CreditCards.com

Living with credit, Protecting yourself

Free ways to check credit to monitor score, reports

Taylor Tompkins

The big letters spelling out “credit check” seemed to jump out of the email.

I was reading a letter of acceptance email from CreditCards.com, after having been offered a reporter job here, explaining that a background check would be conducted before becoming an official employee. Included would be a credit report check.

My credit score isn’t great, so that was a little intimidating. My credit score hovers in the middle range, but I thought it was just because of my short history using credit.

Luckily, I passed the credit check and was hired, and I have learned so much in a short period. For example, I now know the difference between a soft pull (more than likely what the background check company did) and a hard pull (what Discover did when I applied for a cash back card). I also learned that we, as consumers, have a lot of rights when it comes to lending, especially when it comes to credit cards.

What I didn’t know was that I was exercising one of those rights when pulling a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. By law, consumers are entitled to one free credit report per year from every credit reporting bureau, so now I was intrigued to take a look myself at what lurked in my credit report.

The results surprised me. There were outstanding medical bills I wasn’t aware of for emergency room trips I don’t remember making. Those had gone to collection and were tanking my credit score.

AnnualCreditReport.com, which delivers the reports from the three biggest reporting agencies, advises spacing out your three reports throughout the year, instead of pulling all three at once. I, rather unwisely, did not heed that advice.

Since settling the discrepancies and making deals with collectors that admitted to fault in their billing processes, I have been stuck wondering if the collections will be removed from my credit reports.

To find out, I decided to try another free credit report avenue. Experian has a new television ad (you’ve probably seen it: the roof literally caves in on a family) touting free credit reports. I wasn’t sure I would be eligible since I already had pulled my Experian report from the government-sanctioned site, but I figured it was worth a try.

Sure enough, I got a brand-spanking-new credit report, complete with new and improved information. Experian tries to upsell you on the site, but if you resist the urge to look at your FICO score or get the other two credit reporting agencies in on the fun, you get your credit report for free.

My.CreditCards.com also provides a free TransUnion credit report that includes your VantageScore and credit monitoring.

There aren’t many other free sources to get your full credit report (other than those mentioned above). Even after searching the deep reaches of the web, many sites want money, including the two other reporting bureaus’ direct sites, to get your credit report.

On the upside, getting your credit score for free is easier, as many credit card companies now offer free scores.

I follow my credit score with the Discover card app because it’s convenient. Since settling those medical bills on my credit report, my credit score has improved about 10 points, and I expect it to continue to trend up as more collections are removed.

Discover provides a free FICO score whether or not you’re a customer. USAA, Barclaycard US, Chase Slate and American Express are among card issuers that give customers access to their FICO score for free.

For those of you a bit squeamish about putting your extremely sensitive personal information online, myFICO offers a credit score estimator. It asks you questions about your credit and if you answer truthfully, FICO’s estimator gives you a range of what your score could be. It’s not precise, but it was accurate – my score fell into the range it gave me.

No matter which way I receive my information, I learned my lesson the hard way – I will remain vigilant when monitoring my credit.

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