Have you checked your credit report recently?

Identity theft, mortgage fraud and credit-card fraud are all preventable with monitoring of your credit report. But these days, a mistake on your credit report can make it more expensive to borrow money.

Nearly three-quarters of all credit reports contain errors, according to a 2004 survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Those errors could include minor mistakes such as an old employer listed as a current employer, or major errors like an account listed with a high balance already paid off and closed.

Before applying for your next loan, make sure your lender is looking at the right information.

Credit information: You have a total of three credit reports, one from each of the three major credit-reporting companies -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. These credit reports are the basis for your credit score (also referred to as your FICO score). About a third of the score is based on payment history, another third on debt and the final third on the length of your credit history and the type of credit.

A lower credit score could mean paying a higher rate on your next loan or might disqualify you from borrowing altogether. Although you have to pay to find out your credit score (from $8 to $15, depending on the source), consumers are allowed one free copy of their credit report per year from each of the three reporting agencies.

Free reports: To order your free reports, check out www.annualcreditreport.com. Be aware, however, that not all sites advertising free credit reports will actually deliver. In fact, some will end up charging you money before you get access to your report, while others are designed to steal your personal information. Annualcreditreport.com was created by the three credit-reporting agencies and is the only Web site charged by the government with providing free credit reports.

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