A recent report finds half of all adults in the U.S. have not checked their credit scores since the big Equifax breach about seven months ago, and almost 1 in 5 have never checked their credit report or score at all.

The CreditCards.com report finds almost 3 in 10 people reported hearing a lot about the breach, which exposed the personal information of 145 million consumers, but did nothing.

Mary Halupa, the director the non-profit Family Guidance Center’s consumer credit counseling service in Hamilton, said having a good credit score and knowing what it is can be very important because it affects all sorts of things.

“When you apply for a mortgage, when you apply for a car loan, the first thing they’re going to do is run your credit and the rate that you get is going to depend on your credit score," she said.

She pointed out when you see an ad for a car with 0 percent financing, it’s only for people with excellent credit.

Halupa said it’s important for you to check your credit report at least once or twice a year.

“Make sure your name, address and phone number are correct on the credit report," she said. "Make sure the Social Security number is correct, the employment information is correct.”

She also said it’s important to make sure all accounts listed are actually yours, and your late payment history is accurate.

“If you find it’s wrong or inaccurate then you can dispute them with the 3 credit reporting agencies. The 3 major ones are TransUnion, Experian and Equifax, and I always advise folks to do disputes in writing," she said.

She said once you do this you’ll get a letter back from the agency you contacted indicating it has received your inquiry, it is looking into it, and it will get back to you as soon as it makes a determination about the situation.

Halupa said this is important because a late payment, for instance, can lower your credit score. Something else that can hurt it is your utilization rate of your credit cards.

“If your balance goes higher than 30 percent of what your credit limit is, it starts to pull your credit score down," she said.

So if you have a Chase credit card with a $1,000 credit limit, “the minute your balance on that Chase credit card goes over $300, or 30 percent of the credit limit, it starts to bring your score down," she said.

She said someone with a good job who pays bills on time may have poor credit, and not understand why, “but when we run their credit report this is the reason why — they’re maxed out on their cards. I’s the utilization rate that’s dragging the score down.”

Halupa pointed out if you check your credit report or credit score on your own, it will not bring down your credit score.

“Every time you apply for something though, it shows as a hit on your credit, and if you have more than six hits in a year, that starts to bring your credit score down," she said.

She also said if you cancel a credit card it will automatically reduce the total amount of credit you have, which can also hurt your credit score.

So what’s the best way to check your credit?

“For a free credit report you can go to annualcreditreport.com," Halupa said. "You’re entitled to one free credit report every 12 months.”

You can get all 3 credit agency reports at the same time or stagger them.

“I always advise my clients to stagger them, that way they can monitor their credit report all year long," she said.

She also advises clients to monitor their scores as creditkarma.com.

As for what a good credit score would be, she said “right now most lenders are looking for a 720 or better, I would say an excellent credit score would be anything over 750, and a poor credit score would be anything under 600.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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