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Are you credit savvy?

By Leslie McFadden · Bankrate.com
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Posted: 12 pm ET

Today representatives from more than 2,500 participating banks across the nation will give credit lessons in high school and college classrooms as part of "Get Smart About Credit Day," a program sponsored by the American Bankers Association Education Foundation. The website, getsmartaboutcredit.com, offers tips, a quiz and basic information about credit.

In honor of today's event, here are five tips to help you become wiser about credit:

  1. Stagger your free annual credit reports and receive frugal credit monitoring. You're entitled to a free copy of your credit report under federal law once every 12 months (as opposed to a calendar year) from the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. By ordering a free credit report from a different agency every four months, you can keep tabs on your credit throughout the year. Order your free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. Note: Residents of Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey or Vermont can order additional credit reports for free under state law.

If you see inaccuracies on your credit report, file a dispute. You can do so online, over the phone or through the mail.

  1. Understand the factors that influence your credit score. Paying bills on time, using credit cards lightly and applying for credit sparingly will help you build a good credit rating over time.
  1. Don't fall for common myths about credit scores. You don't need to carry a balance to improve your score. Checking your own credit report or score will not harm your credit rating. Canceling credit cards or lowering your credit limit won't provide a score boost. For additional myth-busting advice, look for my Credit Card Adviser columns.
  1. Check your credit score. If you are trying to raise your score to qualify for a loan or new credit card, it's a good idea to see where you stand. Pulling your actual score will show you the top "reason codes," or reasons your score isn't higher. If you don't want to pay for it, you can use our free FICO score estimator or websites that offer generic credit scores free of charge.

Watch out for "free" credit score offers that aren't really free. If you're asked for a credit card number, it probably isn't free.

  1. Learn how to improve your credit score. Actions such paying down credit card debt, or charging less on your credit cards can increase your credit rating.

For additional credit tips, sign up for Credit Card News.

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1 Comment
Debra James
October 27, 2010 at 2:49 pm

In reference to tip #1, staggering credit reports from the three big reporting agencies, will only be beneficial if all of your credit accounts are reported to all three agencies. Personally, I have accounts that the merchant chooses not to report to all agencies. So, for accounts that are only reported to only one agency, I still only get one free look per year at what's being reported by them.