3 times it's crucial to check your credit
Some situations in life require that you closely monitor your credit reports.
This post comes from Gerri Detweiler at partner site Credit.com.
You've heard the standard advice: Check your credit reports for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. You may have even heard the suggestion that you stagger your requests at that site so you'll get a report from one of the three major credit reporting agencies every four months, thereby allowing you to check your credit periodically throughout the year.
While reviewing your free credit reports once a year is always a good idea, there are times when it's simply not enough. Here are three examples of times when you should review your credit reports more frequently.
Keep closer tabs on your credit if you are:
Splitting up. Whether it's with a spouse, significant other or even perhaps a longtime roommate, keep a close eye on your credit after a breakup. If you shared joint accounts, you'll want to close and pay them off in full if at all possible. Otherwise, you could wind up saddled with debt they acquire after you go your separate ways, but before your credit is completely separated. (You are both legally responsible to the lender for balances on joint accounts until the debt is repaid and the account is closed.)
Be vigilant even if the two of you maintained separate accounts. It can be all too easy for a vengeful or desperate ex to use your information to open new accounts. If that does happen, you'll want to find out sooner rather than later.
Trying to build or rebuild credit. Maybe you're just starting out and establishing credit for the first time. Or maybe you're new to the U.S. and want to build a credit history. Or perhaps you're older and you're trying to clean up your credit after a string of bad luck or poor decisions. In all of these cases, monitoring your credit reports allows you to find out when accounts have been added -- or removed -- from your reports.
Similarly, if you are trying to boost your credit scores to buy a home, it's a good idea to start reviewing your credit reports at least six months before you hope to start the process. That will give you time to fix mistakes you may find when you first review your reports.
Worried about identity theft. If your wallet was lost or stolen, you've been getting calls from a debt collector who insists you owe a bill you know you don't, or worse, you know that your personal information has been compromised. Reviewing new activity on your credit reports is crucial.
If you've been the victim of a data breach, where your personal information was compromised by the failure of a business or government agency to protect it, you may be offered a free subscription to a credit monitoring service. And consumers who place extended fraud alerts on their credit reports get two free credit report disclosures per year. But again, that may not be enough.
One full year is the minimum amount of time you should monitor your reports if you are worried about identity theft. Some scammers prey on the fact that most consumers let down their guard if they haven't seen any suspicious activity on their credit reports for several months. They patiently bide their time for a year or more before striking.
How to monitor your credit reports and credit scores
Your credit reports contain the information used to calculate your credit scores. Reviewing your credit reports will allow you to keep track of information that has been added, removed or updated. But it's also crucial to monitor your credit scores. They'll help you understand what changes in the information in your reports mean.
If your scores are improving, you'll know you're on the right track. If your credit scores suddenly take a dip, you need to take a closer look at what's going on.
Your financial institution may offer a free credit monitoring service. If not, you can find services that help you monitor your credit reports and scores on Credit.com. You can also use Credit.com's free Credit Report Card to check your credit scores once a month. It's truly free -- you won't be asked for a credit card number -- and checking your credit won't hurt your credit scores.
More from Credit.com and MSN Money:
- How to spot fraud on your credit reports
- 10 steps to remove errors from your credit report
- How often does your credit report change?
- Smart Spending on the go: Get our app for Android or iPhone
- 7 secrets your credit report won't reveal
- 5 credit resolutions for 2013
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Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
Having worked as a writer, reporter and editor for more than 25 years, Editor Julie Tilsner is the sort of person who can't help but correct grammar in Facebook postings and on billboards. She's written for BusinessWeek, the Los Angeles Times, Parenting, Redbook, AOL and others. She lives in Los Angeles County with her family and loves to drink wine and practice yoga, although not generally at the same time.
A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
Marilyn Lewis is an award-winning writer with a passion for getting readers clear, straight information that helps them stay out of financial trouble. A former reporter for The San Jose Mercury News, she works from her home in Port Townsend, Wash. Contact her at MarilynLewis@Outlook.com.
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