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With all of the changes going on in the credit markets, your credit score is more important than ever. Your score does not just affect your application for a mortgage or car loan, but can also be in a factor for things like your cell phone service and auto and homeowner insurance premiums.

We have been encouraging our clients to check their scores at least annually through www.annualcreditreport.com. This site will give you access each year to a free credit report through the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. You also have the option of paying a minimal fee to check your score through the site.

I recently discovered another great tool that allows you to quickly and easily get a feel for your score. It’s the website www.credit.com. After you enter your name, address and social security number, you are asked to verify the monthly payment of one of your outstanding debts. Within a few minutes you will have a very easy to read report card with a letter grade in each of the areas (payment history, debt usage, credit age, account mix, and inquiries) in which your credit score is calculated as well as an overall grade. There are action steps you can take in each area to improve your grade. When you use this service it is considered a “soft” inquiry and does not affect your score.

One thing I really like about this website is it also gives you an estimate of your score with several credit rating agencies and your approximate FICO score – all for free. If you want the exact number, you can always buy your score for $15 at www.myfico.com.

With these tools, it is easy to keep tabs on your credit and make sure you have not become a victim of identity theft. Every 4 months I use www.annualcreditreport.com to browse my outstanding debt and will now check www.credit.com at least annually or prior to applying for new credit to make sure I have an A on my report card.

Chris Carleton, CFP