Welcome to the first Women’s Money Week Action Step. Before you get started, we recommend that you read this post about getting started with Women’s Money Week.
About This Week’s Action
The first Women’s Money Week action is: Get Your Credit Report and Your Credit Score – all for free.
Your credit report and credit score are two entirely different animals. Your credit report details your various credit card accounts, loans, mortgages, and more. Your credit score (also called your FICO score) is a three digit score that rates your credit worthiness. The three companies that put together these reports and scores are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can get your credit report from all three credit bureaus for free annually. And you can check your credit score for free anytime with a few simple tools.
Note that this week’s action is applicable to US Residents and Citizens only. Don’t worry – future actions will include our international readers too.
Why Take This Action
Your credit report and credit score are used in nearly every major decision in your life – they can influence your ability to get a job, rent an apartment, buy a house, rent or buy a car, and more. Suze Orman says:
“If you forced me to pick one single bit of advice that would have the biggest impact on turning around your financial situation, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. You have to know the score: your FICO score.”
Your credit report is critical to check to ensure that there are no mistakes in it. A study by the Public Interest Research Group found that upwards of 25% of reports have serious errors and up to 79% had some sort of mistake or error. By getting your report you can find these mistakes and correct them.
And your credit score is important because many people and companies don’t bother to look at your credit report, they just look at your score. By knowing your score you’ll know what number your lender or employer is using to judge you. If you’re shopping for a new car or house, you be able to tell whether you are able to get the lowest interest rates. And most importantly, you’ll know whether you need to improve your score (which you can.)
Finally, you should get your credit report and score because it’s a straightforward, easy process.
How Long Does This Action Take?
Block off about 45 minutes to get and download your credit report and score from all three agencies. It will take more time to read through them and correct any mistakes, but once you’ve downloaded them, you’re over halfway there.
(If you already know how to get your credit report and score you can skip down to the last step: “Commit”.)
How to Get Your Annual Credit Report
Several years ago the US government made it possible for everyone to get their credit report for free. (Details from the FTC here.) You can get your report once a year from all three agencies. This means that you can either get all 3 reports once a year or you can space out the reports and get 1 report at a time by getting a different report every 4 months. I recommend getting all 3 reports just once a year, as you’re unlikely to actually recheck your reports in 4 months. Here’s how to get your report.
1. Visit Annualcreditreport.com
Annualcreditreport.com is the only government authorized source for your report. You’ll see a page that looks like the one below. Simply select your state and hit “request report.”
2. Fill Out the Information Requested
Fill out the requested information on the next page. The page will look like this:
3. Choose Which Reporting Agencies You Want Reports From
Again, you can choose all 3 and get reports once a year. (Recommended.) Or you can choose just one agency and get another agency’s report in four months. (Pardon my error in the annotated screen shot below. That should read “4 months” not 3.)
4. Get and Save Your Report
For each agency, you’ll have to complete several identity checking questions and then be able to print the report and save it to a pdf,
5. Schedule A Reminder
If Rotating Reports: Set up a reminder on your calendar for 4 months from now, 8 months from now, and a year from now – with the specific reports to get – if you are getting your report every 4 months by rotating. (This would be around September 16th, January 16th, and May 16th).
That’s it! Once you’ve completed this for each credit bureau you’re done.
6. Review Your Reports
Once you’ve downloaded the reports, read through all of the accounts and check that they accurately reflects your accounts. Each report is laid out slightly differently, but this pdf from the Illinois Attorney General and this page from Sallie Mae will help you understand all of the information contained in the reports.
Check Your Credit Score for Free
Checking your credit score for free with all three reporting agencies isn’t (yet) as easy as getting your credit report. You have to use a different service to get each bureau’s score.
We recommend getting your credit score with at least one of the agencies. But, if you had errors on some of your credit reports, you may want to get all three credit scores. You may also want to get all three credit scores if you are planning on applying for a mortgage, car loan, or other loan in the next year or so. That way, you’ll know how all 3 agencies view your credit worthiness and you’ll have time to improve your credit score as needed.
Here is how to get your free credit score from each agency:
Experian score: Credit Sesame
I signed up for Credit Sesame several months ago and have been continually impressed with them and would recommend their service. It’s completely free and monthly they email you to let you know my credit score has been updated. They also have some other nifty tools besides that may be useful to you.
To sign up for Credit Sesame, visit their website.
When you get your score from Credit Sesame it will look like this:
TransUnion Credit Score: Credit Karma
I’ve also used Credit Karma to monitor my TransUnion score for free. One benefit to Credit Karma is that it also your Auto Insurance Score and VantageScore. You can sign up at their website.
When you get your score from Credit Karma it will look like this:
Equifax: Credit Score Card
Equifax is the odd duck out. There’s not a way to get your actual score, but with Credit Score Card you can get a range. Credit Score Card is free and gives you the following ranges: Low (280-559), Below Average (560-659), Average (660-724), Above Average (725-759), and High (760-850) that correspond to your FICO score range.
Your score range will look like this:
Once you have your score you’ll have a good sense of your credit worthiness. If you’re looking to improve your score, check out this article from Money Girl about how to quickly improve your credit score.
You’ve made it this far! Now that you know what this week’s action is, why to take it, and how to take it, you should commit to taking action. To commit to taking this week’s action, you could simply just tell yourself you’re going to follow the steps in the how section.
But what are the chances you are actually going to find the time to do this, when you have so many other things to do? Instead, you should commit and hold yourself accountable. To hold yourself accountable do 3 things:
- Sign up for the week by registering here. When you “register” for this week’s action on Eventbrite (totally free) it allows us to easily email you twice during the week to help hold you accountable. (If you want to know why you should do this, read this post.)
- Leave a comment below detailing specifically what action you will take and when you will take it. For example, “I will check my credit score with Credit Sesame on Friday at 4:30pm.”
- Set a reminder for yourself. Set a phone alarm or a calendar appointment for the time you have chosen to take that step.
Elizabeth is an attorney, freelance writer, ice cream lover, and new mom. She is the former co-founder of Go Green Travel Green and writes for Wise Bread.