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Free Tools to Check and Protect Your Credit

Your credit represents your financial reputation. It can affect everything from buying a home to starting a business. You may think, “If my credit score is so important, I should be able to access it for free.” The FTC thinks so too. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the three credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and Transunion — to each provide you with one free copy of your credit report every 12 months.

Checking Your Credit

To make things simple, the three credit reporting agencies put together one site where you can get a comprehensive report: www.annualcreditreport.com. This is where you should go for a free credit report.

If you watch TV at all, chances are that you’ve seen at least one commercial for a website offering a free credit report. These dubious websites are in business to make money off of you one way or another. Either they may collect and sell your contact and/or credit information, or they may start to charge you after a trial period that is difficult to cancel. Avoid these websites, no matter how catchy their jingle may be.

Protecting Your Credit

A high number of daily transactions happen electronically these days. Scrupulous companies do their best to verify that the person they’re dealing with is who they claim to be. Unfortunately, there are some bad actors in society who are always on the lookout for personal data. They use these details to fool verification systems in order to access and abuse others’ credit. We call this identity theft.

Protect yourself with preventative measures. Regularly check your accounts for records that you don’t recognize. Change your passwords every few months, and don’t store them in any online services. Only log into sensitive accounts and make online transactions over connections you’re absolutely sure you can trust.

Unfortunately, in our ever-increasingly complex technological environment, there are a frighteningly broad variety of ways someone can collect your personal details. Even major companies are having trouble keeping data secure. You could be perfectly diligent about preventing identity theft, and there’s a fair chance your information could be compromised anyway. Know which companies you trust with your identity and be aware of news of security breaches.

Depending on how your information is compromised, it’s difficult to know what steps you need to take in order to protect yourself again. Fortunately, the FTC has collected plans for most such situations at www.identitytheft.gov. If you’re in a hurry, the website has an easy click-through path to get you the instructions you need. If nothing has happened yet, but you like to be proactive about knowing what to do, you can click “browse recovery steps” and acquaint yourself with a number of solutions for different identity theft possibilities.

With the help of these websites, your credit won’t loom like an unknown specter over your financial dealings. Instead, you can work on building it into a personal financial strength that will earn you lower interest rates and other savings!

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