Checking your credit report can help you spot identity theft in its early stages, but that's not the only reason to stay on top of your credit. Since your credit report feeds directly into your credit score and lending decisions, it's important to make sure your creditors and lenders are reporting accurate account information. It can also serve as a financial check-up, giving you a chance to take inventory of your credit card and loan accounts.
You can get one free credit report every 12 years from each of the credit bureaus by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.
When you check your credit report there are three basic types of information you should look for:
Signs of Identity Theft
More than 14 million people fell victim to identity fraud in 2018, according to the latest Javelin Identity Fraud Study. Identity theft can easily go undetected for months if you don't check your credit regularly to look for the signs that your information has been compromised.
Check Your Credit Report for Accounts That Aren't Yours
Review each of the accounts listed on your credit report to make sure they belong to you (or at least they used to). If you find accounts that you don't belong to you, highlight them so you will remember to use the credit report dispute process to remove them from your credit report. You may also need to contact the creditor to alert them to the unauthorized account.
Review the Inquiries Section to Make Sure the Businesses Listed Are Businesses You Applied for Credit With
Other inquiries could indicate someone has been trying to open accounts in your name. Consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report to warn businesses to confirm your identity before granting credit to anyone al
Some inquiries could appear from businesses that have checked your credit report to pre-approve you for credit cards or insurance. These "soft" inquiries are typically labeled, not viewable by anyone but you, and don't affect your credit score.
In a 2013 study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission, one in four consumers found errors on their credit reports that might affect their credit scores. Review your credit report to be sure all the information is accurate, complete, and within the allowed credit reporting timeframe.
Make Sure Your Address and Employer Are Correct
Your employer and address don't affect your credit score directly (even if they're incomplete or inaccurate), but the lender or credit card issuer could use this information to make a decision about your application.
Verify the Account History Listed for Your Accounts
Your credit report will contain detailed payment status for the past 24 months for each account. They will also contain a status that says whether your account is current or if it has ever been late. Make sure your payment history is correct because it has the most significant impact on your credit score.
Confirm That All Your Open Accounts Are Reported as Open
This is especially important for accounts with balance. Your credit score could be impacted if an account has a balance and is reported as closed. Closed accounts that are reported as open won't hurt your credit score, but could count against you if a lender evaluates the total number of open accounts you have.
Check for negative information outside the credit reporting time limit.
Most delinquencies, like late credit card payments and debt collections, can only be listed for seven years. The exception is bankruptcy, which can be listed for up to 10 years. Negative information that has exceeded the credit reporting time limit can be disputed from your credit report.
Confirm All Debts Discharged in Bankruptcy Are Listed That Way
Make sure these debts aren't simply listed as delinquent or unpaid.
An Inventory of Your Accounts
You can use your credit report to determine how much outstanding debt you have. Total up your debt owed by adding up the account balance on all your accounts. Some versions include your total outstanding debt in a summary information section of your credit report. Depending on when you ordered your credit report, the amounts owed on your accounts may not include your latest payments. Totaling your debt will give you an idea of how much debt you owe and when compared to your income, you can figure out whether you have too much debt and give you a starting point for creating a get-out-of-debt plan.