A new year has arrived, and experts agree: It’s time to check your credit. Making sure your credit report is error-free is a key step in making sure you get the best rates when shopping for loans. Potential landlords, employers, and auto and homeowners’ insurance companies in most states may also look at your credit when making important decisions about you.

First, pull your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com. This is the only site that is guaranteed to offer you a free credit report with absolutely no strings attached. You can view each of your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, once every 12 months (you may also want to stagger these viewings by pulling one report every 4 months). Here are instructions on how to read a credit report and challenge any errors.

There are many smaller credit bureaus that also collect information about you – from your checking account history to your employment and salary history. These bureaus must also provide you with a credit report on demand (one in every 12 month period) – click here for more information about accessing those reports.

You may also want to take a look at one of your FICO scores, provided you have access to it for free. FICO scores are calculated from your credit reports and can be used to make a split-second decision about you. Major banks and financial services companies offering free FICO scores to their customers include: Ally Financial, American Express, Barclaycard, Chase, Citi, Discover, First Bankcard, Hyundai Capital, and Sallie Mae.

Non-profit credit counselors may now also offer free FICO scores. If you’re in debt, credit counselors will work with you to get back on track. (Of course, don’t deal with for-profit credit repair firms who promise to boost your credit score quickly).

Finally, it’s getting a little easier for consumers to stay on top of their credit. Still, too many companies are using credit information to make decisions that have nothing to your financial background.

We’re particularly concerned that credit information is used in setting auto insurance rates in most states. It remains next to impossible to obtain the exact scores used in calculating your insurance rate. And, credit information can have more of an effect on your rate than your driving history! Make your voice heard – send a message to state insurance regulators to “Price me by how I drive, not by who you think I am!”