Last updated: August 09. 2014 12:15PM - 239 Views

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Keeping tabs on your credit report is an important part of managing your finances, and checking your credit report on a regular basis is a smart way for you to stay on top of your financial health.

Checking your credit report can also help you know if someone has stolen your identity.

A credit report contains important information that can affect whether you qualify for loans, and how much you will have to pay in order to borrow money. The information contained in a credit report is sold to and used by creditors, insurers and other businesses so they can evaluate applications for credit, insurance or renting a home.

A credit score can also be checked by employers when reviewing potential employees. They can only view a report with the applicant’s consent, but it’s important to prepare in case the employer asks to view the report.

You should use caution when deciding which service to use to check your report. Some services advertise and promise “free” credit reports, credit scores, or credit monitoring services but then ask for credit card information (usually to tack on subscription fees). Sometimes, the service is free only if you sign up for another service that isn’t free. And even some cases have been reported of advertisers attempting to steal user’s identities.

The only way to get a truly free copy of a credit report is by using AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.

This service is sponsored by the three nationwide credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and Transunion. You may also go to the website and download a request form that can be mailed. Mailed reports normally arrive within two or three weeks.

The BBB offers the following tips for consumers who want to check their reports:

• Do not access the Annual Credit Report request service through links from unfamiliar websites. If you get an email or see a pop-up ad claiming it’s from AnnualCreditReport.com or any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies, do not reply or click on any link in the message. To help ensure the privacy and protection of your personal information, go to AnnualCreditReport.com directly to request your free annual credit report either through a secure website, by phone or by mail. AnnualCreditReport.com will not approach consumers via email, telemarketing or direct mail solicitations.

• Check your reports every three or four months. While you can pull reports from all three credit bureaus at once, consider pulling your credit reports one at a time throughout the year. Pulling your reports separately allows you to better monitor your reports and keep track of any changes or new information that may appear on your credit report. If you pull all your reports at once, you won’t be eligible to pull a free report again for 12 months.

• Check your child’s credit report. Child identity theft remains a national problem, so it makes sense to see if your child has a report. The credit reporting agencies do not knowingly maintain credit files on minor children, but you can contact the credit reporting agencies directly, and they can run the report. If there is one, your child could be a victim of identity theft.

• Avoid companies that claim they can improve your credit for free. The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers to be wary of companies that make claims regarding credit repair. These companies, commonly called credit clinics, don’t do anything for consumers that consumers cannot do for themselves at little or no cost. Beware of any organization that offers to create a new identity and credit file for you. For more information on credit clinics and a list of warning signs visit www.ftc.gov.

• Dispute inaccuracies on your credit report. Inaccurate, derogatory information can lower your credit score and may indicate possible fraudulent activity. If you find information that you believe is inaccurate, you have the right to dispute it free of charge. Contact the reporting agency you pulled your report from to file your dispute. Once you’ve checked your credit score, look for these red flags that could signify fraudulent activity and identity theft.

• Any inquiries not initiated by you; • Any debts reported that are not yours; or

• Contact information, such as your address, that was changed without your approval

For more, go to bbb.org or call 1-800-388-2222.

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