Finances need a check-up?

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You visit the doctor to protect your health; experts say your financial health also benefits from a routine check-up.

To make it easier for people to monitor their financial well-being, UW-Extension educators around the state are continuing the “Check Your Free Credit Report Campaign: 2/2, 6/6, 10/10,” reminding people to view their three free reports each year on Feb. 2, June 6 and Oct. 10.

“2/2, 6/6,10/10 is an easy-to-remember set of three dates,” says J. Michael Collins, UW-Extension family and consumer economics specialist and director of the UW-Madison Center for Financial Security. “Each represents a day to set aside five minutes to pull one credit report from one credit bureau.”

Consumers are responsible for checking the accuracy of their credit reports, which are prepared by the private firms Equifax, Experian and TransUnion and sold to other businesses.

Sticking to the exact dates of the campaign--2/2, 6/6, 10/10--maximizes the chances that people will consistently monitor their credit over time, says Collins.

A new website at http://fyi.uwex.edu/creditreport introduces visitors to the “Check Your Free Credit Report Campaign: 2/2,6/6, 10/10,” tells them why it’s important to check their credit reports, and walks them through the process of pulling and reading their reports.

The information found in credit reports can play a role in whether you’re offered a job or eligible for a loan, says Collins. A recent report by the Federal Trade Commission found that about 5 percent of credit reports have errors that are big enough to trigger higher interest rates for loans.

In spite of a credit report’s impact, only about 16 million free reports are ordered each year out of more than 200 million people in the U.S. with credit records. In Wisconsin, around 39 percent of adults reported obtaining a copy of their credit report in the past year, compared to 42 percent nationally, according to a 2009 FINRA Financial Capability Study.

Credit reports are different from credit scores, Collins explains. “Although a credit score is a useful piece of information, it is calculated using the information in your credit report.”

Collins notes that there is only one legitimate source for a free credit report, and there are many imposters. AnnualCreditReport.com and its mailing address and phone number are the only truly no-cost ways to obtain the free credit reports everybody is entitled to by law.

Other websites claim to offer free reports, scores or monitoring, but they often charge significant one-time or ongoing fees. Unsolicited e-mails, pop-ups or phone calls offering free scores or reports are not official.

Checking one free credit report every four months lets people do their own credit monitoring without having to pay $10 or even $20 a month, which are typical amounts charged for these services.”

“Much like campaigns to get a medical check-up or a flu shot, our goal is to help people save money and improve their financial health,” says Collins.


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