How Can I Monitor My Credit Report?
First, why would you want to monitor your credit report? You want to make sure information is reported correctly, that you are aware of what is on your report, and that no new accounts have been applied for or opened that you didn’t initiate.
There are different ways to monitor your credit report – you can order it free from each of the three credit reporting agencies or you can pay for this service from many of the companies that offer this service.
Ordering free credit reports
Per the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from the three national credit reporting agencies (CRAs) or 3 free credit reports. You can pull them at www.annualcreditreport.com. There are other sites that have free in the name, but aren’t the official site.
You can order one every four months, thus spreading it out over time. For example, you can order one in January from Equifax, one in May from Experian and one in September from TransUnion. Some state laws provide you with a free report at each CRA also, giving you two per CRA or six annually. In this situation you can order one every two months. And in GA, where I live, you can get 2 more per year from each credit bureau because of state law.
The advantages are
- No charge
- Most national accounts report to all three CRAs, so a new account opened in your name will be identified by any of the 3
- Court records are picked up by all 3
The disadvantages are
- Know only annually of an error at each CRA
- Not real time
- Some companies don’t report to all three, can only verify it annually
- Limited to one free or two at the most per CRA annually
- No immediate alert
- Not automatic and have to remember to order, not passive.
Some companies offer monitoring services for a monthly fee, which is a subscription model. Most monitor all three CRA’s or give you the ability to have errors corrected at all three CRAs. And in most cases these services include text or email alerts notifying you of changes in your credit report such as a new account added, % increase in the balance, and inquiries.
- Alerted immediately when a change occurs on the credit report
- Passive protection, you don’t have to actively manage the account.
- Can take quick action regarding errors or ID theft
You need to determine what will suit your needs the best. If you are planning to make a major purchase or apply for a job, I encourage you to get a copy of your credit report from all three. I also encourage you to check out SmartCredit’s Credit Monitoring service, which is pretty darn slick…and I’ve seen them all. You want to make sure there are no surprises and you can get the errors changed before making your purchase. You can also pay to receive your credit report also on a one time only basis. If you are concerned about errors that were changed and want to make sure they don’t re-appear on your credit report and/or ID theft, you may want to research the companies offering monitoring services.
John Ulzheimer is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and a Contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. Follow him on Twitter here.