The COVID-19 pandemic has likely changed your life in many ways over the past couple of months. It’s likely had an impact on everything from your relationships to your eating habits. Your finances? Big time.
For many, paying bills and putting meals on the table is a constant challenge. Once you start to get behind on a bill or two, it can start to snowball in a hurry — and that can have a lasting effect on your credit score.
To make a bad situation worse, the chaos of this time has reportedly put identity thieves and hackers into high gear.
To help take just a little bit of stress off the American public, the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — are offering free weekly credit reports through the end of April 2021. As a rule, everyone can get a free credit report once per year, but during these uncertain times, it may be prudent to take the credit bureaus up on this offer and check your credit at least a few times this year.
To check out your free reports, start at annualcreditreport.com. Once you get there, you’ll notice a banner, front and center, telling you about the new policy with a “request your free credit reports” button on it.
Hit the button and follow three more steps, fill out the form with your information, request which report(s) you want and then get and review your reports. You will have to enter a fair amount of personal information, and you’ll have to answer some questions to help verify your identity — those can be tough, such as remembering your address from 10 years ago.
The whole process to get to your reports takes about 5 minutes. It’s easy and really quick. If you want, you can print it for your records, but it takes a fair amount of paper and ink.
What should you look for on your report? Here are a few basic things to keep your eyes on:
- Personal information. Are the basics like your name, address and employer correct?
- Accounts. Do you recognize the listed accounts? Unfamiliar accounts could be a sign that someone has stolen your identity.
- Payment History – Are there delinquencies reported that are incorrect or unknown to you?
It’s important to note that your free credit reports do not give you your actual credit score. You can monitor your VantageScore credit scores on a variety of free platforms like the Experian app or Credit Sesame, but most lenders rely on your FICO score. To see your FICO score, check with your current banks or credit cards.
Tyler Omoth is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.