How to Check Your Credit Report Online

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The way you handle money and manage debt provides clues to lenders about your spending habits and ability to pay what you owe them. This is why when you apply for a loan or a credit card, lenders check your credit. They use this information to predict how likely you are to make your payments or default on a loan. You don't have to wait until you try to borrow money to see what's in your credit file. You can request a copy of or check your credit report online.

Why It's Important to Monitor Your Credit

Your credit score affects everything from the loan terms a bank offers you to approval for an apartment rental and your insurance rates. Some employers check your credit before offering you a job. When you get into the habit of checking your credit report regularly, you can catch and correct errors that can negatively affect your credit worthiness. You're also more likely to notice signs of identity theft or fraud.

Monitoring your credit report is also an important financial planning tool. Just like a lender uses this information when deciding whether to give you a loan, you can use it to determine when you're ready to apply for one. Since the report lists all of your open accounts, it may be easier to see your total debt to income ratio. If your account balances are too high, you may decide to pay down those accounts before getting additional debt.

Credit Report vs. Credit Score

Before you start looking for your credit report online, it helps to understand the difference between a credit report and a credit score. A credit report shows your credit history and includes information like open and closed accounts, balances on those accounts and payment history. Your credit score is a three-digit number that reflects how you handle your debt.

Lenders and insurance companies use several different consumer reporting agencies. The top three credit report companies are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. These are independent entities, so you may see slight variations in an Equifax credit report and those from the other agencies. This happens because companies can choose which service they want to use. Some report information to one agency. Others choose to report to two or all three.

How to Request Your Annual Credit Report Online

One way to acquire your credit report is through the government-operated website AnnualCreditReport.com. Complete an online form. Choose the reports you want to see. Verify your identity. Then you can view the reports online or print them. If you cannot answer the authentication questions correctly or don't want to submit personal information online, you can complete a free credit report request by phone or mail.

How to See Your Credit Score Online

You can also see your credit score on sites like Credit Karma, Credit Sesame or Bankrate. To see your score, sign up for an account and provide basic information to prove your identity. They display the score on their website or through their app. In addition to a credit score, these sites give you information about the factors influencing your credit score. If you use one of these sites, note which credit score format they use. Most of them provide you the VantageScore 3.0, but many lenders rely on the FICO score.

When to Request Your Credit Report

By law, you can request a free copy of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus once each year. This gives you three opportunities each year to review your file. If you've been denied credit or received poor terms like a high interest rate, you can request a copy of your credit score. The lender will tell you which company they used to verify your information. You can then contact the agency directly.

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