When was the last time you reviewed your free credit report? If it’s been awhile, it may be in your best interest to do so as credit reports sometimes contain errors or fraudulent information. In fact, “Of all the complaints posted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website in 2016, the highest percentage were complaints about credit reporting,” notes MarketWatch.
Furthermore, the information contained in your file determines your credit score, which is used by lenders and creditors to gauge your creditworthiness. And you don’t want to be perceived as a high credit risk due to errors as it will result in you paying more for credit.
The good news is you can get your credit report in a jiffy without spending a dime. Keep reading to learn more:
How do I order my free credit report?
You can order a free copy of your credit report by:
- Visiting AnnualCreditReport.com
- Calling 1-877-322-8228
- Submitting a written request to Annual Credit Report Request Service at P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. To do so, you’ll need to send in the Annual Credit Report Request Form.
If you order your report online, it will be accessible immediately, assuming your identity can be confirmed. Otherwise, you should receive a copy within 15 days of initiating the request via phone or within the same timeframe once AnnualCreditReport.com receives the completed form.
What information will I need to provide?
When ordering your credit report, you’ll need to provide your:
- Name, date of birth, and Social Security number
- Current address, and possibly your prior address if you have relocated in the past two years
You may also be prompted to answer other personal questions related to your identity or financial information. Don’t be alarmed as this information will be used to confirm your identity.
Should I order all three reports at once?
In a perfect world, all three reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion would contain identical information. But since they are separate entities or reporting agencies, the information that appears may vary.
For this reason, some financial experts recommend that you retrieve all three reports at once, review them, and compare for accuracy. Others recommend that you request one report every four months so you’re staying on top of your credit file throughout the year.
How often can I get a free copy of my credit report?
Per the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus on an annual basis. However, certain circumstances may allow you to retrieve your report more frequently. These include:
- Being denied for credit, insurance, or employment because of your credit report
- Receiving welfare benefits
- Being victimized by identity theft
- Being unemployed and planning to seek employment in the next 60 days
In order to obtain your free report, you must submit a written request within 60 days.
Are free copies of my credit report available through each of the credit bureau’s websites?
Unfortunately, free reports are only available through AnnualCreditReport.com with the exception of the exceptional circumstances listed above.
Otherwise, you have the option to visit each of the credit bureau’s websites or call their customer service hotline and request your report, but a fee will apply.
What’s in my credit report?
At this point, you may be wondering exactly what’s in your credit report. While the information appearing in reports from the three bureaus may vary, each report will contain the following components:
- Personal information
- Credit accounts
- Credit inquiries
- Public records
- Collection accounts
- Personal Statements
Check out this comprehensive guide to learn more about how to read your credit report.
Can I get a free credit score, too?
Unfortunately, your FICO score cannot be accessed free of charge through AnnualCreditReport.com. However, you can visit each of the credit bureau’s websites to request your credit score for a fee. Applicable fees are listed below:
- Experian: $24.99/month with a monthly subscription to Experian CreditWorks ($4.99 for the first month)
- Equifax: $15.95 for your Equifax Credit Score and Report
- TransUnion: $19.95/month with a monthly subscription to TransUnion’s credit monitoring service
Select financial institutions also offer free credit scores to consumers via their online portal or account statements.
You can also view your FAKO score, a variation of the FICO model, through credit-monitoring websites, like Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and Credit.com.
What if the information in my report is inaccurate or untimely?
Per the FCRA, you have a right to request a formal investigation of inaccurate or untimely information in your credit report. And for many in this boat, hiring a credit repair company to handle the disputes may seem like the best option. But as the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website notes, “anything a credit repair company can do legally, you can do for yourself at little or no cost.“
To initiate a dispute, you’ll need to draft up a dispute letter and gather any supporting documentation for submission to the credit bureaus. You’ll also need to notify the information furnisher about your dispute by submitting the same documentation you sent to the credit bureaus.
Expect to hear back within 30 days regarding the status of your dispute. Otherwise, the information in question must be deleted. (Inaccurate or untimely information can’t be substantiated by the information furnisher is usually removed relatively quickly).
You can get started by following the guidance found here. (note in Google Docs about this one)
However, you may want to solicit the services of a reputable credit repair company if you feel overwhelmed at the thought of filing a dispute or are pressed for time.
Can anyone access my credit report for free?
Absolutely not! According to the FCRA, “a consumer reporting agency may provide information about you only to people with a valid need — usually to consider an application with a creditor, insurer, employer, landlord, or other business.”
However, creditors and insurance providers may review your report to determine if you qualify for “prescreened” offers unless you opt-out. (You can be removed by calling 1-888-567-8688 or 1-888-5-OPTOUT). You should also know that employers cannot access your credit file unless you grant them permission to do so.
The bottom line
There are several ways to access your credit report without spending a dime. And by reviewing what’s inside on a consistent basis, you’ll be able to protect the solid credit history you’ve worked so hard to establish.