Here, you’ll want to investigate addresses you see that are clearly wrong — in another state, for example — or variations of your name you don’t recognize. They could mean your credit information is getting mixed up with that of someone else, or they could be a sign of identity theft, which can drag down your scores and cause financial trouble. (You can learn more about the dangers of identity theft and how it can hurt your credit scores here.)
In most cases, the easiest way to determine the health of your credit is to look at your credit score, a numerical value that reflects a mathematical analysis of your debt, your payment history, the existence of liens or other judgments, and other statistical data collected by the credit bureaus. In other words, your credit score is the compact, simplified version of your entire credit history, all rolled up into one tidy three-digit number.
You received a notice that you were denied credit, insurance, or employment or experienced another “adverse action” based on a credit report, you have a right to a free report from the credit reporting company identified in the notice. To get the free report you must request it within 60 days after you receive the notice. Other types of “adverse action” notices you might receive include notice of an unfavorable change in the terms or amount of your credit or insurance coverage, or unfavorable changes in the terms of your employment or of a license or other government benefit.
When you sign up with NerdWallet, you get access to your TransUnion credit report. It's updated weekly, and you can check it whenever you want. You also are entitled to a free report every 12 months direct from each of the three big credit bureaus (the other two are Experian and Equifax) by using AnnualCreditReport.com. Because credit reports update far more frequently than once a year, it’s smart to monitor them at least monthly.
When you sign up for your free credit.com account, you’ll receive your Experian and Vantage credit scores-updated every 14 days. These scores are frequently used, so it’s useful information to have, especially if you’re trying to get a home loan or a new credit card. It’s also a great way to monitor your credit health, and track your progress against financial goals. Plus, you’ll receive personalized offers for mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, and more no matter what your goal is.
But WalletHub isn’t the only place you can get a free credit report. The most important alternative is AnnualCreditReport.com, the government-sponsored site where we all can get a copy of each of our three major credit reports every 12 months. While WalletHub provides unlimited access to your full TransUnion credit report, updated daily, you can use AnnualCreditReport.com to review your other two reports from Experian and Equifax. But don’t check both at the same time. Review one of them now, and save the other one for later — say, six months from now. Pulling your Experian and Equifax reports in six-month rotations will help you ensure you’re not missing anything for an extended period of time. Just bear in mind that using only AnnualCreditReport.com would be a mistake, as it would blind you to credit-report changes for much of the year.
Your payment history comprises the bulk of what calculates your credit score (35%), so staying on time with your credit card, mortgage, auto or student loan bills is imperative to keep your credit score high. Too many late or non-payments can do the worst damage to your score, since it tells lenders that you’re an irresponsible borrower and credit risk.
You can also request your free credit report by phone or by mail. The three reporting bureaus get their information from different places, and also present and evaluate the information in different ways. If you are making a large purchase, such as a car or home, it is a good idea to get your credit report from all three agencies. Save and print your reports so that you can review them later.
Several years ago, it was common for companies to advertise “free credit reports” on TV and radio spots. Most of the offers were a bait and switch. Sign up, get a free credit report and score, then see your credit card charged $10-$20 every month after that if you didn’t cancel on time. Thankfully, the Credit Card Act of 2009 changed the way companies are allowed to advertise free credit reports. The Federal Trade Commission now requires credit bureaus and credit monitoring services to market credit reports differently than previously.
help guard against identity theft. That’s when someone uses your personal information — like your name, your Social Security number, or your credit card number — to commit fraud. Identity thieves may use your information to open a new credit card account in your name. Then, when they don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report. Inaccurate information like that could affect your ability to get credit, insurance, or even a job.