Turn Your Free Annual Credit Report Into a Triple Play

 Ever heard of someone dealing with identity theft? It’s likely you have and it can be a nightmare to clean up your credit. But it is surprisingly simple to monitor your own credit records for fraud. A genuinely free service to help you monitor your credit is offered at AnnualCreditReport.com. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion each offer access to your credit records on their files in accordance with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act).

With a little discipline and planning, you can turn your free annual credit report into a triple value each year. Generally you are prompted to view all three reports on an annual visit, but nothing says that you can’t stagger your access. My suggestion is to go back to the website three times a year so that you can monitor your credit on a rotating basis.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Set Up Your Calendar: It’s a bit of a chore to remember the timing and previously-viewed credit bureaus. Let your calendar be your assistant! In January of each year, I mark my calendar for the coming year assigning a different credit bureau to each occurrence. Note: The free annual credit report service rotates the order of credit services as they appear on the website so if you don’t set a schedule in advance you may get caught grasping at straws trying to figure out which report you haven’t yet accessed. I used my Outlook calendar to get an automatic reminder for my next review.

    For example, here’s my schedule for this year.

  2. Get That Report: Make sure you’re going to the proper website – AnnualCreditReport.com. There are many poser sites that offer you a free initial report often with a recurring subscription that can cost you upwards of $100 a year. Once you’re at the site, complete the form to select your credit service per your pre-determined schedule.
  3. Carefully Review & Print Your Report: Review the information available from the credit service. Print the report for your records. Remember, after logging off, your access to this credit service’s free information will be closed for 12 months so it’s best to print off the data in the report and keep it in your files. If you find surprises, follow-up with the credit services or reporting companies to determine what is going on. If your credit report isn’t perfect, get to work cleaning things up.
  4. Repeat: You’ll want to stay on the same cycle in future years. Each credit service will re-open your window to view your reports 12 months after your last view. Make your calendar reminders recurring annually so you don’t fall off track.

You can’t be too careful with your credit rating. Free annual credit reports don’t replace other services that may help protect you, but you can’t beat the cost and a little planning can go a long way to help protect you!

Melissa Joy, CFP®is Partner and Director of Investments at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. In 2011 and 2012, Melissa was honored by Financial Advisor magazine in the inaugural Research All Star List. In addition to her frequent contributions to Money Centered blogs, she writes frequent investment updates at The Center and is regularly quoted in national media publications including The Chicago Tribune, Investment News, and Morningstar Advisor.

Financial Advisor magazine's inaugural Research All Star List is based on job function of the person evaluated, fund selections and evaluation process used, study of rejected fund examples, and evaluation of challenges faced in the job and actions taken to overcome those challenges. Evaluations are independently conducted by Financial Advisor Magazine.

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