By Gerri Detweiler
You’ve heard the standard advice: check your credit reports for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. You may have even heard the suggestion that you stagger your requests at that site so you’ll get a report from one of the three major credit reporting agencies every four months, thereby allowing you to check your credit periodically throughout the year.
While reviewing your free credit reports once a year is always a good idea, there are times when it’s simply not enough. Here are three examples of times when you should review your credit reports more frequently.
Keep closer tabs on your credit if you are:
Splitting up. Whether it’s with a spouse, significant other — or even perhaps a long-time roommate — keep a close eye on your credit after a break up. If you shared joint accounts, you’ll want to close and pay them off if at all possible. Otherwise you could wind up saddled with debt they acquire after you go your separate ways, but before your credit is completely separated. (You are both legally responsible to the lender for balances on joint accounts until the debt is repaid and the account is closed.)
Be vigilant even if the two of you maintained separate accounts. It can be all too easy for a vengeful — or perhaps desperate — ex to use your information to open new accounts. If that does happen, you’ll want to find out sooner rather than later.
Trying to build or rebuild credit. Maybe you’re just starting out and establishing credit for the first time. Or maybe you’re new to the U.S. and want to build a credit history. Or perhaps you’re older and you’re trying to clean up your credit after a string of bad luck or poor decisions. In all of these cases, monitoring your credit reports allows you to find out when accounts have been added — or removed — from your reports.
Similarly, if you are trying to boost your credit scores to buy a home, it’s a good idea to start reviewing your credit reports at least six months before you hope to start the process. That will give you time to fix mistakes you may find when you first review your reports.
Worried about identity theft. If your wallet was lost or stolen, you’ve been getting calls from a debt collector who insists you owe a bill you know you don’t, or worse, you know that your personal information has been compromised — reviewing new activity on your credit reports is crucial.
If you’ve been the victim of a data breach, where your personal information was compromised by the failure of a business or government agency to protect it, you may be offered a free subscription to a credit monitoring service. And consumers who are place extended fraud alerts on their credit reports get two free credit report disclosures per year. But again, that may not be enough.
One full year is the minimum amount of time you should monitor your reports if you are worried about identity theft. Some scammers prey on the fact that most consumers let down their guard if they haven’t seen any suspicious activity on their credit reports for several months. They patiently bide their time for a year or more before striking.
How to Monitor Your Credit Reports and Credit Scores
Your credit reports contain the information that is then used to calculate your credit scores. Reviewing your credit reports will allow you to keep track of information that has been added, removed or updated to your reports. But it’s also crucial to monitor your credit scores: they’ll help you understand what changes in the information in your reports means.
If you see your scores are improving, then you’ll know you’re on the right track. If your credit scores suddenly take a dip, it means you need to take a closer look at what’s going on.
Your financial institution may offer a free credit monitoring service. If not, find services that help you monitor your credit reports and scores here. You can also use Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card to check your credit scores once a month. It’s truly free — you won’t even be asked for a credit card number — and checking your credit won’t hurt your credit scores.
This article originally appeared on Credit.com. Gerri Detweiler is Director of Consumer Education for Credit.com.