How to Keep Up with Your Credit the Frugal Way | A Guest Post

by Kristen on April 17, 2011 · 13 comments

in Guest Posts

Hi everyone! As you regulars know, I don’t usually post on Sundays, but on the odd occasion, I sometimes publish a guest post. Today’s is about how to stay on top of your credit rating without forking over money to do so. I hope it’s helpful to you!

How to Keep Up With Your Credit The Frugal Way

Credit is getting more and more important these days. If you want to rent an apartment, have utilities turned on, or get a cell phone contract, the company is going to check your credit. They check to see if you’re going to keep up with your payments every month. The thing is, if you’ve had credit problems in the past, they can make you pay more for utilizing their services. For example, if you have a bad credit score, some utility companies will charge an extra deposit before you can get services turned on.

A brief lesson on how credit checks work: Some companies check your credit report. That’s a document that has all the information about your credit cards, loans, and any past due account that went to a collection agency. Other companies check your credit score, which is a number that sort of grades your credit report. Credit scores generally range from 300 to 850, with higher scores being better.

You can check your credit anytime, but many websites charge you to check your credit report and your credit score (up to $15 to purchase your score and report from a single credit bureau, of which there are three major ones). Forget about signing up for one of those credit monitoring services that run you from $10 to $30 per month.

You have to be careful about websites (like FreeCreditReport.com and FreeCreditScore.com) that say they’re free but ask you to put in a credit card number. These websites really just want to hook you in, sign you up for a free trial, and hope you forget to cancel the trial so they can charge your credit card every month.

Here are some free ways to check your credit report and your credit score:

AnnualCreditReport.com The government requires each of the three major credit bureaus to give you one free credit report each year, but you have to go through this website to get it. You don’t have to enter your credit card number to get a credit to get it, just your social security number.

Quizzle.com Here you can access a copy of your credit report and credit score once every six months. You don’t have to enter your credit card number. You don’t even have to enter your social security number!

CreditKarma.com This website lets you access your credit score, your VantageScore (a credit score developed by the three credit bureaus), and your Insurance Risk score (used by insurance companies to decide your insurance rate). Credit Karma is free, no credit card required, but they do ask for your social security number. You can view your scores as many times as you want for free.

Your bank may offer some type of credit monitoring. Check to see if this is available for your account. But, make sure free is really free no strings attached and no cancellation required.

Even if your bank doesn’t have a credit monitoring, the other options can help you stay on top of your credit report and credit score throughout the year without ever having to pay any money. How’s that for awesome?

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Ed O’Brien is an expert writing in all things pertaining to personal finance, specializing in credit repair. For more of his articles, visit his blog, CreditRepair.org.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sarah April 17, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Wow great menu and credit posts. Many times people have errors that can be corrected if you contact the credit bureaus and correct them. It is worth the time and effort. Enjoy your week.

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2 ann April 18, 2011 at 7:41 am

I’ve heard that every time you check your credit, that lowers your score. Now that I’m asking if that is true, it sounds really ridiculous. But I’ll ask anyway. Is it true?

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3 WilliamB April 18, 2011 at 8:07 am

1. If you need to keep close track of your report, stagger your free reports so that you get one every 4 months. You’ll have to remember to do this at AnnualCreditReport.com, as far as I know there’s no way to automate it.

2. If you have been turned down for credit, you get to see the credit report. This is in addition to the annual free copy.

3. The agencies don’t always have the same information. Be sure to check all three. If there’s a mistake, you write the agency to get it corrected. In theory. In practice it can take a lot of work.

4. Implicit in the system is the fact that you can get anyone else’s credit report if you have the required information, and that anyone can get yours.

5. You can block companies from checking your rating. It’s not supposed to cost to block but it usually does cost to unblock ($10 when I last checked). You won’t get the credit card solicitations and crminals can’t get your info to use, but you won’t be able to get instant credit at a store either, and you need to unblock in advance if you want a company to check your credit.

6. If your personal information has been stolen, you may get additional protections such as credit monitoring for a period or additional credit reports. Thieves have been documented to keep data for 18 months before using, so you have to be alert for a long time.

@Ann – checking your credit does not change your credit report. How FICO calculates a credit score (the thing that’s 300-850) is proprietary but it is commonly agreed that third party checks (such as for unsolicited credit cards) do not lower your score. Most people think that checking your own score a “reasonable” amount doesn’t lower it. It’s illegal for your score or rating to change if you get the annual free report.

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4 ann April 18, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Thanks.

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5 maria in chicago April 18, 2011 at 8:54 am

I hate that people aren’t permitted to check their own credit scores more than three times a year. While I am typically not a fan of most credit card add-on products (you of course have to pay a extra for these products), I do like my Discover Card’s Identity Theft Protection, primarily because it monitors activity on my credit report at all three credit bureaus on a daily basis; I get notified if there is any unusual activity. This gives me peace of mind, especially after the minor incident where someone else (a complete stranger) used one of my credit cards.

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6 WilliamB April 18, 2011 at 1:08 pm

You can check more than once a year per agency, you just have to pay for it.

I also forgot to include that you get a free report if you’re turned down for credit, in addition to the free annual report.

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7 maria in chicago April 18, 2011 at 9:20 pm

I just don’t understand why we should have to pay to see our own credit scores. In any case, I am satisfied with my credit card’s Identity Theft Protection.

I’ll have to check out CreditKarma. Thanks for the info, Ed.

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8 Ed O'Brien April 18, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Ann “ There are two different types of credit “pulls” one can do… a hard pull and a soft pull. A hard pull will indeed show up and your credit report and potentially bring your score down a few points. Those are made by credit card companies after you’ve applied for a card, or when applying for an auto loan. A soft pull is what credit card companies do when they send you “pre-approved” credit card (junk) mail. Btw, if you want to stop getting so many of those, you can sign up at OptOutPrescreen.com (which is Federally mandated and usually takes about six weeks to take effect). I actually signed up for it a few months ago and man, let me tell you, I’m almost starting to miss using my shredding machine!

Maria “ You actually CAN check your credit score every day if you’d like through CreditKarma which is your TransUnion score. I check mine at least once a week and the website charts your score’s progress. I can’t recommend that site highly enough!

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9 Sara April 18, 2011 at 9:29 pm

This is so helpful!!! I recently found out that some my personal information was exposed. This just saved me from signing up for credit monitoring and $10-30 a month. I am going to try out the suggested sites. :)

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10 Bethy April 20, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Hey, Bethy from Credit Karma here! Thanks for the mention in this post. In addition to checking your score every day on Credit Karma, you can also simulate how certain actions you do will affect your credit score with our Credit Simulator. And, no, checking your score on CK never affects your credit score.

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11 Suzanne with Laughing Wallet April 21, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Thanks for posting such great information! I do as WilliamB says and stagger my AnnualCreditReport.com reports, but I’ve always wished there was a free way to periodically check my credit score. I will definitely check out both Quizzle and Credit Karma!

@Sara, I tried the credit monitoring years ago, and I had a tough time getting them to stop charging my card after I told them I wanted to drop the service. If these services do the job for you, definitely save yourself the money!

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12 sara April 23, 2011 at 2:34 pm

thanks for the links! I am confused though, that there’s such a difference between my Quizzle score, and my score on Credit Karma-almost a 100 point difference, even though I checked both of them just now. Has anyone else had that happen to them?

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13 Mel May 29, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Can’t thank you enough for posting these frugal ways to check credit scores!

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