With the end of the year approaching, now is a good time for military members and spouses to check their credit. A federal law gives consumers the chance to get a free credit report annually, so don’t waste this year’s. Doing it at year’s end gives you a chance to plug holes and improve your credit score before doing another annual check midway through 2012. Also, it gauges whether you’re ready finance a home using your VA home loan benefit. Through AnnualCreditReport.com, you can access your report for free and the FICO scores are cheaper.
1. Go to annualcreditreport.com. On the left-hand side of the screen, there’s a dropdown menu that says Select Your State. Click it to select the state where you live now. Next to the dropdown menu, click the red box that says Request Report.
2. You’re then asked for personal information to prove your identity. Make sure you complete all the required fields, which are marked by a red asterisk. At the bottom of the screen, enter the security characters as instructed. You should see letters in a colored box to the left of the entry field. Click Continue.
3. The following screen prompts you to choose any or all of Equifax, TransUnion or Experian to perform your credit check. Use the checkboxes next to the companies’ logo to make your selection(s) and click Next.
4. On the next screen you’re told you’ll be redirected to the credit report companies’ respective site and that you should click Return to AnnualCreditReport.com when you finish on that site. If you selected more than one company to check your credit, you’ll do one at a time. So first you’ll visit company A’s site, come back to AnnualCreditReport.com and then go to company B’s site. Keep in mind that once you leave Equifax, TransUnion or Experian’s site you may not be able to view your free credit report again.
5. On each site you’ll complete personal information to identify yourself. Then you’ll get to see your credit report. Each site features the same options, too. You can look at red flags, see accounts you managed well and file disputes. You can then pay for a FICO credit score if you’d like. Buying your score costs $9.95 from TransUnion, $7.95 from Experian and less than $15.95 at Equifax.
For young military families who are getting credit reports for the first time, it might be best to get free reports from all three agencies. If you just want to do one, TransUnion offers thorough breakdown of your credit that’s easy to read and understand. You don’t need to get your credit score to determine how well your credit history is. The reports tell you a ton, namely if you’ve been good with payments, how high you’ve run your credit and whether you open and close accounts too much. Knowing this allows you to fix the holes that hurt your credit.
Photo thanks to Jorge Franganillo under a creative commons license from Flickr.