Did you wake up first thing in the morning, roll out of be and say, “Gosh, I wonder what my credit score looks like today?”
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Like any good personal finance lover, I preach the importance of monitoring your credit regularly. And you probably already know that you should check your credit at least once a year. But I understand if you haven’t. It’s easy to forget.
And I know that because I forgot.
For a few years, I didn’t regularly check my credit. And I lost potentially hundreds of dollars because of one little error that I didn’t catch.
The Error on My Report That Brought My Score Down
When I started working after college, I also started applying for multiple credit cards (that’s what big kids with big paychecks do, right?). It was also when I started getting my first credit card rejection letters.
I couldn’t figure it out: I’d always paid my bills on time, I had a six-year credit history, and I didn’t have too much outstanding debt besides my student loans. So why did I keep getting turned down for credit card offers?
I finally looked up my score (you can do this for free on sites like Credit Sesame) and I was absolutely shocked by how low it was. It was not the number I expected based on my behavior (and as a student with a 3.6 GPA in college, I was extra sensitive to bad grades).
After my initial panic, I decided to pull up a detailed version of my credit report and found the culprit: I had an unpaid medical bill of $75 that I had no idea existed.
Yup, just $75. This tiny bill was now in collections and bringing down my credit score. And because my score had been lower over the last few years, I hadn’t qualified for the best private student loans or credit card interest rates.
That $75 bill had cost me hundreds of dollars in interest – and I had no idea it even existed.
One Call and One Fax Later, My Credit Score Went Up
I immediately called the collections agency to investigate. They told me that they had mailed the medical bill to my dorm room in college. I’d been out of college for four years so I’d never received the bill in the first place, I explained. They told me they’d be happy to correct the error and remove the blemish from my credit history. All I had to do was send them proof that I was living in Washington, DC during the time they had mailed the bill to me.
One fax and 20 days later, and the error was gone, and my credit score went up shortly thereafter.
How to Avoid Errors and Check Your Credit Score for Free
As angry as I was to see a debt that I didn’t even know about, I’m thankful I even spotted the error in the first place.
Needless to say, I’m now checking my credit report and credit score regularly. And I’m here to say that you should, too. 🙂
Here’s how you can protect and check your credit score regularly (and without worrying about forgetting).
Step 1. Sign up for a free Credit Score monitoring site, like Credit Sesame.
Credit Sesame literally saved me a world of headaches and hundreds of dollars. It’s a legitimately free website that allows you to access and monitor your credit score (something you normally have to pay a fee for).
But the best part about Credit Sesame is the free credit alerts.
Step 2. Sign up for credit alerts (so you won’t have to regularly monitor your credit)
Credit Sesame will send you personalized alerts to help you monitor your credit, which means you don’t actually have to remember to actively check on your credit – something that I’m really bad at that.
I really love the alerts because I don’t have to think about actively monitoring my credit. For example, they just sent me an email letting me know that two new lines of credit were added to my profile (my two new credit cards).
So if you get a sudden dip in your credit score, you’ll get an email alert for that as well.
Step 3. Check your credit report for errors at least once a year.
Checking your credit report at least once a year will help you identify errors even before it significantly impacts your credit score. I try to check my detailed credit report on the first week of the New Year (you know, that time of year that you resolve to fix your finances once and for all). To access your free annual credit report, visit AnnualCreditReport.com.
Pair this with regular alerts on Credit Sesame, and you won’t have to worry about any major credit surprises again!
Like Mint.com, these sites make their money by offering you product suggestions (like credit cards that you would qualify for). If you’re uncomfortable with this type of business model, you don’t have to sign up.
However you decide to monitor your credit, just do it 🙂
If you notice anything suspicious or it’s dangerously low, look at your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.
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