The Risks of Ignoring Your Credit Report
By Ashley Patrick
Last updated 3/17/2020
Summary: Learn about the risks of ignoring your credit report and how not checking it regularly can hurt your credit score. We explain how to check your credit report and what to do if you find something that shouldn't be there.
I am a huge advocate of paying off debt fast but that doesn’t mean that you should ruin your credit or totally ignore it even if you aren’t going to use debt in the future.
There are situations where you need a good credit score so if you totally ignore it, it can hurt you in certain situations.
With 80% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, an error on your report can cost you time, stress, and money!
A recent study showed that around 20% of adults had a mistake on their credit report. A mistake on your credit card could have major financial implications for you in the future.
What makes the situation worse is that 14% of people don’t check their credit reports because they are afraid of what is on there.
Knowledge is the solution to fear. If you know, then you can fix it and move on.
Being afraid to check it just makes our anxiety even worse. It can also make it so much harder and time consuming to fix the errors and catch identity theft.
In this article you will learn:
- Why you need to check your credit report frequently
- What can happen if you ignore it
- How much ignoring it could cost you in the future
- How to check your report
- What to do if there are errors on your report
- Ways to protect your credit report
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Why You Need to Check Your Credit Report Frequently
There are several risks to your credit report if you don’t check it regularly. By regularly, I mean a few times a year or quarterly.
You don’t even have to check it every month.
If you know you will need to take out credit in the next 6 months or so, then you need to check your report to assure you have time to fix any mistakes.
It’s also just a good idea to check it frequently to make sure that your identity hasn’t been stolen.
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Identity theft is a major issue and can take hours and months to undo all the damage that can be done. On average it takes 100-200+ hours and 6 months to fix issues with identity theft.
The sooner you can catch fraud on your credit report, the quicker you can clean it up and stop it in the future.
If you ignore your report for months or even years, someone could be living as you and destroying your credit in the mean time.
The Costs of Ignoring Your Credit Report
If there are mistakes or someone steals your identity, it can cost you financially in addition to the issues of not being able to get a loan or job.
It can even cost you a higher insurance bill. If that occurs or if you are denied insurance because of you credit report, shop around. Not all insurance companies run a credit check.
It could cost you a job if you work in a field that is a higher risk of theft, like banking, law enforcement, or if you need security clearances.
In addition to those direct impacts on your life, it could cost you money to hire an attorney or agency to help you clean up the mess.
A DOJ study found that it costs the average person $1343 to clean up identity theft.
It could even cost you court costs and fines if you get sued for missed payments. Or if you take the agencies to court to clear your name.
It is really a huge mess that could be ongoing for years.
How to Check Your Credit Report
Checking your report is the easy part.
You get 3 credit reports a year for free. It is one report per year per credit bureau.
Go to annualcreditreport.com to get your free reports.
You do NOT have to do all 3 at once. You can spread them out through the year so you can keep an eye on things.
The three credit bureaus are:
- Trans Union
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You can also monitor your reports for free through Credit Karma or Credit Sesame.
Keep in mind that the most accurate information will be through the 3 credit bureaus but they won’t all always be the same either.
It just depends on if the service provider reports to all three, most do.
There could be an error on one report but not the others.
There could also be information missing from the free credit monitoring services but overall they are pretty accurate.
What to do if There Are Errors on Your Credit Report
If there are errors on your credit report, you need to report the error to the credit bureau. You can easily file a dispute online and notify them that it is wrong.
If there is an error, go ahead and get all 3 credit bureau reports because you will want to see if the error is on all of them.
You will need to report any errors to all three credit bureaus if it is on all three.
They will investigate it and let you know the outcome.
They must give you their findings in writing. Keep that in a file with all the reports and information you gather. You never know when it may come up again.
If your identity is stolen, you need to file a police report with your local police department.
If they tell you that they won’t do a report because the fraud didn’t happen in their jurisdiction, they are wrong. Identity theft is one crime that you file where the victim lives.
I wish I could tell you that won’t happen but I was a police officer and detective for 10 years and unfortunately, not all officers know that it isn’t true for identity theft.
With normal crimes, you file a report wherever the crime occurs. With identity theft that isn’t feasible in most cases. So legislation was passed so you can report where you live.
If they won’t do a report, you can give them this information to hopefully convince them to do it. Now remember to be respectful if you have an issue with getting a police report. But if they still won’t do it, you can speak to their supervisor.
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Now to warn you even more, it’s not likely they will investigate it. Identity theft that doesn’t occur in their area is hard to investigate. They may just close it or forward to where ever the crime did occur.
But if the fraud did occur locally which does happen, they should investigate it if they can. It really depends on the circumstances and what happen. So, I really can’t tell you if they will or won’t. It also can depend largely on the agency and who gets the report. Some agencies won’t investigate identity theft at all, some will.
What you need to do is get a copy of the report and follow up with your agency to see if they are going to look into it or forward it to another agency.
You need to keep documentation of everything that you do and who you talk to along the way.
See how this can get really time consuming?
You will need to dispute it to the credit bureaus but they could also be using your identity to get a driver’s license, housing, and a job even. If you find out about those things, you will have to call those places and alert them as well.
It can even be an issue when filing your tax return with the IRS. This is when a lot of people find out that someone used their social security number to get a job.
If they file first with your social security number, you won’t be able to file and it’s a big mess.
If you know you have been a victim of identity theft, file your tax return with the IRS early, so that there hopefully isn’t a delay. It is a huge hassle to get your refund if they issued a refund already to the person using your number.
You will also need to report the theft to the FTC if you are in the United States. You can file a report with them online at IdentityTheft.gov or call them at 877-438-4338.
You will need to get an identity theft report from them and this will assist you when trying to clean up your identity.
Your Fingerhut account won’t include an actual credit card because you can only use the credit to purchase items from their website.
How to Protect Your Credit Report
There are ways to protect your credit report whether you have been a victim of identity theft or not.
You can easily freeze your credit with each credit bureau.
It is incredibly easy to do online and just as easy to unfreeze it when you need to.
I have my credit frozen and it was very easy to unfreeze for a short time when I was looking for a new cell phone provider. I was even able to set the expiration date for it to automatically freeze again.
Freezing your credit takes only a few minutes.
If you have been a victim of identity theft, you will also need to put a fraud alert on your credit reports. You can file those at the same time you do a freeze with each credit bureau.
A fraud alert allows you to leave your credit open without freezing but you will have to show extra identification when someone runs your credit report. You will have to do a report at IdentityTheft.gov to do a fraud alert.
Anyone can do a freeze but you have to have a fraud report to do a fraud alert.
You can get a new social security number but it is extremely difficult to get it approved. It’s very rare for someone to get a new number even when they have been a victim of identity theft.
Ignoring your credit report can cost you financially as well as time and stress to clean up issues on your report.
The sooner you identify any errors on your credit report, the less time and money it will cost you.
If you do find you have been a victim of identity theft, put a fraud alert and freeze your credit.
It will save you frustration later on when they try to use your information again because they likely will.
Even if you don’t plan to use debt, it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on your credit reports to catch errors and fraud.
Ashley Patrick, personal finance expert, and founder of Budgets Made Easy. Ashley helps families eliminate debt using simple strategies so they can stress less and live the life they want. She was able to pay off $45,000 in just 17 months including $25,000 in student loans in just 10 months. She is a Ramsey Solutions Master Financial Coach and has been featured on Fox Business, Yahoo! Finance, USA TODAY, MSN, CNBC, NerdWallet, and many others.