If you’ve ever held a mortgage, taken out a student loan, or used a store charge card, you’re probably already familiar with buying items on credit.

Making purchases through credit cards or installment plans can help you financially, but it can also be a significant source of stress. MFAN can help you learn more about where your credit report and score stand and provide resources to help you address any challenges you may face in maintaining or improving them.

What’s a Credit Report, and Why Does It Matter?

When you apply for any type of credit (like credit cards, mortgage loans, car loans, and student loans), banks and other lenders want to know how risky it is to lend you their money when they consider your application. One way they determine this is by looking at your credit report and score.

A credit report contains information about your credit history — like how much credit you have and whether you make payments on time. It also includes accounts that were sent to a collection agency for repayment — information that stays on your credit report for seven years, even if the account is paid off. Your credit score is derived from information in your credit report.

Get Your Free Credit Report

By law, each of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — is required to send you a copy of your credit report once a year if you request it. But you can’t get your report from the same bureau more than once in a year. You can, however, ask for a report from a different credit bureau every four months. These one-time requests are free and do not affect your credit in any way, and allow you to stay aware of your credit score.

We recommend using the Annual Credit Report website to request your credit report. It’s the only credit report website that is authorized by federal law, meaning that it has no connection to fee-based credit monitoring programs and doesn’t advertise partner companies promoting credit cards, loans, and other services. Use this website to stay on top of your credit report.

Quick tip: Remember that a credit report is different from a credit score. A credit score is derived from information in your credit report and is a three-digit number from 300 to 850. The higher your credit score is, the lower risk you are to lenders and the lower the cost of credit is to you.

Dealing With Debt

Personalized support resources can help you get a good understanding of your debt and your plan to repay it. These resources are free and confidential. They are available by phone, through video chat, or in person.

Find Resources

Veterans Benefits Banking Program

Through partnerships with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education, you can connect directly with a credit counselor or financial counselor. These specialists can help you tailor a plan to fit your situation.

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National Foundation for Credit Counseling

Credit cards are very powerful pieces of plastic. While they can be useful, using them can have downsides. Debating whether to use cash or a credit card for a purchase? This calculator from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling lets you easily determine how much more it will cost to use a credit card versus cash.

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Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

If a debt collector is contacting you regarding payments on a line of credit, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website for information about your rights. It’s important to confront these situations head-on, so do your research and know your options. CFPB can also help you submit a complaint against a debt collector if necessary.

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