An important piece of your annual financial plan review.
Request your free credit reports from all three providers once a year.
Review the factors that can hurt your credit score and ensure information is accurate and complete.
To protect your credit reports, consider a credit lock or freeze.
Let’s be honest – when was the last time you reviewed your credit reports?
For most, it's usually been more than a year - a lot more. Some time between Tax Day and summer is a perfect opportunity to check this off of your to-do list. Checking your credit reports (yes, from all three bureaus) helps you catch potentially unauthorized activity, see what lenders see when you apply for credit, and make sure that all your personal and credit history is complete and accurate.
Let’s look at:
Where you get your credit reports
What to look for during your review
Actions to consider for protection
Where do I get my credit reports?
Federal law gives you free access to your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Using the government-mandated website is the quickest way to get them, but you can also request them by phone or mail. These reports used to be free once a year but are available weekly until the end of 2023.
1. Go to the correct website - AnnualCreditReport.com
Other sites have similar names but the one you want looks like this:
2. Enter personal information
3. Request credit report(s) - from all three major credit bureaus
4. Answer security questions
5. Generate your report online
What should I look for?
The main things to look for when reading your credit reports are:
Accounts that aren’t yours or you didn’t authorize
Incorrect, negative information
Negative information that’s too old to be included
Credit utilization rates
How much of the available credit are you using?
Name(s), addresses, phone numbers, social security number, birthdate, employment information
The first four factors can hurt your credit score. While your personal information doesn’t impact your score, it’s important to make sure that all of the information is accurate and complete.
If you find errors, the fastest way to file a dispute is online with each bureau, but you can also call the credit bureaus or send a credit dispute letter by mail. The credit bureaus will investigate and must remove information that they can’t verify.
How can I protect my credit report?
If you’d like to take preventative measures to protect your credit reports, there are two primary tools to consider.
The first is called a credit lock. There is an online service (usually part of a paid service) that allows you to unlock and lock access to reports in real-time. If you need to apply for credit, you can unlock your reports to give lenders access and lock it when they are done.
The other is called a credit freeze. This also locks access to your reports but is a free service and requires you to call each bureau to have the freeze lifted. This is ideal if have no plans to apply for credit and if you’ve been a victim of identity theft or a part of a known data breach.
It’s important to note that your credit reports monitor your credit information history but do not report your credit score. Your bank may offer a free credit score service that also tracks credit application requests. For example, Chase includes Credit Journey as an online tool that people find to be accurate.
Reviewing your credit reports on an annual basis is a great way to track your finances, manage your credit exposure, and safeguard yourself from fraud. The sooner you catch any sign of fraud or inaccurate reporting, the sooner you can protect yourself and improve your credit score.
Frank Iozzo, CPWA®
President, Private Wealth Advisor
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