By periodically checking your credit report, you can keep tabs on the factors that influence your credit score. Make sure you know where to get a copy of your reports and how to interpret them. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from all three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. For free reports, use the AnnualCreditReport.com site. It will not give you the FICO score, but you will be able to view your credit report. Your credit report will show your creditors and the status of each account, public records like judgements, the requests that have been made to view your credit history, and personal data like your name, address, and social security number. Any negative information, like a missed mortgage payment, will stay on your credit for about four years. If you find a mistake on your credit report, you should file a dispute in writing with the agency that provided the report. If you have old charges that need to be paid off and they have been on your credit for many years, do not pay them if you are trying to get a mortgage. When you pay them it shows activity on the account and will actually lower your credit score. If the mortgage company requires them to be paid in order to give you the loan, usually you can pay them at closing. If you suspect that someone is requesting credit under your name you should file a 90-day fraud alert on your credit file.