It’s important to monitor your credit reports independently of your credit score as your score will not be found on your reports, though credit reports absolutely influence how your score is calculated.
Three agencies supply these reports — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — and all take into account the following factors, in order of importance:
- Payment history
- Total amount owed
- Length of credit history
- Credit mix (revolving credit vs. term loans such as a car loan)
- New credit (number of recently opened credit accounts)
You should check your credit reports at least once a year — more frequently if you’re planning to apply for a loan or if you suspect fraud or errors. Mistakes made on credit reports have been known to happen, and they can be damaging. The sooner any errors are corrected, the better.
You can review all three of your credit reports through Annual Credit Report.com. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) mandates that all consumers have the ability to request a free copy of their credit report every year. This means you can check all three reports at once, but you also have the option of spacing out your requests between the credit bureaus so that you can check your reports about every four months or as needed.
Another option is to use a credit monitoring service that allows you to monitor your credit score and your credit reports. Free credit monitoring services will typically give you one version of your credit score and a limited look at your credit report. Paid services are more likely to give you access to all of your credit scores and complete access to your credit reports. Some services will also alert you of any changes so you can keep an eye on relevant activity.
Only by seeing where you stand in the eyes of creditors can you address any areas that need improvement, maximize your spending ability and make the most of your financial future.