Check Your Annual Credit Report, September 2009 Edition

by Kevin on September 1, 2009

I recommend you check your annual credit report at least every four months or three times per year. The schedule I personally use is January, May, and September.

Today is September 1st so it is time to check that annual credit report.

Check Your Free Annual Credit Report

Don’t be fooled by the company that plays jingle filled commercials on television touting a free credit report. It’s a lie! That “free” credit report is only free if you sign up for their monthly program that costs you money if you don’t cancel the free trial.

That sounds like a lot of hassle to me. Plus the government has mandated that each credit bureau (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) allow you access to your credit report for free once per year. You can do that at the actual free credit report site: AnnualCreditReport.com.

Instead of checking all three at the same time (because then you would have to go an entire year and not be able to check your report again for free) you should check one every four months.

It’s a simple concept. Just set up a monthly schedule and track which month you check your free credit report from each bureau.

Tweak the Strategy If You are Married

Married folks generally share a lot of financial accounts. Some couples decide to split their finances, but an absolute 100% split with no overlap is almost impossible. You have to share some accounts.

My wife and I firmly believe in shared accounts. Everything is shared. Naturally we are the beneficiaries to each other’s retirement accounts. We share credit cards and checking accounts. All of our money is together.

Due to this integration our credit reports are also somewhat integrated. Not that if someone stole her social security number that mine would also be compromised.

But think of this: we’re both listed on our bank accounts and credit cards. If the banking institution’s systems are compromised and large chunks of databases are stolen that contain the account information that could affect us. If they got our account information from American Express then they would have both of our social security numbers.

All this to say that if you are married you essentially get to double your opportunities to check your credit report. To do this just double the number of times you check the report from three to six and halve the time you wait to check again. And remember to bounce back and forth between each person.

For example you might set something like this up:

  • January: Husband, Experian
  • March: Wife, TransUnion
  • May: Husband, Equifax
  • July: Wife, Experian
  • September: Husband, TransUnion
  • November: Wife, Equifax

This kind of system will keep you up to date more often and give you a mixture of the bureuas.

If You Need Your Credit Score…

Your credit report is not the same thing as your credit score. You report will show everything in your credit history except your score.

If you are trying to figure out what your credit score is because you are trying to buy a home or something like that you will need to purchase your scores online. Each bureau offers their own verison of your score, but in my opinion that number is pretty useless because lenders generally use your FICO scores.

To get your FICO scores I recommend using myFICO. To order your reports just for this one time, click on this link, then click Products then under Suze Orman’s FICO Kit Platinum click Buy. This will give you reports from all three bureaus for $49.95.

Alternatively you could buy FICO Standard which will give you one report and score from one of the bureaus that you select for $15.95. If I remember correctly lenders generally use either the average of all three scores, or throw the high and the low one out and use the one in the middle so having all three scores can be beneficial if you are loan shopping.

Either way if you don’t need to know your score just use AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you do need your score use myFICO.

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