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Test your credit IQ

This time of the year, everybody is thinking about their finances. Money is on our minds. So while you're rummaging through your receipts and reviewing those W2 forms, add a credit report to your list.

Why get your credit report right now? Making sure your credit report is accurate can get you lower interest rates, save you money and help protect you from identity theft.

Wow! A credit report can do all that? Well, yes. It's quite a powerful financial record. The more you know about your report, the better off you'll be when getting a mortgage...buying a car...renting an apartment...even getting a job.

Put on your thinking cap. Let's test your credit IQ.

True or false: You have 3 separate credit reports, and each one can contain different information. True. Each of the big three credit bureaus—TransUnion, Equifax and Experian—keeps its own record on you and gathers information independently. That means each report is unique, and that can mean three different credit scores as well. In order to get your complete credit history, you should consider all three credit repots and scores. This combines all your information in one easy-to-read report.

True or false: You only need to check your credit report once a year. False. If you truly want to manage and maintain healthy credit, you should check your report every month or so. This allows you to ensure everything is accurate and help keep your name safe and secure. And ordering your credit reports online makes monitoring your information a breeze.

True or false: Requesting your own credit report lowers your credit score. False. A lot of people get this one wrong. There is a difference between checking your own credit and having a creditor check your credit. When you check your own report, it does not harm your credit score

Whenever you apply for new credit, the creditor will request a copy of your credit report, causing an inquiry to appear. An inquiry from a credit application can impact your score, so it's important that you apply for new credit in moderation.

True or false: Most negative records stay on your credit report for 7-10 years. True. Bankruptcies, collection accounts and even late payments will stay on your report for seven years or more. Positive records can stay on your credit report longer. And don't be tricked into thinking that a credit repair agency can remove accurate (or inaccurate) information from your report.

True or false: Routine check-ups can help your credit score. True. Making sure your credit report is accurate, along with doing things like paying your bills on time and keeping your credit card balances below 35% of their limits, will help you maintain a healthy credit profile.

So how did you do? Even if you're not a credit whiz yet, you'll look like a genius when you get lower rates on your loans. It pays to be smart about your credit.

About the Author:

TransUnion's TrueCredit.com has helped millions of consumers manage their own credit health. TrueCredit provides all the information individuals need to manage their credit. TrueCredit.com products include online credit reports, credit and insurance scores, credit monitoring, debt management tools and identity theft insurance, all designed to help individuals achieve greater financial well-being, www.truecredit.com/

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