The first step in understanding your financial health is requesting your three credit bureau reports online at annualcreditreport.com. This site, which you can you use once a year for FREE reports, is connected to Experian, Equifax and Transunion. A credit report will display all open, closed and in collections accounts you have.
I cannot stress enough the importance of these reports. Print them and place them in a binder labeled "Credit Reports".
The first time I pulled my free reports, I had a lot of accounts in collections. My debt-to-credit ratio, the amount I owed compared to the amount someone was willing to give me, was bad. What boosts your credit scores, which I'll cover next week, is a good debt-to-credit ratio, as in more credit and less debt.
I have two people in my family with the exact same name - nothing to identify them apart but social security numbers. When they pulled their credit reports, several accounts were crossed. So, we disputed those accounts online through the credit bureaus site (free online to dispute; can also dispute via mail). After some time, the right accounts went to the right person. But, had we not checked, there would have been more problems down the road.
You are judged by banks and other financial institutions by your credit health. Everyone, even apartment leasing offices, pull credit reports. Be vigilant and on top of it because no one else will do it for you.