Through 2023, you can check your credit reports once a week for free.
If you haven’t reviewed your credit reports recently, you may regret it. Fraud increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, and some people may not realize they’ve been impacted until they’ve been denied a loan or credit card, or faced higher interest rates than expected.
The increase in fraud through 2022 prompted the three national credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to extend a program that lets you get a free credit report once a week from each agency until December 31, 2023. The free weekly reports are available through AnnualCreditReport.com.
What to look for
It’s a good idea to review your reports sooner, rather than later. The sooner you review them, the sooner you can correct and/or dispute any errors and/or call attention to any evidence of fraud. Our credit reports and scores impact our financial future – including loans, credit cards, employment opportunities, home and apartment rentals, auto insurance rates, and more. So, an error could create a barrier that prevents you from getting what you want and deserve—or make you pay more for it.
Unfortunately, it’s relatively common for credit reports to contain errors. A Consumer Reports investigation revealed that more than one-third of consumers participating in the organization’s credit-report research project found mistakes in their credit reports, such as:
- Misspelled names, wrong addresses or incorrect birth dates
- Accounts or loans that have been paid off, but appear unpaid
- Debts that are incorrectly reported in collections
- “Mixed files,” when information from someone else with a similar Social Security number
or name appears in the wrong report
- Fraudulent accounts are listed in the report as a result of identity theft
What’s your score and how did you get it?
A credit score is calculated from information on your credit report, and typically ranges between 300 and 850. The higher the score, the more likely the borrower is to make on-time payments. According to Experian, the average FICO® score in the U.S. in 2021 was 714—an increase of four points from the previous year.
A survey commissioned by Lending Tree revealed that nearly 37% of Americans agreed with this statement: “I have no idea how my credit score is determined.” If you’re part of that 37%, here are the five factors that determine your credit score – and their percentage of impact:
- Payment history, 35%
- Amounts owed, 30%
- Length of credit history, 15%
- Credit mix, 10%
- New credit, 10%
Check your credit reports and scores at least once a year
If it’s been a while since you’ve reviewed your credit scores and reports, make time to do it. A credit report is often the first indicator that you’ve been victimized by identity theft, so the sooner the better. Plus, they’re free!
You can request your free credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion at AnnualCreditReport.com. Be sure to review all three reports, because account information may vary due to creditors and
lenders having different reporting practices. Make sure everything is correct—including the basics, such as the spelling of your name, your Social Security number, your address, and your date of birth. If everything in your credit reports is correct, you can rest a little easier.
Aim for high credit scores
Your credit scores can usually be found by checking your credit card statement or online credit card account, or by using free credit-score services such as Credit Karma or Freecreditscore.com. Once you’ve learned your credit score, you can decide if you’re happy with it—or if you want to aim higher.
Aiming higher can pay off, because the better your credit scores, the more likely you are to get good loan options at lower interest rates. In an example provided by The National Financial Educators Council, someone with good credit might get a $250,000, 30-year home loan at 4% interest, compared to the 8% interest rate for someone with bad credit. The total cost after 30 years would be $429,673.77 for the good-credit buyer, and $660,388.12 for the buyer with bad credit—a difference of $230,714.35.
Other helpful advice to take
Some simple steps you should consider if you want to improve your credit score include:
- Living beneath your means
- Paying your bills on time
- Paying off your credit card balance every month. (If you have trouble doing that, try to limit the balance to 50% of your
If you’d really like to dive in and improve your credit, the debt-relief nonprofit Money Fit offers a wide selection of free educational resources on its website, and also provides free debt-counseling services.
You may also want to check out:
- The National Financial Educators Council’s website, which provides a downloadable credit education guide and other helpful information.
- The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) is also a great resource for information and consumer tools about credit reports and scores.
- The Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection tips.
- The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s consumer resource center.
Giving credit where credit is due
By learning more about your credit scores and reports, you are in a better position to improve them—and your financial future.