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Did you know that the information in your credit report can influence your ability to obtain a loan or even a job? The problem is that these reports routinely contain mistakes. A 2012 study by the Federal Trade Commission found one in five consumers’ credit reports contained errors that were corrected by a credit reporting company after being disputed.

Because credit reports can affect your finances, monitor them regularly. Here are some steps you can take to ensure your report is clean:

1. Request the reports. You’re allowed a free credit report annually from these reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can request them at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action, by calling 1-877-322-8228, or by completing the Annual Credit Report Request Form at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov and mailing it to the address listed in the instructions. Be sure to provide your name, address, Social Security number and other identifying information.

2. Stagger your requests. If you receive one report from each company every few months, you’ll be able to continually keep tabs on the information.

3. Be aware of look-alike sites. Some sites offer credit reports, but charge a fee. Others offer credit monitoring services — again, often for a fee. Because you can do much of this work on your own and at no cost, such services may not be necessary. Plus, your bank or credit card company may offer free services that can help you track credit transactions, such as alerts when purchases are over a certain amount. If you engage a credit monitoring service, check the cost and services first, because they can vary significantly.

4. Review the reports. Check that the information is accurate, updated and complete. If you find errors, notify the credit reporting company and identify the items you’re disputing. Include copies of receipts or other documents that support your position. The company must investigate the items being challenged, unless it considers the dispute frivolous. It also must forward data on disputed items to the business that provided the information in the first place. Also, give the information provider details of the items you’re disputing. If it reports the items to a credit reporting company, the provider must alert the company to the dispute.

Both the credit reporting company and the information provider are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete data in your report. The credit reporting company also must provide written results of its investigation, as well as a new report if a change was made.