Creditors and lenders use the information in your credit report—a detailed history of your credit accounts—to decide whether to approve your applications and to assign pricing when you're approved.
But a number of credit reports contain mistakes, some significant enough to affect your ability to get approved for new credit cards and loans. Checking your credit report periodically is important for making sure the information being reported about you is accurate and complete. Otherwise, you may not find out that your credit report has errors until you're unexpectedly denied a credit card or loan.
You have the right to view your credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Every consumer should know the rule of thumb for how often to check their credit reports to maintain a healthy, accurate credit history.
- Check your full credit report from each major credit bureau a minimum of one to three times a year.
- Free weekly credit reports from the three major credit agencies remain available from AnnualCreditReport.com until December 2022 to help people manage their finances during the pandemic.
- You may need to check your credit report more frequently in some cases, such as when you suspect identity theft, are about to apply for a sizable loan, or are working on repairing poor credit.
- Be cautious of free credit report scams that can cost you money or put your personal information at risk.
How To Use the Rule of Thumb for Checking Your Credit Report
Checking your credit report not only gives you insight into each of your credit accounts, it allows you to view a list of companies that have checked your credit report within the past two years. At a minimum, you should check your credit report at least once a year to be sure the information is accurate, complete, and within the federal credit reporting time limit for negative information on a credit report. In most cases, a consumer reporting agency may not report adverse information more than seven years old or bankruptcies that are more than ten years old.
"Consumers are entitled to one free credit report from each of the major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) once a year. Consumers can spread them out to check them every few months, rather than checking all three at once," Madison Block, marketing communications and programs associate at American Consumer Credit Counseling, told The Balance by email.
In response to hardships caused by the pandemic, you can check your credit report for free every week through December 2022, with AnnualCreditReport.com. The program was extended for another eight months in April.
While checking your credit report one to three times a year is a good rule of thumb, you can monitor your credit more frequently thanks to a number of free credit report services. These include:
Why the Rule of Thumb for Checking Credit Reports Generally Works
Your credit report changes frequently as businesses send updates about your accounts to the credit bureaus. Reviewing your credit report at least once a year allows you to catch and correct potentially damaging information resulting from identity theft, errors, or outdated entries. Clearing up negative credit report information can improve your credit score and your ability to qualify for credit cards and loans at favorable rates.
In addition to annual free credit reports, you're entitled to a no-cost credit report when you've been a victim of identity theft, have been denied a credit card or loan in the past 60 days, are on public assistance, or are unemployed and preparing to apply for a job in the next two months.
Addressing Credit Report Errors
If you find an error on your credit report when you request one, the most effective way to fix it is to attack it from two directions:
- Correct the problem by contacting the credit reporting agencies and submitting a dispute
- Fix the problem at its source: Contact the creditor that reported the error
Try to resolve the mistake as soon as possible to avoid problems when you apply for a loan or credit card, or a potential employer or insurer reviews your credit report. It’s best not to wait after you notice the error because the correction process can be slow.
Grain of Salt
While it's typically OK to check your credit report one to three times a year, there are some instances in which you should check your credit report more often. For example:
- You suspect your identity has been compromised.
- You're planning to apply for an auto loan or mortgage soon.
- You were unexpectedly denied a loan.
- You're working to improve your credit score.
Order your credit report directly through AnnualCreditReport.com, one of the credit bureau websites, or through myFICO.com. Watch out for free credit report scams, and avoid clicking on links about your credit report that you've received via email, text message, or pop-up. Scammers reaching out in this way try to capture your personal or financial information to commit credit card fraud or identity theft.
If you're using a "free" credit report service that requests your credit card number, chances are you're actually enrolling in a free trial subscription for the service. You'll have to cancel your subscription before the trial ends to avoid having your credit card charged.