Toronto resident, Lisa Marson, was getting ready to make an offer on her first home. To make sure there were no glitches with her mortgage financing, she checked her credit report. A credit report gives lenders details about every loan you’ve taken out in the last six years, including credit cards, car loans, lines of credit and mortgages. It shows how much you borrowed, whether you paid on time, and what you still owe. Based on all this, you’re given a credit score from 300 (the lowest) to 900 (a perfect score).

Lisa was shocked to see how outdated and inaccurate her report was. She always paid her bills on time and in full and yet her credit history told a different story. It showed she still owed a large amount on a line of credit that had been paid in full years ago — a glaring error and a red flag for lenders. Suddenly, her mortgage financing was in jeopardy.

Stories like Lisa’s underscore how important it is to check your credit history regularly. Not just because there could be mistakes, but because you may be doing things that lower your score — a late loan payment or a purchase that took you over your credit card limit. Things like this could prevent you from getting a loan when you need it most.

In Canada, there are two credit bureaus that provide reports — TransUnion and Equifax. The report is free if you choose a by-mail option that takes two to three weeks. If you want your score (what lenders use to assess you) then you need to pay extra. You can also pay to access everything instantly online.

A low score isn’t the end of the world, but it can take years to bring your score up by improving your report. To do this you need to pay your bills on time and in full ... all the time.

If you do find errors, like Lisa did, then you need to work with the agency that issued your report to fix them. “A major hassle” says Lisa — but it was well worth it. For example, she had to fax back proof that she’d paid the debt off, which meant going through old files. With her report corrected, her solid credit history meant she finally got the financing she needed to buy the house.

So don’t let yourself get caught off guard with a bad score — make sure you stay on top of your credit report. And make sure you don’t let your debt payments slide.

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