I strongly encourage my readers to check their credit reports regularly. Why, you ask?

Just about everything we do these days hinges on the contents of our credit reports. The days of not giving your credit much thought unless you were planning to apply for a loan, are long gone. Your credit reports can now determine whether or not you qualify for an apartment lease, insurance, or even a job (and yes, that often includes jobs that do not involve handling money). If you don’t know what is on your credit reports, you won’t be able to address any negative items that may be on them, and in turn you could find yourself jobless, uninsured, or without a place to live. (Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that, but at the very least you’d find your options extremely limited.)

Credit bureaus and creditors make mistakes when reporting/entering information on credit reports. You may think you know your own credit history and therefore don’t need to check your credit reports, but what you might not realize is that errors on consumer credit reports are very common. Information reported and entered by credit bureaus and creditors is subject to human error, and unfortunately the credit bureaus do not automatically verify the accuracy of the items contained within your report–they leave that up to you. So double-check the listings on your report to make sure they’re correct, because no one else is going to do it for you!

If you are the victim of identity theft, you can find out early (and thus minimize the damage) by checking your credit reports. If someone steals your identity and opens credit accounts in your name, you may not find out about it until months later, when bill collectors start coming out of the woodwork and demanding payment for debts you never knew existed. By that point, your credit will have been utterly destroyed and will probably be a nightmare to recover. But if you check your credit reports regularly, you will promptly discover any accounts you did not open yourself, and you’ll have the chance to prevent an already bad situation from becoming much, much worse.

So now you know why you shouldn’t wait until you are shopping for a loan, or worse, denied credit or a job before you take a look at your credit reports. Although you should probably check them more than once a year to be safe, you are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. The only authorized website from which to obtain them is www.annualcreditreport.com.**

**Please be aware that if you obtain a free credit report and then dispute any of the items on it, the Fair Credit Reporting Act allows the credit bureaus 45 days to investigate your dispute (if you purchase your credit report, they are only allowed 30 days to investigate). Fifteen days may not sound like much, but sometimes it could mean the difference between getting a negative item deleted, or not.