How Often Should I Check My Credit Report? | Credit Cards

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If you want to get an idea of where you stand on credit, checking your credit report is a good place to start. Your credit report – or more accurately, reports, since each credit bureau produces its own report on you – is a documentation of your credit history.

Periodically reviewing your credit report is necessary for catching fraud and errors. Sensitive data breaches and bank misbehavior can lead to unauthorized accounts being opened in your name. For instance, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently fined Bank of America for allegedly opening unauthorized credit card accounts to reach sales goals, among other offenses. The CFPB also fined Wells Fargo in 2016 for opening unauthorized credit card accounts.

Customers who checked their credit reports regularly may have spotted these unauthorized accounts. It’s a good idea to check your credit reports at least once a year, but you may want to check more often, depending on your circumstances. Keep reading to find out when, why and how to check your credit report.

Why Should You Regularly Check Your Credit Report?

Though you should regularly check your credit reports to review your own behavior, an even more important reason is to catch errors and potential fraud, according to Mike Sullivan, a personal finance consultant with Take Charge America, a nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency based in Phoenix.

“Without looking at your credit report, you cannot know if you have been a victim of identity theft or fraud,” Sullivan says. “Even honest mistakes by creditors or credit reporting agencies can affect your ability to borrow and your borrowing costs.”

That’s because the information contained in your credit reports, such as your payment history on credit card and loan accounts, is used to develop credit scores. A poor credit score can significantly impact your ability to borrow money – whether for a house, a car or a personal or business loan – as well as the interest rate you will pay.

Even if you don’t plan to borrow any money, errors or fraudulent activity can impact other areas of your life. Your credit report is sometimes reviewed by potential employers, and it can also affect your ability to rent an apartment, lease a car and more.

Obtaining and reviewing your credit report once a year at minimum is a good rule of thumb, according to Frederic Huynh, a former lead data scientist for FICO and former vice president of data optimization at Freedom Debt Relief. But there are situations when it makes sense to check more often.

“If you have been consciously working to improve your credit, and perhaps have an eye on applying for a mortgage or another significant loan, you may want to check once every two to three months to make sure all data is accurate,” Huynh says. “If you are about to make a big purchase that requires a loan, it may be helpful to check reports a few months before so that there are no surprises.”

It also makes sense to check your credit report more often if you have been the victim of identity theft, have had fraudulent charges on a credit card, or have had personal information compromised in a data breach. In addition, “some experts advise people who’ve recently gone through a divorce to check reports every few months,” Huynh says.

Is It Bad to Check Your Own Credit Report?

If you’re worried about potentially harmful consequences from checking your own credit report, don’t fret. “Checking your own credit score is considered a soft inquiry, and soft inquiries do not affect credit profiles,” Huynh says.

When a third party pulls your credit report, resulting in what’s known as a hard credit inquiry, your credit score can be negatively impacted. “Hard inquiries are inquiries from a financial institution, when it is making a lending decision (such as approval for a mortgage or credit card),” Huynh says.

Hard inquiries can take a few points off your score, though the impact is generally minimal and only temporary.

How to Check Your Credit Report

Everyone age 13 and older is allowed to check their credit reports from the three major bureaus for free. Previously, you could only request a copy once per year. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, you can request a free copy weekly from any of the three major bureaus through the end of 2023. Here are some steps you should take:

  • Visit AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the only website that’s federally authorized to provide official reports for free. You can also call 877-322-8228 to request your reports.
  • Select which reports you want. Each credit bureau prepares a report for you. “Though the information is largely similar across the three credit reporting agencies, there can be variations across the reports,” says Huynh. “If you are checking reports for the first time, it can be a good idea to get all three at the same time.”
  • Get a copy after you are rejected for credit. If you apply for credit and are denied, you have the right within 60 days to get a free copy of the report that was used to make the decision.
  • Find out if you’re owed free monitoring. Sullivan notes that if a creditor has experienced a security breach, the company may provide free credit monitoring for a period of time following the breach. However, Sullivan warns that credit monitoring services aren’t foolproof, and it’s a good idea to freeze your credit immediately following a breach.

What If You Spot an Error on Your Credit Report?

If you do find an error on your credit report, it’s important to report it right away. If you’re reviewing your credit report online, there should be a button on the page to submit a dispute, according to Sullivan. “However, this may not provide the consumer with proof that a transaction was contested,” he says. “It is best to also send a written letter to the agency so that you have proof.”

Huynh adds that under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit bureaus must investigate any disputed items and correct the information if it cannot be verified.

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