The government website, AnnualCreditReport.com, is the official website you should go to receive a copy of your free credit report.
Several years ago, it was common for companies to advertise “free credit reports” on TV and radio spots. Most of the offers were bait and switch. Sign up, get a free credit report and score, then see your credit card charged $10-$20 every month after that if you didn’t cancel on time. Thankfully, the Federal Trade Commission now requires credit bureaus and credit monitoring services to market credit reports differently than previously.
Consumers who visit these free credit report sites will now be greeted with a large notice at the top of the page informing them they can receive a free credit report from annualcreditreport.com. The link is required to be clickable so that customers can easily visit the site without having to type anything into their web browser.
The notice should read as follows, or similar:
“THIS NOTICE IS REQUIRED BY LAW. Read more at FTC.GOV. You have the right to a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com or 877-322-8228, the ONLY authorized source under federal law.”
Your Credit Report is Very Important – And You Should Check it Frequently
Your credit report and score play a big role in determining your ability to receive a loan, the interest rate you will pay, your ability to rent a house/apartment, buy a cellphone plan, and possibly even get a job or security clearance. The need is there, but what many of these companies don’t want you to know is that you can get a copy of your credit report for free through AnnualCreditReport.com.
Do you know the difference between your credit score and credit report? Your credit report is a history of your credit, while your credit score is derived from a weighted formula based upon your credit history.
How to Get a Free Credit Report from AnnualCreditReport.com
By law, the three large credit bureaus are required to provide you with a free credit report if you request they do so.
The three credit bureaus are:
The AnnualCreditReport.com website was set up to comply with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act), legislation that requires the credit bureaus to provide consumers with a copy of their credit report once per year.
It is the only official site to get a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
How to Get Your Free Credit Report
You can request your free credit report online, over the phone, or via mail. To get your free copy of a credit report online, head on over to https://www.annualcreditreport.com/. Then select your state from the drop-down box, click “get report” and fill out your information. You will need your previous address if you have lived in your current residence for less than 2 years.
Select the credit bureau(s)
After completing your personal information you will be required to select which credit bureau you wish to receive your report from. You can select one or more credit bureaus. I chose the first option, TransUnion. At that point, I was transferred to the TransUnion website.
Watch out for the upsell!
The legislation only requires the credit bureaus to provide a free copy of your credit report, not a free copy of your credit score. The credit bureaus are more than happy to give you a copy of your credit score if you are willing to pay for it. TransUnion owns the company TrueCredit, and you have the option of purchasing your credit score for $5.95. I checked my score about a year ago, and haven’t had any major changes in credit, so I declined – I’m only interested in my credit report at this time.
Fill out your information
You will need to provide your personal information, including your name, DOB, SSN, address, etc. Once you enter your information you click return and your credit report will show up on the screen with the option to print. If you opt to print your credit report, be sure to select the option to only show the last four digits of your SSN when you are filling out your personal info – that way you aren’t leaving your full SSN on any paper that could be seen or stolen.
Get a free copy of your credit report every four months
You can receive a free copy of your credit report from each bureau every 12 months. Since there are three bureaus, you can stagger your requests to receive a report every four months so you have better access to recent information. It’s easy to keep track of which bureau you use and when you need to request another free report – just set up calendar reminders on Google Calendar, MS Outlook, or another calendar system.
How To Make Corrections On Your Credit Report
Consumers must make it a point to routinely check their credit reports and verify the information contained here is accurate. If inaccurate information is being reported, it is up to the consumer to take the necessary steps to rectify the problem. Here we look at what you can do if the information on your credit report is inaccurate.
Spot the error.
In order to fix an error, you must first be able to spot an error. To do this you must have access to your credit report. Each year, you have the opportunity to request a free credit report from each of the major credit bureaus.
This means you have a minimum of three times per year when you can request your credit report, free of charge, making it possible to remain abreast of the information contained there. Visit annualcreditreport.com, the only official website offering free annual credit reports to request your copy. Once you receive your credit report, carefully go over the information contained there, looking for any discrepancies or inaccurate information.
The error could be anything from a late payment, which wasn’t late to a debt you’ve already paid still listed on the report. Regardless of the error, you can majorly affect your overall credit score. It’s vital you have the error fixed as soon as possible, and it’s easier than you may think.
Dispute error with the credit reporting agency.
If you spot an error on your credit report, your next step is to contact the credit reporting agency to dispute the error. Do this in writing with a simple dispute letter. Be very specific in detailing the error and provide any documentation (copies, not original documents) that support your claim. Send this dispute letter to the credit reporting agency and be sure to use a tracking or delivery confirmation as proof they received your dispute letter. The credit reporting agency then has 30 days to investigate your claim and respond in writing with the results of the investigation.
Dispute error with the creditor.
Following the same steps mentioned above, contact the creditor or company supplying the inaccurate information disputing the credit report error. Again, do so in writing and provide copies of documentation that proves the information is incorrect. Creditors are required to notify the credit reporting agency that the information they are reporting has been disputed by the consumer.
A lot of people will skip reporting the error to the credit agency and will only report the error to the lender. These people assume skipping the credit bureau will save them both time and work. This could be a serious mistake. If you decide to only report the error to the lender, there is a chance you’ll miss the opportunity to get it corrected through the credit agency if the lender decides not to take any action.
If the credit reporting agency does not remove erroneous information, you can request that a statement of the dispute be added to your credit file. This gives you the opportunity to provide your side of the story to anyone who views your credit report in the future.
Check your credit report and score for changes.
Removing an error from your credit report can be done fairly quickly (sometimes within 30 days), but it may take a while to trickle down to your credit score. Be sure to wait at least a month or two before checking. Here are a few resources for a free credit score.
Keep records of everything.
Depending on the error and how complex it is, the whole process can take a long time. One important thing to remember is to keep all of the documentation. Make sure you don’t lose anything and keep an extra copy of everything. The best practice is to keep a folder that is dedicated to the error report. It makes it easier to keep everything together. If the error ever has to go to court (hopefully it won’t), it’s going to prevent you from having to scramble to find any files or documents.
Remember it is your responsibility to make sure the information on your credit report is accurate and if errors are made, you must take the initiative to correct these errors. The credit reporting agency compiles the information it receives from reporting companies and presents this information on your credit report. They do not verify this information beforehand, however, they are required to investigate claims of incorrect information and follow the necessary steps to determine if an error has been made.
Regularly checking your credit score is one of the best habits you can get into. Your credit score is going to impact a lot of different areas of your life. Even a simple error on your credit report can play a huge role in the rates you get for a loan or even your chances of being approved for a loan.
Not only can getting regular credit reports to help ensure there are no errors on your credit score, but it can also protect your identity. There are millions of people who fall victim to identity theft. There are plenty of tools you can buy which will constantly monitor your credit score, but most of those tools can’t catch small errors. Nothing beats your eyes scanning the report. You get a free report every year, you might as well take advantage of it.
What About a Free Copy of Your Credit Score?
Unfortunately, the legislation does not cover a free copy of your credit score with your free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. And your credit score is the number that is actually used by lenders to determine your loan eligibility and interest rates.
You can get a copy of your free credit score from some companies, but it may not be your FICO credit score, which is only provided by MyFICO. Here are some options:
Get a truly free credit score – no trials, no gimmicks.
You can also get a free credit score with no credit card needed from Credit Karma and Credit Sesame. Both of these companies offer truly free credit scores which are based on information from the major credit bureaus. They do not require you to provide a credit card number, and they never charge for their service.
You can also get a copy of your credit score from many banks, and even some credit card issuers.
You will note that all of these companies offer a free credit score and a copy of your credit report. However, receiving your credit score requires you to sign up for a free trial period for each respective company’s credit score monitoring service, generally ranging from $10-$15 per month. The free trial period ranges from 7 – 30 days, which is plenty of time to sign up for the service, get a free copy of your credit score, and cancel the service if you do not wish to continue monitoring your score.
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gina beringhaus says
For the past two years I’ve have been paying my credit cards on time and I’ve paying more than the minimun amount required. However, my credit score is still low -695. What else can I do to increase it? I would love to make it to the 800s because my credit was really bad years ago. I would appreciate your advise. Thank you. Gina
Gina, the most important thing you can do is pay your bills on time consistently – and even then, it takes time. Another important factor is your credit utilization, which is the amount of credit you are using compared to how much you have available. For example, using $10,000 of credit when you have $50,000 available is better than using $25,000 of credit when you have $50,000 available. Here are more tips: How to improve your credit score.
Based on you saying ‘more than the minimum’, I get the distinct impression that you’re not paying them in full. If that’s true, then your credit utilization is probably your biggest hitter. As Ryan said, the more you carry, the bigger of a risk you are at having debt problems (and that hurts your score). Don’t just pay your bills, pay them off!
It’s the best thing you can do not just for your score, but for your finances… go ahead, and look at the money you’re paying ever month in interest, and imagine being able to put that away into savings or investments, or spending it on something other than interest.
Ryan @ Planting Dollars says
Thanks for the post, I was a bit ignorant on this topic as I didn’t know the difference between Report and Score before this. Hadn’t really needed to look it up in the past and had banker friends who would simply tell me my score if I wanted to know.
Your credit score and/or report are good to know – especially if you are making a major purchase in the near future or if you may have been exposed to identity theft.
I have to wonder if your banker friend was able to mark your credit inquiries as ‘soft’ (informational, not seeking to extend you credit) or whether they came across as ‘hard’. If ‘hard’, every time he did it it actually temporarily dinged your credit a little.
“Good advice, I’m a fan of anyone who promotes Annual Credit Report. I wish more people knew about it. ”
And Ryan, I’d love you to do a follow-up on ‘the 4th credit bureau’ (Innovis) and the, oh, probably dozen other consumer reporting agencies out there who you can also get free reports from.
“Those of you who check your credit report every two weeks: why? What is wrong with you?”
The only reason to do this is if you have an active concern about identify theft for some specific reason (your info was recently compromised, house broken into, wallet lost, etc). It *is* a good service to be available, but very few people should have any use for it.
Good advice, I’m a fan of anyone who promotes Annual Credit Report. I wish more people knew about it.
There is almost no reason to sign up for any of the manipulative, expensive “credit monitoring” services when you can get your 3 free credit bureau reports once per year on that site.
That’s all you need. Those of you who check your credit report every two weeks: why? What is wrong with you?
If you’re that desperately reliant on credit for existence, you need to re-evaluate your financial situation.
Less focus on the credit score, and greater focus on building up the bank account. Ideally, you wouldn’t need credit at all to make purchases, and would only use it for HUGE purchases such as a home or apartment. Credit should be used for responsible leverage, not for everyday purchases. And it certainly shouldn’t become an obsession.
A number of years ago, before I knew better, I got myself enrolled in a credit monitoring service to get my free credit report and score. I stayed enrolled for well over a year and received nothing for my monthly fee. No updated credit reports and no more scores. Cancelling was very difficult. I had to navitage a internet and phone maze to finally reach someone who would cancel my membership. In my personal opinion, it’s a lot less hassle to get your credit reports at Annual Credit Report and just pay for your score if you really need it.
Sorry to hear you had such a bad experience. From what I understand, several of those companies have been sued by consumer groups and/or the FTC has stepped in and they are now much easier to cancel