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As we face the COVID-19 pandemic, credit monitoring has never been more essential. Seeing your credit report can help you visualize your overall financial health and help you prioritize payments if your income is fluctuating.
Hopefully, you’re aware of all the credit accounts you currently have open and are staying on top of their respective balances and payments. But the only way to see all of this information in one place is by monitoring your credit.
There are many ways to monitor credit scores, depending on how hands-on you want to get with the process and whether you’re willing to pay for a professional credit monitoring service. No matter which methods you use to keep tabs on your credit, you’re entitled to the same rights through the Fair Credit Reporting Act. For instance, your credit information is considered confidential and can only be disclosed to anyone with a justified purpose or to whom you give permission. On top of this, companies providing information to the credit bureaus are legally obligated to investigate any disputes you bring as a result of what you find in your credit report.
In the following section, we’ll discuss how to monitor your credit score and how frequently you should check it.
How to Check Your Credit Report and Score
Check your credit report for free
Checking your credit report online has always been free once per year. But because of the financial pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic now through April 2021, you can check your report weekly without any additional costs. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to access your credit report for free. Check out this article for detailed steps on checking your credit report.
How to check your credit score
Your credit report will not show your credit score, and the law does not require free access to your credit score. But there are several ways to access it. Most credit card companies provide your FICO score for free. Check your monthly bank statement or log into your account online. If you can’t find it, call your bank or use their chat service to ask if they provide your credit score and where to find it.
Credit monitoring services
There are a variety of credit monitoring services that offer to help you monitor your credit health based on the information found in your report. These services typically offer perks like frequent access to your credit score, notifications when changes are detected, and suggestions for ways to improve your credit score. The advantage is you don’t have to manually check your credit score to see if any changes have been reported; this is done automatically for you, and you’re notified when changes occur.
The disadvantage is it will cost you money. Monitoring services offered by the major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) range from $19.95 to $24.99 a month. But if you’re trying to build your credit, spending more money is probably not in your best interest. Many experts say you can save money and take control of your finances at the same time by self-monitoring using your free credit report. If you make a habit of combing through your report regularly, looking for potential errors or areas of opportunity, you don’t need to pay for the service.
Beware of scams
The FTC warns of imposter websites that pretend to offer free credit reports but end up charging hidden fees or even selling your personal information, including your Social Security number. The only website authorized to provide the free credit reports required by law is AnnualCreditReport.com.
Why It’s Important to Check Your Credit Report
Checking your credit report is important, whether you’re building or simply maintaining good credit. By checking your report at regular intervals, you’ll know exactly where your debt currently stands and can check to make sure all three credit bureaus are reporting information correctly. Errors are not unheard of. In fact, the FTC (Federal Trade Commision) has found one in five people find an error on their credit reports at least once in their lifetime.
Checking your credit report is also an essential step in protecting yourself from identity theft. “If someone is out there applying for an account in your name, the earliest sign will show up on your credit report as an inquiry,” says Bruce McClary, vice president of communications at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “The key to shutting down credit fraud or identity theft is to respond as quickly as possible.”
How Often You Should Check Your Report
At a minimum, you should be checking your credit report from each bureau once a year, taking advantage of the free annual credit report you are entitled to by U.S. law. But with free credit reports now available every week through April 2021, you can also check your report more frequently. How often you check depends on your current credit activity and whether you’re actively taking steps to build or improve your credit. While you’re unlikely to see significant changes from week to week — it often takes lenders at least a full billing cycle to report updates to the credit bureaus — there’s no harm in pulling the reports as frequently as you’d like.