You pay your bills on time, keep those credit cards in check and only apply for new credit when you really need it. There’s every reason in the world you should have a stellar credit score. And yet … One of the reasons you hear “check your credit” so often is that there are ways things can simply go awry, even if you’ve got all your personal spending habits in line. Here are three ways you can have bad credit without even realizing it.
1. You’ve Got Errors on Your Credit Report
This happens more often than you may think — in fact, a 2012 study from the Federal Trade Commission found that 1-in-5 Americans had an error on their credit reports. Errors can happen in all sorts of ways: Files get mixed, a debt gets re-aged, furnishers mess up or identity theft occurs (more on that in a minute). Some errors, like a misspelled name or erroneous address, won’t affect your score. But others, like a collection account staying on your credit report past the date it’s supposed to fall off, can do some damage. And multiple errors of that sort can add up. (You can go here to learn how long things stay on your credit report.) That’s why it’s important to check your credit regularly for errors, and if you find one, to dispute them with the credit bureau in question.
2. You’ve Got Collection Accounts You Didn’t Know About
Collection accounts can really hurt a credit score, and given that these accounts can be the result of a debt unrelated to a loan (like a medical bill or an old delinquent utilities account), it’s totally possible to have one or two and not even realize it. Now, these collections accounts could be an error. Or they could be legit. That’s why if one appears on your credit report, it’s important to verify the debt. Contact information should appear on your report, but if it doesn’t you can try searching for the debt collection company online. Here’s a crash course on dealing with a debt in collections.
3. You’ve Been the Victim of Identity Theft
Identity theft can do big damage to your credit. Think about it: If a thief gets ahold of your Social Security number and starts taking out fraudulent accounts in your name, missed payments, high balances and multiple inquiries may appear on your credit report, which can easily tank your score. If you discover you’re a victim of identity theft, it’s important to report the fraud immediately to the proper authorities, your creditors and the credit bureaus. (You can go here to learn more about dealing with identity theft.)
Remember, there are signs that your credit might be bad, such as unexpected loan denials, sudden calls from debt collectors and a mailbox full of subprime credit card solicitations. But even if the skies look clear, it’s important to keep an eye on your credit so you can spot any issues that may crop up and takes steps to address them. You can do so by pulling your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing two of your credit scores for free, updated each month, on Credit.com.
More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:
- The Credit.com Credit Reports Learning Center
- What’s a Good Credit Score?
- How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report
Image: Pamela Moore