How Often You Should Get a Credit Report to Improve Your Score
Checking your credit report and your credit score is a great way to help you gauge your progress on your way to your financial goals.
Sometimes, it can feel like progress is too slow to be exciting as you work your way toward your goals. While the balance in your bank account and/or on your credit cards may go up and down, your credit score only moves when there’s a significant shift — a fair indication of progress one way or the other.
Checking your credit report gives you the opportunity to see some action steps you can take to improve your credit score and also lets you know whether or not you have been the victim of fraud.
But how often should you check in with your credit report?
What Is a Credit Report?
Before we dive in, let’s look at what a credit report includes and why that matters to your financial goals.
There are three companies that offer credit reports, including TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Each of these reports is updated regularly, but they may contain different information, depending on which companies reported to them and how frequently they update consumer information.
This is some of the information that may be on the report:
- Personal information: This includes all versions of your name, social security number, birthday, and past and current addresses, phone numbers, and employers.
- Accounts: This section will include all your credit cards, car loans, personal loans, school loans, and mortgages. Again, past and present information will be included, so even paid-off loans or closed credit cards will be on your credit reports, but they will be noted as closed. Additionally, payments made to these accounts will be noted.
- Inquiries: When a bank or credit card company asks you for permission to see your credit report with the purpose of determining whether or not they are going to give you a loan or open a line of credit, this will be noted on your credit report.
- Public records: Things like bankruptcy filings, liens on your home, repossession, and child support obligations that are in arrears will be noted on your credit report as well.
Because credit reports include very sensitive information, it is important to shred them when you no longer need them and store the ones you do need in a safe place no one can access.
What Am I Looking for When I Check My Credit Report?
There are a number of things you can and should look for when you pull a credit report.
- Incorrect information: Is there an account listed as open that is actually closed? Is a payment on one of your cards marked as late when you made it on time? Gather the proof of the correct information and contact them immediately to fix it.
- Outdated information: Some information stays on your credit report for only a finite amount of time. For example, a bankruptcy should only impact your credit report for 10 years. If it is past that date and still on your credit report (and lowering your credit score), it could be worth it to take action.
- Signs of fraud: See any credit card accounts that you didn’t open? Maybe an address where you never lived? A version of your name you never used? All of these can indicate that you have been the victim of identity theft and you will need to take action to close those accounts and/or possibly freeze your credit report.
- Hard inquiries that you did not authorize: If you have not looked into buying a car, securing a mortgage, or applying for a new loan or credit card, and you can see hard inquiries on your credit report, note the businesses that are inquiring. It may be that you have inadvertently consented to this when signing up for an app or other download, and you will need to contact the company to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
- Credit score information: Your credit score will be readily available to you in each credit report. In some cases, you may be provided with some information about what caused it to take a hit and areas you can work on if your goal is to improve your score as quickly as possible.
It is always better to have the information you need to make informed choices, protect yourself, and move yourself further down the road to financial stability.
Is It True That I Should Only Check My Credit Reports Annually?
Each credit reporting agency offers one free credit report per year per person. Pulling your credit report from that same agency more than once a year will usually cost a fee.
However, a lot can happen in a year and if you’re monitoring your credit score and want to know where you stand in terms of your ability to buy a car or move into a new home, it makes sense to pull your credit report more often.
How Often Should I Get a Credit Report if I Want to Check My Credit Score?
Each credit reporting agency updates their files regularly, but the updates may be a few months old, depending on the type of information involved. For this reason, it’s important to note that even the most recent credit report may not be updated with all the relevant information.
If you are hoping to see your credit score rise and it hasn’t moved, it may be that some of the good things you’ve done to improve your score (like pay down debt) may not yet have been processed into the algorithm. Checking back once every couple months will help you to keep a closer eye on the changes in your credit score as your financial position gets steadily better.
However, pulling your credit report to check your score on even a monthly basis may be like weighing yourself multiple times per day when you’re trying to lose weight. It’s a better idea to check in often enough to know what’s happening on your credit report and with your credit score, but spend most of your time focusing on the actions that will build your credit score back up more quickly. This includes actions like paying down debt, making payments to open accounts on time, and limiting the number of hard inquiries into your credit as much as possible.
Should I Pull All 3 Credit Reports When I Want to Check My Score?
Yes. Some companies report information to just one or two credit reporting agencies and not all three. This means that it’s a good idea for you to pull all three credit reports regularly.
But strategically, it may be a better idea to pull one credit report every four months. This will give you the time in between reports to allow for updates and changes, and provide you with enough regular insight to catch mistakes and fraud. It will also allow you to save money since by the time you’re ready to pull your fourth credit report, you’re back to the first credit reporting agency and eligible for your free annual report from them again.
Will Checking My Credit Report Negatively Impact My Credit Score?
When you pull a credit report for yourself and review it, this is called a soft inquiry. Only hard inquiries impact your credit score, and that includes inquiries made by companies who are reviewing the information to see if you are creditworthy.
Don’t worry — only companies that have your permission may check your credit report. This means credit card companies, banks in relation to a loan or mortgage request, and landlords.
Because companies only check your credit report when you are about to make a large purchase or open up a new line of credit, which will change your debt levels, a hard inquiry will likely cause your credit score to take a small hit for a short time. This will not happen when you pull your credit report, however, so feel free to check your credit as many times as you like without worry.
How Can I Increase My Credit Score More Quickly?
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Get Your Free Credit Report. TransUnion.
Get Your Free Credit Report and FICO Score. Experian.
Free Credit Reports. Equifax.
Here’s What Information Appears on Your Credit Report. (August 2021). CNBC.
What to Know About Credit Freezes and Fraud Alerts. (May 2021). Federal Trade Commission.
How to Improve Your Credit Score. (January 2022) Investopedia
Will Requesting My Credit Report Hurt My Credit Score? (September 2020) Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
What Is a Hard Inquiry? (September 2020) Nerd Wallet
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