By: Jean Chatzky
Truth be told, not everyone wants to take a walk down memory lane if their financial history has been a bit, shall we say, bumpy. Research spanning a decade shows that millions of Americans never take a look at their credit file.
But here’s the thing: You can’t fix what you don’t know about.
With billions of pieces of information floating through the ether between companies and the three major credit reporting agencies, mistakes are bound to happen. And they do. This is one of the many reasons you should request a copy of your credit report annually — even if you pay your bills on time and have a solid credit history.
Request a Report (at Least) Once a Year
That means if it has been a while (or never) since you requested a copy of your credit report, now’s the time to get up your gumption and do it. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) also suggests people pull a report every 12 months, to make sure there are no errors that could result in someone not getting the best terms on a loan, or worse, being rejected altogether.
Tip: It's free and easy to get a copy of your report at annualcreditreport.com.
The good news here is that you can request one free copy of your credit report each year, from each of the three major consumer reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can call 1-877-322-8228 or visit AnnualCreditReport.com to request the reports.
A good idea is to be strategic with this process and spread out your requests over 12 months, so if something changes you can be on top of it pretty quickly. That means you can request a copy from Equifax now, then request another report four months from now from Experian, and then make a third request four months after that from TransUnion. Those who use the SavvyMoney tool also have access to real-time scores and reports throughout the year.
The Difference Between Hard And Soft Pulls
Also known in the financial world as a credit inquiry, a hard pull, notes the CFPB, is typically made by a lender after you apply for a loan. This type of inquiry will impact your credit score because most scoring models look at how recently (and frequently) you applied for credit. The idea here is the more times you apply, the more points will come off your score, with some exceptions.
Those exceptions include when you are shopping for a home, auto, or student loan and check with several lenders for the best rate. For example, a series of inquiries made within 14 days for a mortgage would be viewed as a single pull, and that would typically knock a few points off your score.
Soft pulls, on the other hand, are reviews of your credit file, including reviews of existing accounts by lenders, notes from the CFPB, such as pre-screening inquiries for credit cards, and your requests for your annual credit report. This type of pull should not change your credit score.
A Credit Report is Not The Same as a Score
It’s important to understand that the free copy of the credit report you request from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion typically won’t come with a credit score, the three-digit number from 300 to 850 that conveys your creditworthiness to lenders, landlords, and others. Unless you are signed up for Credit Sense, or another tool, many people will have to pay to get a credit score, unless you use a credit card company or other lender that provides it on your monthly bills.
"You should use caution", notes the CFPB, "when paying for your credit score". Be sure to read the fine print to make sure you are not signing up for a monthly subscription if that’s not what you want. For more information on getting your credit score, check out this primer from the CFPB.
Learn more about Credit Sense, our in-app credit reporting and monitoring tool, powered by SavvyMoney.