By Cliff Goldstein
If you haven’t checked your credit reports or credit scores in the past 12 months, you’re in the same boat as most people, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s 2015 Financial Literacy Survey, sponsored by NerdWallet.
In the study, which included more than 2,000 U.S. adults, two-thirds of respondents said they hadn’t ordered copies of their credit reports in the past 12 months. That includes 69% of women and 62% of men. And 52% of respondents (56% of women, 49% of men) said they hadn’t ordered or received their credit score in the past 12 months. If you’re among the many people who don’t regularly check their credit, here are a few possible reasons why.
Credit-phobia is common
For some, checking a credit report or credit score is just as scary as skydiving or speaking in front of a large crowd. You might feel like, if you did find negative or incorrect information, you wouldn’t know what to do with it. Or you may know exactly what you’d do if something were incorrect, and you’re afraid it would be a big ordeal.
If the thought of checking your credit makes you break into a cold sweat, consider making money management part of a routine. Set aside an hour each week for financial tasks, advises Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist in New York City. She suggests designating one day each year to checking all your credit reports, just as you’d schedule an annual physical with your doctor.
When you confront your finances more frequently, they may seem less intimidating. And when problems arise, you’ll be better prepared to deal with them.
Credit hasn’t been available to women until relatively recently
If you’re a woman and you don’t check your credit very often, you’re also in good company. There isn’t conclusive research as to why this pattern exists, but part of it may have to do with old social norms and a male-focused financial services industry.
Until 1974, when the Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed, most women in the United States didn’t even have access to credit independently. Although much has changed since then, marketers are still playing catch-up — and sometimes not that well. Clayman suggests that thinking of credit-checking as a form of self-care may be more successful than viewing it as an achievement-based activity.
Some may not think it’s important
You never know when you may have to rely on credit temporarily — say, for emergency repairs or to tide you over after an unexpected job loss. If you’ve taken good care of your credit, you may be able to maintain a little more stability in hard times, both financially and emotionally.
“When we worry about money, it can make it harder for us to focus,” Clayman says. Credit problems, especially paired with other major life events, can disrupt friendships, marriages, productivity and sleep, she adds.
It only takes a few minutes and an Internet connection to access credit reports and scores, so caring for your credit may be a lot less labor-intensive than you imagined. Because of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you can get one free credit report from each of the three major consumer credit bureaus — TransUnion, Experian and Equifax — through AnnualCreditReport.com. As for scores, several credit card issuers offer free FICO scores to cardholders.
Caring for your credit pays off
Building credit takes discipline and good habits, but mostly it takes time. If you check your credit only before getting a mortgage or a car loan, you might not be able to correct errors or change your credit habits in time to secure better terms. The more you can stay on top of your credit, the more leeway you’ll have for making improvements.
But don’t swing too far in the opposite direction, Clayman warns. When you start paying more attention to your numbers, it’s easy to conflate your sense of personal worth with your credit score, often to the detriment of your well-being. If you feel like your credit is starting to affect your entire self-concept, take a step back and re-evaluate.
Remember, credit is nothing more than a tool — one that happens to require a lot of maintenance.
This article was originally published on NerdWallet.
Cliff Goldstein leads business development and partnerships for NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor platform, which connects consumers with financial professionals to answer their hardest personal finance questions, and help them make the best possible financial decisions.
Views expressed are the personal views of the author, and do not represent the views of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, its employees, its members, or its clients.
NerdWallet writer Claire Davidson contributed to this article.
Majority in Survey Ignore Credit Reports, Scores
By Cliff Goldstein