Check your credit reports before applying

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If you're buying a home, the first thing you should do is make sure that your credit history is accurate and up-to-date.

When you apply for a mortgage loan, the lenders will pull copies of your credit reports. They'll be looking for any late or missed payments and how much you owe on everything from credit cards to auto loans.

A solid credit history means you'll get a cheaper loan. A troublesome history could prevent you from getting a mortgage at any price.

Yet a surprising number of credit reports contain wrong information about bills that you've paid or debts that aren't even yours.

Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to find out what all three major reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- are saying about you.

The credit bureaus created it to comply with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, a federal law that requires them to provide free credit reports to anyone who asks.

You can get the reports online immediately. You can also print out forms to mail in or call 1-877-FACTACT (1-877-322-8228) to request copies of your credit reports. If you do order by mail or by phone, however, expect to wait more than two weeks for delivery.

Each report will include information about how to fix mistakes or how to submit explanations for any valid negative information on the report.

Other heavily publicized Web sites also claim to offer free credit reports -- freecreditreport.com is the most obvious and misleading example.

But when you read the fine print, you will see that you can only get a "free" credit report when you agree to buy one or more of their services. So stay away from them.

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