I've heard this same question from many people: "Why should I bother reviewing my credit report? Isn't that only for people who want to know my credit score so as to give me a mortgage, a loan or something of the sort?"
Well, the reality is that your credit report, apart from being a means for creditors and others to know your creditworthiness, is also meant for you to review and to make sure no mistakes were made in the report which could mislead creditors or other people requesting your report, and which could ruin your credit score and creditworthiness.
Since your credit reports are keyed in by people, mistakes are made many times; sometimes certain information is omitted, or there could be conflicting information that's not 100% accurate.
Here are 4 reasons why you should review your credit report:
1. To prevent identity theft. By reviewing your credit report, you can make sure no other accounts which are not yours have been added to your name, and there are no unauthorized transactions on your active accounts. New accounts that have been opened in your name without your knowledge is the first sign of someone stealing your identity, and that can have disastrous results as you will be responsible for all the debts held in your name. You can also monitor your spending and make sure you are not accumulating debt in any of your accounts.
Gregory Meyer, Community Relations Manager of Meriwest Credit Union, told GET.com that he checks his own report two to three times a year, each time from a different bureau, mainly to prevent identity theft since he travels quite frequently and makes purchases over the internet.
"People need to watch their checking and credit card statements more closely. You can prevent a lot of ID theft like that. ID theft is more likely to show up in accounts that are currently active than on new accounts started by an ID thief that may be caught by checking the credit report," Gregory added.
Jamie Novak, an organizing expert, knows the hassles of being a victim of identity theft.
"The first time I checked mine I found that I had two instances of identity theft! It took close to a year for me to have those removed. Since then I've come across accounts listed on my report that belong to someone else. There were also two instances of incorrect reporting of a late payment on my major credit card. After working to have the errors corrected, my credit score went up 110 points!" Jamie told GET.com.
Shaun Spellman, an entrepreneur, said he monitors his credit report every month, and has been able to secure an excellent score of 802 over the course of the last ten years - a credit score he has to maintain so that he can secure assets that he needs, such as servers, office space, furniture, laptops, and web design. Shaun too had been a victim of identify theft.
Shaun told GET.com, "I have had a few issues come up that if I didn't monitor my report, it would cripple me financially for a long time. My identity was stolen through a "trusted" retailer and my credit cards were abused overseas in France and Hong Kong. I was able to catch the theft within a few days of it occurring, but keep in mind this happened in the early years where identity theft was a relatively new scheme. After catching the theft, I went through everybody from the State Police to my credit union to repair and restore my credit."
2. To identify credit bureau errors. Credit bureaus contain information that is transcribed from your records by people, not machines. Since those doing the job of transcribing your information are human, sometimes errors are made, either in a number, a letter, or something of the sort, for example, maybe the person who transcribed your report wrote 2,000 instead of 20,000, which in reality would make a huge difference to what is being reported.
Patrick Hudson, partner and attorney at McLean & Howard, LLP, said he has his Outlook calendar set to remind him to check his credit report from one of the 3 credit bureaus every 4th month.
"I have found errors on the reports from all 3 agencies – typically they list a prior address for me that I never used, or an alias I do not recognize. I always send them a certified letter to correct the problem, and generally have fair results," Patrick told GET.com.
"One thing I did not expect is that my mortgage company checks my credit all of the time, and is also very current in reporting my payments and loan balance, " Patrick added.
Dan Nainan, a comedian who appeared in an Apple (AAPL) commercial last year, said he is "absolutely obsessive" about checking his credit reports. He said, "There are a number of errors, because my name is similar to my father – it's been an absolute hell but I've been able to get rid of most of the confusion!"
3. To make sure your data is complete in all 3 bureaus. This is especially important since the three main credit bureaus in the US, namely Experian, Equifax (EFX) and TransUnion, don't share information, so if you notice when reviewing your credit report that one or even two of the credit bureaus are missing some information that was stated in the report from another bureau, report it immediately in order for your credit reports to be updated and to include that data. Sometimes it may also be the case that some negative information is added to only one or two of your credit reports and which you might not notice if you only check your credit report from one of the three credit bureaus.
Kyle Matthews, director of sales & marketing at Janet Davis Cleaners, told GET.com he requests a report from a different credit bureau every 4 months.
Kyle said, "The reports are a little bit different and some of the smaller creditors don't appear on all three reports but they are similar enough that I feel secure. I do it this way to ensure that my credit report is free from errors should I need to apply for credit in the future. I have never found an error, but I still think it's important to keep checking."
4. To make sure creditors made no errors when reporting to the bureaus. When creditors report to the credit bureaus, there is always a chance that they might make a mistake in the data they send which will later be reflected in your credit report. By being mindful of this when reviewing your report, you can make sure that these errors are corrected before it's too late.
Josh Duvauchelle, a freelance writer and entrepreneur, reviews his credit reports from each of the three bureaus once a year, and reviews his credit score (mid-700s) once a month. He told GET.com, "I've uncovered an error once - an account that was incorrectly sent to a collections agency and listed as such on my report - and spent several months disputing the error until it was removed."
Make It A Habit To Check Your Credit Report Regularly
Now that you know the main reasons why it's important for you to review your credit report on a regular basis, make sure that you get a free credit report from one of the three credit bureaus every 4 months (since each credit bureau allows you to receive one free copy of your credit report yearly). You can request for your free credit report from Annualcreditreport.com. This free credit report does not include any credit score information. To see your credit score at any given time, you have to pay a fee for it.
That way, you can review your credit reports from each credit bureau once every year and on a more regular basis, since requesting a report every 4 months from one of the bureaus is better that just receiving a credit report from all three bureaus at the same time during the year.
Tyler Tervooren, a musician and writer, has a unique reason for monitoring his credit score regularly. He told GET.com, "As a frequent flyer, I'm often applying for, using, and canceling cards with big frequent flyer bonuses and it's important that I make sure that my report is showing accurate information so that I don't get declined for cards, which would hurt my score without getting anything in return.
"I also monitor the effects of opening and closing new accounts so that I know when it's time to close some accounts and relax a bit to allow my score to rebound and when it's time to go after some more big bonuses. By keeping a close eye on my credit report and score, I have opened around a dozen new cards in the last 6 months all while keeping my score above 750," Tyler added.
Michael Daugherty, founder of Bespoke Row, told GET.com he reviews his own credit report every four months.
Michael said, "I started doing this because I had a dispute with a department store credit card company and refused to pay my bill for two months. After they reversed all the charges, I wanted to make sure that my credit report hadn't been impacted by their mistake. Thankfully it hadn't." After that experience, he began reviewing his credit reports regularly.
Where Can I Get A Free FICO Credit Score?
The only way to get a free FICO® Credit Score is to sign up for a no annual fee credit card that offers free access to your FICO® Credit Score. As long as you don't use your card in any way that could lead to interest charges or other fees, you will pretty much have free access to your FICO Score. My favorite card that lets you track your recent FICO® Credit Scores for free is Discover it® Cashback Match™ (read our review of Discover it® Cashback Match™ credit card here) which allows you to see them on your monthly statements and online in one easy-to-read chart.
Some of you may be happy to pay for a more comprehensive credit report and credit score tracking service, and if that's the case, I would recommend myFICO Score Watch which not only provides your FICO Score, but also alerts you immediately if there is any change in your score. But if you just simply want to get your credit score, you should consider using a credit card like the one I mentioned above.
Advantages Of A Credit Report Tracking Service
Having a credit report tracking service (you pay a small fee) is an effective way of protecting yourself from identity theft.
A credit report monitoring service will notify you whenever there are any major changes to your credit file, such as new accounts open in your name (first sign of identity theft), a credit card balance increase, a new inquiry, late payments or change of address.
That way, you'll know if you've been a victim of identity theft or if there are any clerical errors you should correct in your credit report so as not to jeopardize your credit score.
myFICO Score Watch provides you with 2 FICO® Scores and 2 Equifax credit reports each year. Benefit from search tools that help you find the right auto loan or mortgage for your credit score. FICO® Score Simulator lets you simulate the effect that different credit decisions could have on your credit score. You can use this as much as you like. You get alerted every time there is a change to your credit score, which can help you stay on top of identity theft or card fraud.
updated Aug 25, 2016
Katrina Gutierrez is a writer at GET.com, a lifestyle and personal finance website. Email: email@example.com.
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