A few years ago, my identity was stolen.
Before it happened, that idiom always brought subterfuge to mind: some exciting situation with a James Bond-like figure, perhaps involving a train and several explosions.
But the actual experience was just an un-fun paperwork fest — one with potentially devastating consequences for things I was very much looking forward to, like moving out and getting a job.
Why You Need Your Credit Score
Fortunately, I was able to get out from under my unfair credit report.
I sent some very specifically worded letters (think legalese) to the collections agencies who owned my false debt. When they were unable to prove I owed the debts, those amounts were stricken from my record.
But, the process was lengthy and involved a lot of nail-biting.
By the time the situation showed up on my radar, it was really bad. I could have dealt with it a lot sooner if I’d been keeping closer tabs on my credit score.
Get Your Free Credit Score
You can access your FICO score just by opening certain credit cards, reports Holly Johnson at The Simple Dollar.
We like the Barclaycard CashForward World MasterCard® because you get 1.5% cash rewards on each and every purchase you make.
You earn money spending what you already would’ve been spending — with no weird exclusions or rules to remember.
A Free Credit Score That Counts
“Why does this matter?” you may be thinking. “I can get my credit score for free any time. Haven’t you seen all those annoying commericials for FreeCreditReport.com?”
I don’t have a TV, but even I cannot escape the ubiquitous jingles of FreeCreditReport.com.
However, if you’ve actually used the service, you’ve probably noticed it requires entering a credit card number, despite its “free” claims.
And, if you don’t cancel in time, it becomes a subscription service.
Even if you subscribe on purpose, the site is misleading and manipulative in annoying ways. It offers a $30 “full” report every time you log in, and the “accept” button is where you’d expect the “no thanks” one to be.
I made the mistake myself. Since the company already has your credit card number, you’re charged immediately.
What About Credit Karma?
Yes, Credit Karma is actually free — but it reports numbers from the credit bureaus TransUnion and Equifax. Those aren’t exactly the same as Experian’s — which is what most creditors check.
I have access to both Credit Karma’s numbers and my actual FICO score, and they’re only about 10 points apart.
But 10 points can easily make the difference between credit categories like Poor, Fair and Good.
Use Credit Cards Wisely
Using credit cards responsibly is a great way to build a short credit history or nourish weak credit.
And using rewards cards can get you all kinds of free stuff, from travel to cash — just for spending the money you’re already planning to spend.
So if you’re in the market for a new card and in need of your credit score, you should definitely consider taking advantage of this option.
Head over to The Simple Dollar to see all the credit cards that offer your FICO score for free.
Your Turn: Will you apply for any of these credit cards so you can check your FICO score every month?
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Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder with a FICO score over 700. She also writes other stuff, like wine reviews and poems.