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Posted: 1:35 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9, 2012

Free credit reports, credit scores are easy to access

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What you don't know about your credit report can hurt you. I want to put you in control of your own credit with a small assignment.

I was shocked by a new banking industry survey that finds more than 40% of people never check their credit or what's going on with their score. Not a good idea! Your credit influences what you pay for auto and homeowner's insurance and whether or not you get that job offer you want, among other things.

Fortunately, it's so easy to check your credit report. Just go to AnnualCreditReport.com, the official government-sanctioned site. You'll see pop-ups as you complete the process trying to sell you stuff. Avoid them all. If you do that, almost immediately you can have access to your report. It's like taking your temperature once a year.

Getting your score is a different story. There's a way to be reactive, which doesn't involve you doing anything, and a way to be active about this.

First the reactive part. If you have an adverse decision made about you -- maybe a bank turns you down for a loan or your insurer decides to look at your credit and charge you a higher premium based on what they find -- they must disclose your actual real credit score to you. It's now a federal law. No action is required on your part. You'll get the score along with the bad news.

But if you want to be proactive, go to a site like CreditKarma.com and you'll be able to pull an approximation of your credit score that's good enough to take your credit temperature. Again, be forewarned that you'll see pop-ups as you complete the process trying to sell you stuff. It's not necessary to buy anything to get your score.

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