Bad Credit Boot Camp

An OppLoans Guide to Understanding Your Credit, Credit Report, and Credit Score.

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Credit Bureaus

Credit Reporting Agencies, also known as credit bureaus, collect and store the information that goes into your credit report and by extension, your credit score. The United States has three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.7  Between the three of them, these for-profit companies, independent of the government, have information on the spending and financial habits of more than 200 million people.8

Each of these credit bureaus allow consumers to see a free copy of their credit report every year through AnnualCreditReport.com. If you want to check your score, make sure you’re going there, and not to one of the many other scam sites that are designed to look and feel like that page. The imposters will look similar and may have a very similar site name, but require you to pay a fee, or worse, steal your information. AnnualCreditReport.com is a government-authorized website and will not charge you a fee for an annual copy of your credit report.

If you want to see more than one copy of your credit report per year, don’t request your report from all three bureaus at once. If you space out your requests every four months, you’ll be able to check your official score and report three times per year. However, if you’re trying to build credit or if you are dealing with issues like identify theft, you’ll probably want to check your score more often.

“Monthly monitoring is a good way to stay on track if you are working on building up a credit score,” said Lucy Lazarony, a financial writer. “If you’re not in the market for new credit, checking your credit report two or three times a year is a good strategy.”

There are many (free!) ways to keep on top of your credit score, even if you’ve already maxed out your three official queries.

Credit Reporting Apps

There are quite a few websites, apps, and services designed to let you check your credit scores from all three bureaus anytime, anywhere. Because credit reports contain very sensitive and private information, it’s important to choose a trustworthy credit monitoring service with a reputation for being safe and reliable. While many of these services cost a monthly fee, there are several that are completely free.

NamePriceDescription
Identity GuardOne month free trial, $19.99/month after that.Offers ongoing credit monitoring and notification when anything on your report changes. Uses scores from all three bureaus and looks out for fraud.
PrivacyGuard$1 14-day trial, $19.99/month after that.Offers triple-bureau credit reports and scores, daily credit monitoring, monthly score tracking, a toll-free hotline and identity theft support.
Credit SesameFree!Offers free monthly credit tracking, advice and financial goal-setting. Also gives suggestions for ways to improve your credit and shows offers for cards you might qualify for.
LifeLock60-day free trial, between $9.99 and $34.99/month after that depending on what service you sign up for.LifeLock offers a wide variety of credit and identity monitoring services for literally every kind of person – from children to seniors.
Credit KarmaFree!Offers free credit tracking, credit score analysis to help you better understand your score, and suggestions for credit cards you qualify for.
Nav Business Credit ReportsStandard plan: Free | Essential plan: $19.99/month | Premium plan: $24.99/monthOffers personal and business credit monitoring for entrepreneurs who are looking to build business credit.
FreeScoresAndMore14-day free trial, $19.99/month after that.Offers ongoing credit monitoring, a toll-free credit information hotline, fraud protection and automatic credit alerts.

All of the above services are reputable and safe, but FreeScoresAndMore, Identity Guard, and Privacy Guard all have five-star ratings on the independent financial review site NextAdvisor. If you’re not sure which service to go with, take advantage of all the free trials to see which one you like best, then cancel the rest.

(Also, for information and reviews on other financial apps, be sure to check out the OppLoans Personal Finance App Directory!)

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