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Check your credit report for free – and what you need to look for

Do you know the difference between 570 and 780? Yes, they’re 210 digits apart, but these aren’t just numbers; they’re examples of bad and good credit scores, respectively.

While some may not give their credit scores a second thought, others live by them — literally. These consumers are the ones who recognize how difficult life can be with bad credit. In addition to facing high-interest rates, people with poor credit often struggle to get approved for home or vehicle loans.

Want to improve your score? Start with learning to budget. Tap or click here for the best free personal finance and budgeting program. And get on the right track by learning what your credit score is.

If you don’t check it regularly, it’s time to start. Not only can this habit keep you in the know, but it can also help protect your identity. Here’s a quick look at how you can check your score online and what signs to look for to ensure your identity is safe.

Not created equal

Of course, it would be ideal if all the reporting agencies recognized the same credit score, but unfortunately, that is not the case. Your credit score is the culmination of a variety of factors and calculations that fall under either a FICO Score or Vantage Score.

To help clarify information about credit scores, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website. This department has a wide selection of resources.

Credit reporting agencies

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the three credit reporting agencies, Transunion, Experian and Equifax, to provide U.S. consumers a free credit report every year. There are a variety of ways you can request a copy of your annual report from each agency:

Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

If you submitted your request via phone or mail, your credit report will be mailed to you within 15 days once the paperwork is received.

Credit Sesame

Many consumers hesitate to check their credit because they have heard or read it required a credit card, or that it can negatively impact their score. These couldn’t be farther from the truth.

With Credit Sesame, you merely type in your data such as name, address, birth date and the last four digits of your social security number. You will further need to supply a phone number and answer a few questions to verify your identity. That’s it; your report from Transunion will display in moments.

Credit.com

While Credit Sesame provides your Transunion report, Credit.com delivers your no-cost annual report from Experian. Remember, checking your score does not require a credit card, nor will it hurt your score.

Credit.com will ask you to enter the same information as other sites of this type, including name, address and so on; however, don’t expect the identity verification questions to be the same, as they will vary for security reasons. Your report will display once you complete the verification process.

Credit Karma

If you want to check your free annual report from the third credit reporting agency, Equifax, along with one from Transunion, consider Credit Karma. To view your report, you will need to supply personal info to verify your identity.

All three of these companies offer additional tips and resources, including which factors affect your score and how to improve it. A paid membership may be necessary for some features.

Banks

Several banks and credit card issuers provide their customers with a credit report, often weekly or monthly. Check with your local branch or customer service for more details. The following banks offer credit reports for account holders:

  • American Express
  • Bank of America
  • Barclays
  • Chase
  • Citi
  • USAA
  • U.S. Bank
  • Wells Fargo

RELATED: Tap or click to learn the five credit card theft hot spots that put you at risk.

It’s not all about the numbers

While your credit score can reveal whether extra lines of credit have been opened, or attempted to be opened, there are other signs you need to be aware of to help protect your finances and identity. If you overlook these issues, your credit score and digital identity could be forfeit.

Here are a few tips to help ensure your reports are accurate and no one has stolen your identity:

  • Watch for mistakes in your name, phone number or address.
  • Be aware of any account under another person that may share the same or similar name.
  • Check for closed accounts reported as open.
  • Pay attention to erroneous account info including last payment, date opened and delinquency.
  • Watch for double entries of the same debt.
  • Look for incorrect current balances or credit limits.

If you find mistakes, report them immediately. To correct credit report errors, you need to contact the credit bureau that is showing the inaccurate information. Although it might take a bit of effort on your part, correcting any errors is crucial.

In addition to staying up to date with your credit report, it is essential you further safeguard your identity with comprehensive identity protection. An Identity Guard protection plan for an individual or family will help keep your data from the hands of criminals.

Get 2 months free with the purchase of an annual plan at IdentityGuard.com/Kim.

You may also like: 9 clever ways thieves steal your identity.

Keep an eye on your credit and don’t be afraid to keep records of your own. When it comes to your identity and line of credit, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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