Having good credit opens a lot of doors. It helps you qualify for a mortgage and other loans and can get you lower interest rates on those loans. It can also make the difference if you're trying to find work, or a house or apartment to rent -- most landlords will check your credit report, and employers increasingly are looking at the credit of job applicants.
A big step toward cleaning up your credit is checking your credit report for unpaid debts and errors. It's easy to do, and you can do it three times a year for free. And yet, according to a new study, most people aren't doing it. And a majority of those who do are paying for it.
The study from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that only 22 percent of consumers accessed their credit report in 2010 and 2011. Of those, the majority did so through a credit monitoring service. Most such services require you to pay for the information. Only 36 percent of people who checked their credit report got it for free through annualcreditreport.com.
All consumers are entitled to one free credit report a year from each of the three credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you stagger them, you can check your credit for free every four months. If you haven't checked your credit report yet this year, put it on your year-end to-do list.
As far as your credit score, you'll have to pay to see it in most cases. You can get your score for free at CreditKarma.com and CreditSesame.com. Keep in mind, everyone has several different credit scores, and your FICO score is considered the standard for lenders. You can't get that for free, but the free scores provided by Credit Karma and Credit Sesame are commercially available, which means they can factor into lending decisions.