Every consumer in the U.S. has the right to a free credit report.
The law says you can request a free report once every 12 months from each of the three national credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
However, there are a lot of web sites out there that offer you a free report, and they wind up charging you money.
Don’t be fooled.
There’s only one official place to get a truly free credit report that’s authorized and guaranteed by law: the web site AnnualCreditReport.com.
AnnualCreditReport.com was created by the credit reporting companies under a law called the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Get your free credit reports now at www.AnnualCreditReport.com, or call 1-877-322-8228.
Once you receive a free report from a credit reporting company, you must wait one year before asking that company for another free report. Since there are three national credit reporting companies, if you stagger your requests to get a report from a different company every four months, you can essentially monitor your credit all year long.
Why should I check my credit report?
Your credit report has a huge impact on your life. It’s a list of your accounts and credit history. That includes how much you owe on your credit cards, your mortgage, and other loans — and whether you pay your bills on time.
People use your credit report to make big decisions about you. When you apply for a loan, the lender will check your report to decide whether to approve you, and how much to charge you. If you’re applying for a job, buying insurance, or renting a home, someone may check your credit information to see how much of a credit risk you are.
And if a criminal steals your identity to charge items under your name, a credit report is one of the best ways to spot the problem and fix it.
Credit reports can contain big mistakes, sometimes because of simple human error. Those mistakes can really hurt you. That’s why it’s so important to check your report every year and make sure it’s accurate.
Okay, I’ve got my free credit report. Now what?
Read your entire report carefully, line by line, to see if all of the information about you is correct and up-to-date.
If you find a mistake, contact the credit reporting company immediately. You should also contact the source that furnished the incorrect information to the company.
The National Consumer Law Center recommends sending your requests to the credit reporting company in writing, rather than just calling the company or relying on the company’s web site. The center reminds you to keep a file of all communications sent to and received from the company. The company will provide you with a dispute form, which may offer a “check box” list of dispute choices and limited space to describe your problem, so the NCLC encourages you to include additional written details and documents to make your point.
For detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to fix mistakes on your credit report, read this free guide from the Federal Trade Commission here.
Besides looking for mistakes in your credit report, you need to check it for accounts that you don’t recognize. Is there an account that you have no memory of opening? You could be a victim of identity theft. That’s when someone uses your personal information to open a credit account and run up unpaid bills under your name. The FTC has a free site that tells you how to avoid ID theft and clean up your record here.
When I get my free credit report, do I get a free credit score, too?
Unfortunately, no. The law guarantees you a free credit report every 12 months, but the report doesn’t include your credit score. If you want your credit score, you usually have to pay a fee or hand over your credit card and billing information for a “trial offer,” and you may wind up with a score that some lenders don’t use.
Your credit score is a rating based on the information in your credit report. The score is a three-digit number, usually ranging from 300-900 Each of the three big credit reporting companies produces its own score for you.
A lot of people — lenders, bankers, insurers, landlords, and others — may look at your credit score to decide how reliable you are to when it comes to managing money and paying debts. A high credit score suggests that you’re less of a credit risk, and it can mean you’ll get better rates.
If you’re denied credit because of a low score, the law says you must receive a free copy of that score. But in many cases, if you want your credit scores, you will be charged for them.
We want to change that. Sign our petition to tell our leaders that we should be able to get a free copy of our credit scores — the same credible scores that lenders see — once a year, as part of our annual credit reports.
Tell Us Your Experience
We want to hear from you.
Did you get a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com? Was it simple? Are there ways it could be improved?
If you found a mistake on your credit report and had to take steps to fix it, we’d like to hear about that experience, too.
Please share your story with us here.