit card issuer may also include a credit score with your regular statement.
Prepare for the next time. Now that you’ve downloaded your credit report, note on your calendar when you can request your next one – in four months (if you requested one report) or a year (if you requested all three at once). If you’ve noticed an issue with fraud or identity theft, it might be worth springing for a credit-monitoring service, Detweiler says. If not, then you should expect to continue pulling your free annual credit report from each of the bureaus in the future.
10 Completely Careless Credit Card Mistakes You’re Making
Improve your credit card habits.
Many consumers either love or hate credit cards. They can be extremely helpful if used responsibly, but they can also hurt you if you don’t use them right. Wondering how you can use your credit card better? Check out this list of mistakes to avoid and what to do instead.
Not reading the fine print.
Let’s start from the beginning. A lot of issues stem from not reading or understanding your credit card agreement. For example, if you try transferring your balance to another card without understanding the rules, you could end up owing more.
Instead: Resist the urge to automatically scroll to the bottom of the page and agree to your card’s terms. Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into, from your card’s rewards program to fees.
Not using it.
Credit card companies don’t make as much money if consumers don’t use their cards. If you haven’t used your credit card in awhile, your credit card issuer could deem your card inactive and close your account, which could negatively impact your credit.
Instead: If you are reluctant to use credit but want to keep your card open, try placing a small recurring fee on it and paying it off immediately each time. Alternatively, swipe it every few months for an item you need to buy, like groceries.
Not paying on time.
Not paying your bills on time doesn’t just severely lower your credit score – it could also cost you monetarily, as your credit card provider may penalize you by charging a late fee and raising your interest rates.
Instead: If you keep forgetting to make payments, set up as many reminders as necessary to ensure your bills get paid. If you can’t pay on time because you don’t have enough money, try scrutinizing your budget to see where you can cut back and asking for a grace period or reduced minimum payment. Your credit card company may understand if you demonstrate that you’re working to remedy the situation.
Only making the minimum payment.
Simply put, paying the minimum each month could cost you a lot of money and take forever to pay off. Say you have a credit card with a $1,000 balance and a 14.95 percent interest rate. According to Credit Karma’s debt repayment calculator, if you only paid $25 a month, it could cost you an estimated $393 in interest and take you an astonishing 56 months to pay off.
Instead: Rethink what you pay monthly. If you need convincing to pay more, just take a look at your credit card statement – it should tell you how much it will cost you if you only pay the minimum.
Using all the credit you’re granted.
Excessively swiping your card isn’t just bad news for your wallet – it could also hurt your credit score. Many scoring models factor in how much of your credit limit you’re using because the more credit you use, the more likely you may not be able to pay everything off.
Instead: Monitor your utilization rate and make sure it never gets too high. A good rule of thumb is to aim for a rate under 30 percent. However, note that this doesn’t mean you have to keep a balance on your cards!
Taking cash advances.
Strapped for cash? Avoid using your credit card for cash advances unless it’s an emergency – with sky-high interest rates, upfront fees and no grace period, it could be a costly mistake. While it could be a better option than taking out a dangerous loan, like a payday, pawnshop or car title loan, it’s still best to avoid if possible.
Instead: Consider other options, like applying for a short-term loan product, asking for a payday advance or borrowing from a loved one.
Closing it (for no good reason).
As mentioned earlier, closing an account, whether done by you or your credit card provider, could negatively impact your score. Unless you dramatically reduce your spending, closing a card (and saying goodbye to that credit limit) will probably increase your credit utilization rate. It could also lower your average age of accounts when the card falls off your credit report.
Instead: Exercise caution when considering closing any cards, as doing so could cause more harm than good.
Spending just to earn rewards.
If you have a rewards card, it can be tempting to spend just to earn that 5 percent cash back or those airline miles. However, if you end up buying things you don’t need just for the perks, it could cause you to spend more than you can afford.
Instead: When shopping, question why you’re buying each item and whether you really need everything you’re purchasing. If you don’t have a good reason, consider delaying your purchase. This could help prevent both impulse buys and faulty justification for shopping.
Ignoring your monthly statement.
We’re inundated with information these days, but one thing you don’t want to ignore is your monthly statement. Looking over it regularly can help you learn about changes to your interest rates and fees, remind you of your payment due date, help you spot erroneous charges quickly and more.
Instead: Regularly check your accounts, and make sure you know the state of each card you own. It could save you a world of trouble in the future.
Carrying a balance to improve your credit.
Carrying a balance on your credit cards because you can’t afford to pay off the entire amount is understandable. Carrying a balance in hopes that it will improve your credit score is a huge mistake and one of the biggest credit myths out there. You don’t need to carry a balance to build credit – the balance reported to the credit bureaus is from your last statement, not what is carried over to the next statement.
Instead: Pay your bills in full as often as possible. You don’t need to pay interest to have a good credit score.
Susannah Snider is the Senior Editor for Personal Finance at U.S. News. Since 2010, she has reported on a wide range of personal finance topics, from consumer travel to college financial aid, student loans and employment. In her current role as Personal Finance Editor, Snider reports and writes consumer-focused articles on taxes, family finance, debt, banking, credit, spending and other topics related to financial health and savvy money management. She also oversees and edits the My Money blog, which publishes financial advice from outside money experts, including tax preparers, shopping experts, financial planners, cord-cutters and bloggers.
In 2017, Snider was awarded the McGraw Fellowship for Business Journalism. The fellowship supports high-impact coverage of important finance and business topics. Through the McGraw Fellowship, Snider reported a four-part series on parental student loan debt. The reporting package received 2018 RTDNA/NEFE Excellence in Personal Finance Reporting Award in the Digital category and gave Snider the opportunity to appear in a panel at the 2018 Excellence in Journalism Conference to speak about her reporting style and techniques.
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