Somewhere between having no clue what your credit score is and paying $16 every few weeks to get a copy of it lies a healthy middle ground. Think of your credit score as you do your weight. You need to weigh occasionally to stay on top of things, but most health professionals consider it obsessive to weigh every day.

Same with your credit score. It's good to know where you are now in order to establish a baseline. If you have never checked your FICO score, now would be a good time to do that. You can purchase your FICO score for about $16 at MyFico.com. After that, an "annual checkup" should be adequate under normal circumstances.

There are times when you may anticipate changes in your score. Perhaps you decided to opt-out from a big interest rate increase by your credit-card company. Perhaps you are applying for a new mortgage or you plan to finance a car. You want to monitor closely your credit score for six to eight months before that event. But do you really need to buy the real thing that often? Probably not!

Recently, I wrote about credit score estimators. MyFico.com offers its free Fico Score Estimator (type "estimator" in the search box at MyFico.com). Upon answering a few questions about your current financial situation, the estimator will give you a score range. While not totally accurate, this range can give you an idea where your credit score is right now.

Another estimator is offered by Credit.com which should give you an opportunity to compare estimates. In addition to the estimator, our friends at Credit.com have introduced a new tool, which is also completely free, to help you better manage your credit score. Credit Report Card is different from estimators in that it makes a "soft" inquiry into your credit file. This is the same type of inquiry that would be triggered if you ordered a free copy of your credit report. It does not go against you in any way and is not seen as an inquiry to potential lenders looking into your file.

To use the Credit Report Card, you must register at Credit.com. Then, fill out the form with your specific information including your Social Security number. Your report card will be broken down into the five areas that FICO considers: Your payment history, debt usage, credit age (longevity), account mix and inquiries. You will get a letter grade from A to F in each area, with an explanation for each that will help you to understand what all of those areas mean for your big picture and what you might do to improve your score.

Once registered at Credit.com, you can get your Credit Report Card as often as you like to monitor changes and to track improvements to your score.

Paying off debt is a lot like losing weight. Both require self-control, commitment and the discipline to not "weigh in" every day!

January 25, 2010

Copyright © 2009 Mary Hunt. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint required.

Check out Mary's recently released revised and expanded edition of The Financially Confident Woman (DPL Press, 2008).

Debt-Proof Living was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt. What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt. Today, "Debt-Proof Living" is read by close to 100,000 cheapskates.  Click here to subscribe. Also, you can receive Mary's free daily e-mail "Everyday Cheapskate" by signing up at EverydayCheapskate.com