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10
Check Your Credit Report
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In the United States, credit reports are maintained by three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. If you've never applied for any form of credit, then you shouldn't have an open file with any of these agencies.

Before you apply for your first credit card or make an appointment with the loan officer at the bank, check with each of the credit reporting agencies to make sure there isn't a false credit report open in your name. More than 20,000 children and teenagers were victims of identity theft in 2008 [source: Noll]. It's possible that someone has already used your name and stolen Social Security number to apply for credit.

If that's the case, you'll need to work with the credit reporting agencies to clear your record, particularly if the identity thief ran up large amounts of unpaid debt in your name.

Credit bureaus will open a legitimate credit file in your name when a bank, credit card company or other lender reports that you've had an active credit account for at least six months. All borrowers, not just first-timers, are encouraged to check their credit reports at least once a year and scan them for errors.

Mistakes can damage your credit score for years -- up to seven years for negative information like late loan payments and 10 years for a serious default like bankruptcy [source: FTC). If you find a mistake, contact the credit reporting agencies immediately.

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