Protecting your credit is of utmost importance if you’re looking to apply for credit cards and other lines of credit. Here are some tips to ensure that your score is kept in tip-top shape.
1. Monitor, Monitor, Monitor
Seems pretty obvious, but it would surprise you how many people have no idea what their credit score is. It’s just like anything else that you want to stay healthy – a good credit score requires check-ups. You can go about this a couple of ways: Monitor Yourself, or Use a Credit Monitoring Service.
- Monitor Yourself: If you want to do the work yourself, you can do so by taking advantage of the free credit reports offered by each major bureau each year at AnnualCreditReport.com. Since you’re allowed one per bureau every 12 months, one way to do this is by requesting your report from one of the three bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) every 4 months, so that you’re seeing it somewhat consistently. You can, of course, order all three reports at once to compare information, but you won’t be able to order them for free for another 12 months. This is just a free option. If you’re wanting to really stay on top of your credit, you may want to consider the next option.
- Use a Monitoring Service: If you’re going this route, we suggest you use a service that pulls from all bureaus, or use several services that cover all the bureaus. For example, CreditKarma.com offers a free basic monitoring service, but this is for TransUnion only. CreditSesame.com also offers free credit monitoring, but for Experian only. An example of a tri-bureau monitoring service is the Wells Fargo Identity Theft Protection plan. Another advantage of this plan is additional fraud protection, which we like. The basic version ($12.99) offers quarterly updates from all bureaus and the enhanced option ($15.99) offers monthly reporting. If Wells Fargo isn’t your bank of choice, check with your bank to see if they offer a comparable service. If you’re one who consistently applies for credit, we suggest monitoring your credit from all major bureaus as often as possible.
2. Pay, Pay Attention
Keep your eye on your credit card and other financial statements for any out of the ordinary or suspicious transactions. If you see something that might be fraudulent activity, report it to the appropriate financial institution as soon as possible. You won’t be liable for fraudulent transactions.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Fight
Whether you’re using a monitoring service or checking your credit on your own, if you notice any incorrect reporting, don’t be afraid to fight it. Monitoring services will often provide you with dispute forms for such cases, or you can contact the bureau directly. For more information on disputing errors on your credit report, go here.
4. Know When to Freeze
Did you know that you can put a freeze on your credit files at the three major bureaus? This means creditors won’t be able to access your files, thus limiting thieves’ ability to open new credit accounts in your name. It also makes it more tricky for you to open new accounts when you’re ready, so take that into account. This doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be a victim of identity theft, but it is a way to decrease your risk. However, we really only suggest this if you’ve been a victim of fraudulent activity and want to take extra precautions. You can request the freeze on each bureau’s website.