Every year, you should get a copy of all three of your major credit reports and go through them carefully, looking for errors. That is because this document is the key to many other financial milestones.
"A landlord is going to check your credit because it's going to tell them how likely you are to pay your rent on time, or if you are applying for a mortgage. That dictates if you get approved first and foremost, and then second of all, what's your interest rate going to be on that loan,” personal finance expert Stefanie O'Connell says.
Unfortunately, the report itself can be a little overwhelming - dozens of pages of data, data and more data. But how much of it do you really need to comb through? Personal finance expert Stefanie O'Connell looked at a report from Equifax and found it is pretty user friendly.
"They give you a little bit of a table of contents and that's a really good resource for as you go through the report,” O'Connell says.
Next is a credit summary, which lays out the nuts and bolts in an easy to read chart.
"So that's a good snapshot," O'Connell says.
After that, you will hit the accounts section and that's where you can start drowning in the details. This will list every account you have ever had and a lot of information about each.
"It will say what the amount is total, what is the amount owed. Is it in good standing? Have you been paying on time?” O'Connell says.
O'Connell says just browse this quickly. Make sure the account is in good standing and that if you closed it, it is listed as closed.
"But if it's an account you thought you had closed and it says open, well, that's another little red flag," she says.
If you do find an error, you'll want to file a dispute immediately. If you are viewing your credit report online, that can be as simple as clicking a button.
"'Oh! Something is inaccurate. That's not my account!' and right there I can file a dispute, right on the side of the same screen. I don't even have to go anywhere,” O'Connell says.
Once the dispute process is over, follow up to make sure the credit reporting agency corrected the problem. The same goes for negative accounts. A bankruptcy will stay on your report for 7 to 10 years. But once you've hit that mark…
"Follow up with the credit bureaus and make sure that's removed," O'Connell says.
For a free copy of your credit reports, visit annualcreditreport.com.