We all know how important our credit score is. A good credit score leads to a lower interest rate on your mortgage and auto loans. A good credit score means you get approved for the premium credit cards (rewards cards). A good credit score leads to lower car insurance rates, and prospective employers can look at your credit score before deciding to hire you.
Most people know how to build a good credit score. The single most important factor is that you pay your bills on time. Keeping your credit accounts in good standing goes a long way in getting and keeping that high credit score. However, despite your good habits of keeping your accounts in good standing, one case of identity theft can derail your credit rating if it goes unnoticed. It would be awful to apply for a loan only to find out your credit rating has been trashed because someone stole your identity, opened a number of credit accounts, and then never paid on them. This actually happens a lot more often than you would think.
Regularly Monitor Your Credit Report
One way to help prevent this from happening, or at least catching it before it can do serious damage, is to regularly monitor your credit report. You can check this for free online at http://www.annualcreditreport.com. There are a number of other websites that claim to give you a free credit report, but then end up charging you a fee. Don’t fall for it. Also, keep in mind that this is only for your credit report, not your credit score.
By law, everyone in the United States is entitled to one free credit report from each of the major credit rating agencies (TransUnion, Experion, and Equifax). In other words, you can check your credit report three times every year. Personally, I check our (my wife’s plus mine) credit reports every January, May, and September (every four months). Your credit report will show all of your credit accounts and their status. It lets you know if your accounts are current or past due, and whether you’ve been late in paying on them. If anything on your report looks suspicious, they provide you with the steps you need to take to get your credit report corrected.
The Bottom Line
It’s easy to get caught up in all the daily responsibilities in life. We’re all really busy with work, family, and friends. But monitoring your credit report is an important thing to do. So get out your calendar (whether it’s a traditional paper calendar or on your smart phone) and set a reminder to look at your free report every four months. Don’t get caught unaware in the future when you go for a loan and find out that an identity thief trashed your credit.