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In 1956, engineer Bill Fair and mathematician Earl Isaac built a company on the idea that information, used wisely, could improve on business decisions. Their company was Fair, Isaac and Company, now known as FICO, or the Fair Isaac Corporation.

Your FICO score is a way for lenders to decide what kind of credit risk you might be for them. Your credit score can affect your interest rates on credit cards, mortgage rates and auto loans. The lower your FICO score, the higher your credit risk is to lenders. In the U.S., there are three major credit reporting agencies, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Your score is generated from the information shared by these agencies and ranges from 300 to 850, with 850 being the lowest risk.

Even though it’s important to watch your FICO score, you also need to protect your identity. CNN Money says that one American experiences identity fraud every two seconds. Theft is when someone steals your personal information and fraud is when someone uses it for gain.

The website www.annualcreditreport.com offers a no-cost copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the credit reporting agencies. Experts recommend staggering one report every few months so you can monitor your credit reports throughout the year. The Federal Trade Commission says that if you find identity theft in the first five months of the crime, you could reduce your out-of-pocket losses.

Watch your credit report for charges you don’t recognize, denials of credit you did not apply for, or addresses or names on statements you can’t identify. These could be signs of identity theft and fraud. Treat your credit and personal information like gold!

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