Between student loan payments, a monthly mortgage (or your rent), credit card bills and maybe even an old gym membership that somehow (whoops) went to collections, it can be all-too-easy to lose track of how much debt you actually have on the books.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to tally up all the red in your ledger. Here’s what to do if you willfully or woefully don’t know what you owe.
1. Pull Your Credit Reports
Your credit reports help lenders determine your ability to repay a loan as agreed — and, as such, generally include key information about all the financing you have on the books, including credit card balances, outstanding mortgage, auto or student loan debt, collection records and public records such as bankruptcy filings and tax liens. If you have no idea how much you owe, obtaining copies of your credit reports from all three major credit reporting agencies (some lenders only report to one or two) is a great place to start tallying up your balances. You can pull your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and view your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com to see how the data on those reports are impacting your scores.
2. Review Your Credit Card Statements
Credit reports can change from month to month and, if you’re actively paying off your credit cards, there’s a good chance that the balances shown on yours are a bit out-of-date. (Complicating matters, issuers tend to report balances as of your statement’s billing date, not due date, so your latest monthly payment may not be reflected in those totals just yet.) To get an accurate read of how much credit card debt you owe, you should check your current outstanding balance online.
3. Call Your Creditors
Account balances are generally listed on your credit report, but if they’re not — or you’re otherwise confused about what you owe — you should contact the creditor associated with the account. You may have to do a little digging, particularly for an account you don’t recognize, like an unpaid medical bill you were unaware of. However, if you don’t have a credit card or billing statement, contact information from major lenders and even collection agencies should be available on the company website. Some firms may even have designated landing pages for customer service issues or complaints.
4. Dispute Any Errors
If you’re really in the dark about your debts, it’s important that you don’t necessarily take every account listed on your credit report at face value, simply because it’s actually very common for errors to appear on one. If there is an account you don’t recognize on your report, again, contact the creditor in question to get as much information as you can about the balance. You’ll want to make sure the debt is actually yours and not the result of identity theft or another reporting error. If you do determine that the information was a mistake, you should dispute it with the credit bureau. (You can go here to find more information on how to get errors off of your credit report.)
Remember, it’s important to stay on top of the amount of debt you owe since that number is a major component of most credit scoring models. If you have a lot of balances on the books, you may be able to improve your score by paying down high credit card balances (to at least 30%, and ideally 10%, of their total available limit), making all future loan payments on time and limiting new credit inquiries until your debts are paid down.
This article originally appeared on Credit.com.
Jeanine is an editor and reporter at Credit.com. Prior to joining us, Jeanine's work was featured by TheStreet, Newsweek, Business Insider, Yahoo Finance, MSN, Fox Business, Forbes, CNBC and various other online publications. Follow her at @JeanineSko More by Jeanine Skowronski