Yes, but it may be more important to check your credit report before checking your credit score. According to analysts at the Federal Trade Commission, only about 1 in 5 Americans bother to check their credit reports in a given year, even though the law requires credit reporting agencies to give out free reports every twelve months.
However, you're only entitled to a free credit score if a lender denied you credit based on the scoring system they use. Because you haven't responded to any credit card deals lately, you really have no idea where your score will land.
You can buy a peek at your credit score for about $20 from MyFICO, the consumer branch of the company that makes the most popular scoring model. You can also choose to subscribe to a credit monitoring service that tracks changes to your score, although it's likely that your score will only shift significantly every few months.
Before you spend cash to check your credit score, challenge inaccuracies on your credit reports. After all, that's the raw data that FICO, Experian, and other credit scoring agencies will use to assign you a three digit number or a letter grade to represent your risk to a lender. Credit history errors can do more than disqualify you for a low interest credit card or home loan. Negative items on your credit report could knock you out of the running for a new job or a promotion.
Three factors outside your control could determine what lenders, insurers, and employers think about you:
- You could already be a victim of identity theft. Despite your best precautions, criminals can hijack your credit without your knowledge. It's a common tactic to set the address on your credit profile to a fake location or an abandoned property, foiling banks' fraud detection departments.
- A credit issuer could have made a mistake with your personal information. Accidents happen all the time, but an uncontested mistake by a "data furnisher" hurts just as much as if you let one of your own accounts go delinquent.
- A collections agency could be targeting you. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has started cracking down on debt buyers and bill collectors who place dubious trade lines on credit reports without full verification.
Fighting inaccuracies on your credit report starts with knowing what's on there in the first place. You can request a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. After you've verified the accuracy of your report, it's safe to spend a little cash to see your financial report card.