Getting free access to your credit report and credit score can be easy.
At AnnualCreditReport.com, you can get a free copy of each of your credit reports once each year. In just a couple minutes, you can see how your credit is, but only once a year. This is the government-authorized clearinghouse for getting your credit reports from each of the main bureaus at no cost.
Then there's a site I've talked about called CreditKarma.com that allows you free access to both your credit report and your credit score. The latter is based on your TransUnion credit report.
CreditKarma does this routinely; it's not just once a year. Other sites that also offer free non-FICO credit scores include Credit.com and Quizzle.com. (If you're having trouble with Quizzle, drop them a line for help at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
New FICO scoring models can help your credit
Half of all items showing negatively on credit reports are medical bills. Many times you never get the bill because maybe the back office has an old address for you and you forget all about it. Then you get turned over to collections. So you pay it off when they contact you and you think all is good, right?
Wrong. In the past, it would continue to eat up your credit for 7 years even if you pay it off. But new scoring models will be phased in this fall and medical bills will no longer be weighed as heavily as they were in the past when tabulating your credit score.
And when it comes to collection items on your report other than medical, the new scoring models will be more forgiving once you pay them off. So this is great news for consumers all around.
Your free credit score and report can help you be an informed consumer
I'm looking at CreditKarma right now as I write this and it shows my credit score on the 850 scale. My (non-FICO) credit score is 769. That's a good score, but not a great one. (Editor's note: You won't be able to receive your free credit score from Credit Karma with a credit freeze in place. You must first thaw your credit temporarily to get your non-FICO score.)
CreditKarma also tells me what factors make up my credit score. Their data shows my total debt, plus what I owe on credit cards, home loans, auto loans, student loans and personal/other loans.
Then they show my credit card utilization. I've told you before never to use more than 30% of your available credit. But if you really want top-drawer credit, keep it below 10%. I failed the test as I'm using 11% of my available credit, according to CreditKarma. So I'm not getting that booster shot, but I'm still in great shape.
Other factors CreditKarma tells me about are my on-time payments (that's 100% of all my payments); the average age of my credit lines (7 years, 4 months); the number of recent inquiries to my credit (2); and derogatory marks on my credit (0).
So I can get that instant snapshot and know if my credit is healthy or not.
Why does CreditKarma do this for free? Because it's all about data mining. I give up my privacy in return for providing them access to my information. Then with my information, they can turn around and barrage me with offers for credit cards, mortgage loans, car loans or whatever else.
I'm fine with trading my privacy for information. You may not want that. But it's the same thing that comes up with Mint.com, which is a great free budgeting and financial tracking tool, but they hammer you with solicitations too.
In my book, that's a fair trade. In yours, it may be a foul ball.