If you are a material girl or the male equivalent, and that includes most of us in this possession-based society, your credit report impacts much in your life. So much of modern life depends on credit, from real property loans that allow for home ownership to credit cards that help with retail therapy, and even as an aid to get groceries when the bank account is low. So what does your credit look like? Fortunately, you can find out without going deeper into debt, since annual credit reports are free.
Why You Need a Credit Report
Lots of people would rather not view their credit reports on the theory that what they don't know won't hurt them. But alas, that is not true with credit. Whether you know the state of your credit report or not, others will. This includes landlords you want to rent from, credit card companies to whom you have applied for cards, and any lender you contact to borrow funds.
In short, your credit report contains information that will affect your life. You'll want a copy of your credit report in order to make sure the information is accurate and to correct anything incorrect or incomplete. Reviewing your credit report also allows you to guard against identity theft, which occurs when someone uses your name, Social Security number or other information to commit fraud.
Read More: How Long Does a Foreclosure Stay on Your Credit Report?
How to Get a Credit Report from Experian and Equifax
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a federal law allowing you to see your credit report for free. It requires each of the big three credit reporting companies to give you a free copy every year if you request it. The three main companies are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Don't contact the companies directly. Order your free annual credit reports through a government-authorized website called annualcreditreport.com. You can also download the Annual Credit Report Request form from the FTC website, enter your personal information, and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
Is It Detrimental to Check Your Credit Score?
You may have heard that too may credit inquiries lower your credit score. Don't let that stop you from keeping on top of your own credit score. The credit reporting agencies distinguish between "hard" and "soft" credit inquiries.
Hard inquiries are requests to view your credit that result from an application you have made for credit, such as applying for a new credit card. Alternatively, they can be from a collection agency trying to track you down for nonpayment. Too many of these hard inquiries can count against you.
Soft inquiries are credit checks that are part of a background check, such as those from a potential landlord. In addition, financial offers you receive – such as those to refinance your house or telling you you're approved for a new credit card – are soft inquiries, because you did not initiate a request. These do not count against your credit. Further, your own request to simply view your credit report is a soft inquiry, not a hard one, and will not affect your credit score.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.