How to keep tabs on your credit

At some point, you’ll likely want to borrow for a big ticket purchase – a home, a car, a college education, something special for you. Preparing for that day means staying on top of your credit score now.

Jean Chatzky PhotoPart of being a smart consumer is managing your credit history and credit score. Your efforts will be rewarded – a good credit score gets you lower interest rates, thus saving you money. Generally, if your score lands above 740 (on the traditional score range of 300 to 850) you’re in great shape.

So how do you keep on top of things? By getting and going over your credit report regularly. Luckily, it’s free. Several years ago, the three major credit bureaus came together to create and host a website, annualcreditreport.com, that allows you to pull one copy of your credit report from each bureau every year. Pulling one every four months means you can stay on top of your file and quickly spot any suspicious or inaccurate activity.

Once you have your report in hand, start with your personal data. Are there any mistakes? You’re looking for red flags like names you’ve never gone by, addresses you’ve never occupied or errors in your Social Security Number. If that information is correct, move on to your accounts. Make sure they are all ones that you’re aware of, and that the information is accurate right down to the credit limit, account status, balance and payment history. Finally, look at your inquiries. Every time you apply for credit, whether it’s a new credit card, an increase in your credit limit or a loan, the lender takes a peak into your credit file. Make sure that the inquiries listed on your report are ones that you are aware of – in other words, you applied for that loan or credit card, and no one was trying to apply in your name without your knowing.

If you find an error, it’s up to you to dispute it. All three bureaus allow you to dispute information online, but where you can, you should also send a written letter. List all mistakes with a description of why the information is inaccurate and how it should be updated. Include any back up information, such as your account records, for proof, as well as your phone number and Social Security Number. Give the bureau 30 days to investigate. If you don’t hear back (you should receive a letter detailing what was updated on your credit report, or an email if you submitted your dispute online), follow up and keep a paper trail.

Fortunately, as an Alliant Credit Union member, you can access your credit score for free each quarter on Alliant Online Banking. After you log in, select “View Your Credit Score” from the menu on the right hand side of the screen.