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Three-Step Checklist for Your Credit Check

Knowing—and protecting—your credit score is your ticket to buying (or renting) just about everything these days. Don't let your lack of info derail your purchase plans.

I remember sitting in San Francisco’s library two winters ago with my boyfriend while we were homeless. Not homeless in the traditional sense, tattered clothes and scraping change from the sidewalks’ cracks, but we were without a place to live and jumping from library to café as our mobile offices for work. This was by choice, and we sat teetering on the edge of our next choice, whether to secure an apartment in the city and sublet it immediately before we drove through Mexico for three months, or just keep our possessions in our life-size crate in storage and let our tires squeal to mark our way out of dodge. As we searched online for apartments, it occurred to me that it was the first time I would have to do a credit report, and I was thirty-three years old.

Since I had always been the random roommate who just slipped into others’ living scenarios and didn’t have any debt, I had no idea what my credit score might be, so I decided that instead of the yellow pages and my fingers, I’d let the internet do my walking.

Google the Words: Credit Report.
There are three credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, and at the one site, AnnualCreditReport.com, you can request a free credit report once every twelve months from these companies. Just choose one company since they all provide the same information. You don’t ever have to pay to get your credit report and any Web site that asks for money for your credit report is probably trying to swindle something out of you. Having some credit is always good and necessary, especially when making large purchases, such as buying a home or taking out a loan to start a business. The higher the credit score, the better the credit. You can get a sense of your payments for a mortgage with your FICO score.

Fill in Appropriate Information.
This is one of those times where putting in your social security number online is okay, as the site is encrypted and secure. I always check the box that will only show the last four digits of my social security number on my credit report. Follow the instructions to fill out the remainder of the information. Once your credit report is processed, it will be emailed to you in a PDF and available for a finite period. Make sure you print out your credit report during this time, as you won’t be able to access it online for another year. If you do need to access it within that year again, you can call the company or mail in a letter asking for another credit report.

Check Your Credit Once a Year.
Since you won’t be able to get your credit report online except for that one time a year, it’s best to mark your calendar to do this every year as you do with your taxes. In addition, by checking your credit every year, you are keeping the identity thieves at bay. Once you’ve received your report, you might be surprised at how high your credit score is if you’ve paid your bills on time and in full. I was!

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