After seeing ads on television, you might be tempted to sign up for credit monitoring. When planning a big purchase such as a home or car, your credit report and score are an important piece of the puzzle. Credit monitoring services constantly keep a watch on your credit report and alert you if there are any changes. Fees are typically about $15 per month ($180 each year), but these services might not be necessary. Unless you were the victim of identity theft, paying a company to monitor your credit on a daily basis isn’t necessary. You can monitor your own credit for free. Here are four ways:
Stagger your credit reports. All consumers are entitled to one free credit report each year from all three of the major credit reporting agencies. But you don’t have to request all three at the same time. Instead, you can request one free report from each bureau every four months. That way, you’ll be able to monitor your credit throughout the year. You can obtain your free credit reports by logging onto annualcreditreport.com.
Keep an eye on bank and credit card statements. Don’t toss those statements in the trash. Read each one closely and watch for any unusual charges. If you see a charge for an item that you don’t recognize, immediately call the credit card issuer and question the charge.
Watch how you handle your finances. All the monitoring in the world won’t help if you’re acting in ways that will ruin your credit. Make sure that you’re paying your bills on time and in full and that you keep your balances as low as possible. Your payment history makes up 35% of your FICO score. Your credit utilization, or how much credit you’re using each month, makes up 30% of your score.
Take advantage of online tools. One tool that can assist you with determining how certain actions affect your credit is Credit.com’s credit score estimator. After you answer six questions about your finances, this feature gives you an idea of how your credit is and how different actions can affect your score.
Sheiresa Ngo is the consumer affairs editor at Black Enterprise.