We’ve all seen the funny TV commercials that playfully urge us to get our free credit report. It’s hard to hold back a smile when you see those hapless minstrels singing for their supper. The videos are funny, but the subtext is clear: bad things happen to good people. So maybe you have a good laugh, but are you really thinking, “wow, I’m going turn off the TV, get off the couch and get my free credit report right now”?

If you’re not, well…maybe you should be. Unfortunately, when that boy or girlfriend maxes out your card and skips town, or when your identity is stolen online, those bad things can follow you around for years in the form of strikes against your credit.

So why should I check my credit score? The reasons fall into two buckets: Opportunities and Obligations. Good credit can provide Opportunities to help you live a fuller, happier life. Conversely, bad credit can make it very difficult to meet life’s basic Obligations.

In the Opportunities column, we find consumer credit such as credit cards, home loans and car loans. In the Obligations column, we find automobile insurance and employment. Fortunately, there is a way for me to actively manage my credit score: the law ensures that I can get my free credit report from each of the three major reporting agencies once per year.

Most people know that a lender will check your credit score before making a loan, but not all of us know that a less-than-stellar credit report can adversely affect your insurance rates, or even prevent you from getting a job! True story: a friend of mine graduated top of his class from a reputable business school, interviewed for a prestigious corporate job, and received a good news/bad news phone call the very next day. The HR manager informed him that the company wanted to offer him a job, but could not make the offer because of his credit record!

Fortunately, my friend immediately got his free credit report, was able to fix his credit by paying an unpaid long distance bill, and got that job. This was back in the days before they were airing the free credit report TV spots, so we’ll cut him some slack for not knowing beforehand that it was so easy to check his credit score.

So now that I’ve given you some great advice, I’m thinking it might be time to get my free credit report again. After all, it has been over a year since I last did it, and who knows what bad things may have happened to my credit record since then?