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Do you know your credit score?

When was the last time you checked your credit score?

If you're anything like the average American, it's been a while ... or you never have. But according to New York-based certified financial planner Anthony Canale, a quick credit score check "is really a simple thing that people can do for themselves, that doesn't cost any money, that really helps them to determine what their credit looks like."

Credit-rating agencies compile both positive and negative financial information about you to determine your score. "If your score is very low, then when you go for a loan or when you go to rent a car or ... an apartment, the people will be very leery," Canale said.

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How does your credit score impact your life?

Your credit report will typically be reviewed by a prospective landlord or rental agency. Your credit score also influences auto loan rates available to you.

Additionally, cell phone companies will check your credit score before deciding to grant you a service plan. And we all know that when you apply for a new credit card, the company will review your credit score to see if you qualify and what terms you should receive.

If there's incorrect negative information on your report, it's a good idea to try to get it removed. That's a quick way to improve your score and increase your immediate chances of getting a lower mortgage rate or even that job or apartment you want, he noted.

"In any credit transaction, there's really you, who's looking to borrow money; there's the creditor or the lender, who's looking to lend you money; and then there's this pesky third party that is the credit reporting agencies," said Canale. "They ... monitor the information from the lender to the borrower and see how well you pay your bills."

That information is then sold to employers, landlords and financial institutions.

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"Everyone looks at credit reports nowadays before doing business with someone," he said.

What's a good score? In times past, a score of 700 might have been considered excellent, but nowadays, he said, you should be aiming for 750 or higher.

You can obtain one free credit report a year from each of the three main agencies: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. It's important to review all three, Canale said, because they don't always report the same information.

Remember that the credit agencies must, by law, report fairly and accurately.

"That really empowers the consumer ... to take that credit report in their own hands," Canale said.