By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Sep 29, 2010 at 2:06 PM

I'm sitting here writing this as I wait for a call from my bank, telling me whether or not my car loan application was approved. It's a little nerve-wracking.

I'm one of those people you hear about with bad credit. I've screwed up. I know I have. Unfortunately, when you're young, you don't really give a damn. Because, really, at 18, 19 or 20 years old ... good credit doesn't really matter as much as having fun.

When I got out of high school -- has it been 15 years already? -- I thought I had it made.

I had a great job and an exciting career ahead of me. While my friends were going off to college to learn how to do what they wanted to spend the rest of their working life doing, I was getting paid to actually do it.

I had money. And I spent it quickly. Things like a new car, a house and even a wife and kids meant little to me when I was 18.

If only things were still so simple.

Luckily, I started to catch wind of the importance of good credit. Better late than never, I guess. I gave up my credit cards a few years ago (I have just one now, secured, which is only used for emergencies). Budgeting and planning for future expenses has helped, too.

The biggest thing, though, is checking my credit reports. Thanks to changes in legislation, we're all eligible to receive our credit report for free each year.

If you haven't taken advantage of this, you should. The best way to do this is to request a report from one of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion or Equifax) every three months. Each bureau is required by law to provide your report for free once every 12 months.

You can see where you stand in terms of payment history, credit worthiness and delinquency. You can also double-check to make sure all your information is accurate and which accounts require immediate attention.

There are a lot of sites that offer you access to your report. Some promise 3-in-1 reporting, access to your score and other incentives. Most of these, though, will not get you your report for free. Many reel in customers with "trial offers" which quickly balloon into big monthly payments. is a centralized site from the three credit bureaus set up specifically to provide your report. You don't need a credit card to register but you will, obviously, need to provide your Social Security Number.

If you haven't done it yet, do it soon. If only I could go back and tell "young Wagner" the same thing.

Good luck.