Tool: One of the best buys for consumers, free credit reports every year.
What it does: Allows you to see yourself exactly as lenders see you.
How to use: Get free reports through AnnualCreditReport.com, the site run by the three credit bureaus, rather than one of the commercial vendors. You're entitled to one of each of your three reports free every year.
Get the most out of it by: Use it to get a regular glimpse at your credit, says Evan Hendricks, author of "Credit Scores & Credit Reports" and the editor and founder of "Privacy Times." Because you have three reports (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), get a different one free every four months, he says.
What you probably don't know: While you still have to pay for your credit score, there are even times you can get that for free. For instance, when you apply for a home mortgage or refi, your lender has to show you your credit score.
"And it's the real one," says Hendricks. "It's the one the creditors get."
There are other ways to get a free credit score. For more information, read "How to get a free credit score."
Why consumers are thankful: It's especially useful these days for consumers because "a lot of people are refinancing," he says.