The main thing you’ll want to do is carefully confirm that everything is accurate.
After you skim over the report to get a sense of what it says overall, it is important to go back to the beginning and verify that the little personal details are right.
Your name should be spelled correctly. Your current and past addresses should reflect places you’ve actually lived. Your job history should be accurate. Pay close attention if you use the suffix “Jr.” or “III” in credit applications and other official documents. Your credit report should be consistent with the way you usually identify yourself.
Anything less than precise information in this section of your credit report should be reported as incorrect to all three credit bureaus.
There are two issues here. One, you could be confused with another person and be assigned incorrect, negative information that is time consuming to remove. Second, wrong information, such as an unfamiliar address, can be a sign of identity theft.
As you work your way through your credit report you’ll want to maintain a proofreader’s focus on the details. Do the reported creditor accounts match the ones you own, or once did? If not, you’ll want to dispute the inaccurate ones quickly.
This is true even if the unfamiliar account is reported as paid on time, because it’s a sign someone has control of your identity. Don’t allow anyone to steal your credit identity, even if they haven’t done damage yet.
If you have accurate negative information on your report, such as late payments or foreclosures, be sure to monitor your report to make sure it falls off when it’s supposed to. Typically big negative events like that will be removed from your report after seven years.
You’ll also want to monitor your report to be sure positive events are showing up. Especially when you are trying to build credit, you’ll want to check with new creditors to confirm that they notify the credit reporting bureaus when you pay on time.
Not all creditors do this.
Some people like to periodically check their report throughout the year. If you want to do that, you can alternate the dates you pull the three agency’s reports. For example, you might get one from Equifax in the winter, one from Experian in the spring and one from TransUnion in the fall.
But if you spot a problem on one of these reports, you’ll want to speed up the schedule and pull the ones from the other two bureaus to see if they report the same problem.
Kiplinger's Jessica Anderson shares the secrets to understanding credit scores and how they affect you.