We are pleased to announce that we're continuing our 30-day challenge series. The schedule spans the entire year so be sure to keep an eye out each month.
This month's 30-day challenge is to get on top of your credit. Here are some concrete steps you can take:
Check your free credit report
There are three major credit bureaus in the US: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These companies each gather credit histories for individuals and sell that information to credit card companies, lenders, and other financial institutions.
You can go to https://www.annualcreditreport.com to get a credit report from each credit bureau once per year. It's often recommended to stagger your requests so you can get one every four months so you may only want to request one report at this time. You can use a calendar reminder to stay on top of this.
Now, your free credit report won't include your score and it also won't include credit monitoring, but you absolutely don't need to buy those from a credit bureau because there are free options. See below.
Note that the security questions will sometimes ask about intentionally false information (e.g. made-up loans), so "none of the above" may be the right answer. If you can't get past the security questions, you may have to write in to get your report. Also be aware that you don't have to pay for anything on the credit bureau sites. If you find yourself prompted for a credit card number, you might have clicked to sign up for something you might not need or want.
Also, if you have trouble with the web site, try temporarily disabling browser ad-blockers and privacy extensions.
See the Credit Reports Wiki for more information!
Sign up for free credit monitoring
You don't need to pay for credit monitoring. Some options:
A variety of companies such as Credit Karma and Mint offer free credit monitoring services. There's a longer list of options in our Wiki.
Many employers also offer free credit monitoring for their employees directly with a credit bureau. Check with your benefits department.
Finally, if you've been the victim of a data breach like Target or Anthem, those companies are providing free credit monitoring for anyone potentially affected.
After exploring your options, sign up with at least one of them. More information contained in the Credit Scoring Wiki.
Find out your credit score
Some credit cards actually give you a free FICO score as a benefit of having their card. Brands providing FICO scores include Discover, Citi (branded cards only), American Express, Bank of America, and Barclaycard. Here's a full list of options.
If you don't already have one of those cards, you can get your VantageScore from Credit Karma or Mint. VantageScore is used less often by creditors than FICO, but it's a usually a good estimate of your FICO score. Paying for your credit score is silly unless you're considering getting a major loan like a mortgage.
Get rid of pre-approved credit card junk mail
OptOutPrescreen.Com is the official consumer credit card reporting website to opt-out of offers of credit or insurance. It's an easy win to reduce junk mail and reduce the risk of identity theft (from someone stealing your mail). I recommend signing up unless you're in the process of building credit and actually want to receive pre-approved offers.
Are you looking to improve your credit?
Once you have a score over 740, most credit files are solid enough to qualify for prime rate lending. This means that any additional increase of your score will likely not get you better credit products.
If you are in a position where you'd like to improve your credit, here are two situations that often befall people when asking for help here:
What to do if you find information you don't recognize
Even though credit reporting is automated, mistakes can still occur. The most common errors can involve names and addresses. If your name is similar to a parent's name, there are also instances where a line of credit is reported on the wrong file.
The simplest course of action is to dispute the information with the bureaus. Here are direct links to initiate a dispute:
Finally, if you believe you've had your identity stolen, read and follow the steps in our Identity Theft Wiki.
Challenge success criteria
You've successfully completed this challenge once you've done 3 or more of the following things:
- Requested a free credit report via annualcreditreport.com
- Set a reminder to request a different credit report in 4 months
- Found out your credit score (either FICO or VantageScore)
- Signed up for free credit monitoring
- Opted out of pre-screened offers
- Initiated a credit dispute with one or more credit bureaus