Why should I monitor my credit? Regularly checking your credit reports and credit scores can help you catch and fix errors or detect identity theft. It also lets you see progress as you improve your credit.

Who needs to do it? Everyone, even people with no credit activity. If someone has your Social Security number, he or she may have applied for credit in your name.

How do I start? Get your free annual credit reports from the major credit-reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Access them on

What am I looking for on my reports? Make sure:

  • Information is accurate and up to date
  • Accounts listed are actually yours
  • No one else’s information has gotten mixed into your file

What if I find errors? You can ask the credit bureaus to correct them.

Then what? Once you’ve made sure the credit bureaus have correct information, keep an eye on your credit score and watch for new information on your reports. You can use a personal finance website that offers free credit scores and credit report information, such as NerdWallet. Some credit card issuers also offer free scores.

What do I watch for with my score? Make sure good credit habits are accurately reflected. Paying on time and whittling down balances should build your score. A big swing you don’t expect could indicate identity theft.

How often can I check without hurting my score? As often as you like. Checking your own credit does not affect your score.

Bev O’Shea is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @BeverlyOShea.

The article How to Monitor Credit in (Exactly) 250 Words originally appeared on NerdWallet.