Why you might want to do this: Because adults check their credit reports to make sure that the financial identities that exists for their names and social security numbers is the same one that exists in their hearts and minds.
What you might find out: That the lending institutions you do business with are messing up and saying you’re late when you’re never late. That all of the accounts that have been opened in your name are actually accounts opened by you, as opposed to a criminal person using your name and SSN.
Level of painfulness: Actually doing it, not that bad. Reading through it, variable, depending on how stupid you are with your funds.
How to get it done: Go to AnnualCreditReport.com, a totally cheesy-appearing but also legitimate website for checking your credit report for free. Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion reports are all available for free download through this site (don’t go to their sites directly or have fun paying them money).
Here’s how you should play this: Sign in and download one report, and check it. In four months, sign in and download the next report, and check it. Four months after that, sign in and download the third report, and check it. Four months after that will have been 12 months since your first report, and so: You get another round of free reports. This way is is the optimal way to do this. I don’t do this. Mike Dang probably does this.
If everything is right: Great! Now: Are there any lessons you can learn by looking over your entire financial history in one document? Should you open fewer accounts? Pay your bills more on time than not on time? Maybe settle up with that credit card you still haven’t paid off since college? Stare at the report, let it speak to you. Or just close it and never think of it again.
If something is wrong: Ignore it, it will go away. Ha, syke. That won’t happen. If something is awry, you’re going to have to do something about it. This will involve contacting the company whose report has the mistake (so Experian, Equifax, and/or TransUnion) and filing some kind of complaint, and then following up, etc. It will probably suck!
And what happens if you never do this: Nothing, really! Certainly it’s better and “More Grownup” to take care of these things in regular and timely ways, but if you don’t, you’re not going to totally ruin your life (spoiler alert: there is very little you can do to totally ruin your life, unless your perfect life involves having a good credit report, in which case, yes, you can mess that up real quick).