Everybody makes mistakes. But when it comes to your credit report, errors can cost you. Literally.
What’s a credit report again?
Think of it as your financial report card. Your credit card company, mortgage lender, and other creditors tell the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – how good you are at managing money.
To get a good grade (aka a high credit score), you’ll need to pay bills on time, avoid carrying a lot of debt relative to your credit limit, and limit how often you apply for new credit. If a creditor tells a credit agency something about you that’s not true, it could hurt your score. A lower score = worse terms on new loans, like mortgages and credit cards. Meaning less money in your pocket.
Psst...you can get a free copy of your credit report once a year from all three credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com.
What kind of mistakes am I looking for?
On-time payments inaccurately reported as late
Closed accounts still listed as open or vice versa
Debts that belong to someone who has a name like yours
If you see these errors, or anything else that doesn’t look right, you’ll want to get it fixed ASAP.
And how do I do that?
By letting the credit reporting agency know. (If you find an error on multiple credit reports, file with every credit bureau.) You can file a dispute online, then wait about 30-45 days while they investigate. If your dispute was valid, the credit agency has to correct or remove the error. Depending on the mistake, that could give your credit score a nice bump.
Easy enough. Anything else?
If you found a serious issue – like a new credit card or loan you didn’t apply for – that could indicate identity theft. After filing a dispute, consider a few more moves to keep your bank account and financial reputation safe.
Put a fraud alert on your credit report. This tips off lenders that your info may have been stolen and tells them to go the extra mile before approving new lines of credit.
Freeze your credit. A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report. And since lenders need to see that before approving you for a new account, it can help stop identity thieves before they can do more damage.
Change your passwords. You should do this a few times a year anyway. But especially if you think someone’s broken into any of your accounts.
Check up on it. Read your credit report every few months or sign up for a free monitoring service so fraudulent activity doesn't sneak past you again.
Credit report errors can lower your score and cost you money. But only if you let them. Call out mistakes ASAP so you can get the credit you deserve.
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