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Sometimes trying to do the right thing for your finances has unintended consequences. You open a new credit card to take advantage of a balance transfer offer, but see your credit score drop a few points, for example. Or you set up autopay for a bill, then don’t bother to read your statement and pay a fraudulent charge.

But there’s one piece of credit advice you can take with no qualms, and that’s to check your credit reports and credit scores for free. Requesting your own credit score (you can see two of your scores for free on Credit.com) or credit report (which you can do for free once a year) does not impact your scores.

It is true that anytime you or someone else obtains your credit report or score, an “inquiry” is placed on the credit report that was used. Inquiries may remain on your reports for up to two years, and are typically a factor in calculating scores, though a relatively minor one when compared to other factors like your debt levels and payment history.

However, the type of inquiry that is created when you initiate the review is called a “consumer-initiated” inquiry. This type of inquiry — along with those created when lenders use your information to send pre-approved offers — is a “soft” inquiry and is not a factor in calculating your three-digit number.

A few other things to know about obtaining your free credit scores:

You will have to provide personal information to confirm that you are who you say you are, and that you are not an imposter trying to access someone else’s credit data. Don’t let that scare you off, but do make sure you are dealing with a reputable and secure site.

A number alone doesn’t tell you a lot. Sure it’s nice to know where you stand, but more important questions are, “Why is my score what it is?” and “What can I do about it?” or “What does it get me?” That’s why it’s important to understand some credit score basics and create a plan to improve your score if it’s not getting you the best interest rates.

In fact, reviewing your reports and scores can even help your credit.

Not directly, of course. (You don’t get “extra credit” for being proactive here.) But by keeping tabs on your information you will be alerted to problems quickly so that you can take action. Case in point, when checking my credit report recently, I found one of my mortgage companies was erroneously reporting me late six months in a row! Fixing that mistake wasn’t difficult, but if I hadn’t reviewed my reports I would have had no idea what was going on.

So look at checking your free credit scores and credit reports as an opportunity to do something positive for your credit, whether it’s finding and correcting a mistake, or identifying a habit that you can turn around. Over time, by being aware of your credit standing and how to improve it, you can come up with a plan to work toward certain financial goals.

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

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