Keeping up with your credit report on a monthly basis is a great way to manage your credit score. A monitoring service lets you know when your credit reaches levels that qualify you for better loan rates or credit cards. It also alerts you if negative changes occur on your reports, so you know where you stand and can be quick to dispute any errors.
Start with your Fair Isaac Company, or FICO, score. If you haven’t heard of a FICO score, it's a specific type of credit score that’s used by 90 of the 100 largest U.S. financial institutions in the U.S. All three credit-reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- use this scoring method to create their scores.
Go to MyFico.com to get your FICO score. The bare-bones account costs $4.95. Once you set up your account to access your score, it will range from 300 to 850. The higher your score, the better your credit. The website has many resources to teach you about your credit score and how to improve it.
Research your credit-monitoring options. All three of the credit bureaus and MyFico.com offer credit monitoring. It usually runs from $14.95 to $19.95 a month, but the details of the services offered may vary. MyFico.com's Score Watch provides you with instant access to your FICO score and Equifax credit report. It also alerts you to any changes -- good or bad -- to your credit. This includes letting you know when you can qualify for a better interest rate or when you've missed a credit card payment or an account balance has gone up.
Compare other credit-monitoring services. Equifax and Experian also have monitoring services that look at all three credit scores and reports. Similar to MyFico.com, the Experian credit-monitoring service provides you with ongoing access to your Experian credit report and notifications when any of your credit reports change. Equifax's "Complete Advantage Plan" gives you all three credit reports and scores upfront. Then you get unlimited access to your Experian score on an ongoing basis. Like the other services, it also alerts you to positive and negative changes to your credit reports.
Choose a monthly credit-monitoring service before you make a long-term commitment. Take some time to evaluate the services from each provider. All the credit-reporting companies offer 30-day trial periods for free or around $5. Then, if you don't cancel, the services continue and your credit card is automatically billed each month, so make sure you cancel trials you don't want to continue.
If there's an error on your report, dispute it quickly through the online dispute form.
If you notice more negative marks on one credit bureau report than the others, you may want to use that service so you can keep an eye on these items.
You can also monitor your credit history through www.annualcreditreport.com, which offers one free annual report from the three bureaus.
If you sign up for a free trial, write down the cancellation date so you don't get charged if you decide not to keep the monitoring service.
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