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Are you afraid to check your credit reports and scores because you are concerned that doing so will lower your scores? It’s a worry we hear all the time from consumers. But what if you learned that checking your credit won’t hurt your credit scores – and may even help them?

That’s what happened to me recently. A mistake on my credit reports that I thought was taken care of three years ago popped up again. And it’s a doozy: one of my mortgage lenders is reporting multiple late payments that shouldn’t be there. But if I didn’t check my free annual credit reports each year and monitor my credit scores every month, I wouldn’t be aware of the problem.

Bottom line: You can’t correct a mistake you don’t know exists.

Just to be absolutely crystal clear, checking your own credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com does not affect your credit scores. Checking and monitoring your free credit scores through a consumer service like Credit.com also does not affect your scores. The inquiries that result from those credit checks are called “soft inquiries” and they do not factor into credit scoring models. Hard inquiries are the ones that affect your credit scores.

While you don’t get “extra credit” for reviewing your credit, doing so can benefit your scores in several ways.

1. You Can Spot Mistakes Quickly

I found a serious mistake on my credit reports, and it’s possible you may find wrong wrong information on yours. It’s best to learn about that well before you’re in the process of a loan application, and you have plenty of time to dispute it. (The first time it occurred, I was in the midst of financing a new car. Talk about panic!) In fact, disputing a credit report mistake can derail a mortgage loan application that’s already in process. Here’s a step-by-step guide to disputing credit report mistakes.

2. You Can See Where Your Credit Needs Work

My friend “Sara” shouldn’t have to worry about her credit. She has plenty of money in the bank and a department store card she uses from time to time and pays in full. But when she called me recently, she was upset that her credit score had suddenly dropped. The reason? It turned out that a recent purchase on her retail card resulted in a balance that was more than 50% of her available credit on that card. The amount wasn’t that large — a few hundred dollars — and she planned to pay it off in full, but she wasn’t aware that most credit scoring models would penalize her because her ratio of reported balances to credit limits was high. I suggested she pay it off, avoid using the card for a month and then wait and see what happened to her score. Sure enough, the next month it jumped back up.

(Note that if you only review your credit reports, you probably won’t have these insights into what’s affecting your scores. Your credit reports just state the facts.)

3. It’s Motivating

Life is hectic for most of us and it’s easy to push things off until tomorrow. But when you’re reminded of what’s happening with your credit each month you will hopefully be more motivated to keep up your good habits or take the steps to make it stronger.

I recently ran into someone who had talked with me about her credit challenges months ago. At the time, I gave her a couple of simple suggestions for getting back on track, but she admitted she still hasn’t gotten around to implementing them yet. In the meantime, every month that goes by is another month that she could be building better credit.

What are you waiting for? Check your free credit reports and get your free credit scores now. You can check two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com. You’ve got nothing to lose – and potentially lots to gain.

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

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