Credit is important in many aspects of our lives. Good credit increases the likelihood of being able to borrow money and obtain low interest rates. It also influences decisions made by insurance companies, landlords, utility companies and employers. There’s no better way to monitor your credit situation than by regularly analyzing your credit report, and fortunately, federal law guarantees you the right to a free annual credit report.
Although the procedure itself is fairly straightforward, not knowing the official methods for requesting a credit report and/or how often you can receive a report from the same company can make the exercise more daunting than it actually is. If you follow these steps, you shouldn’t have any problems.
- There are three ways to request your credit report: by phone, by mail or online.
- Make sure you have all the necessary personal information to hand, including your Social Security number, before you apply.
- Although you can request a credit report from all three credit reporting companies simultaneously, a better strategy is to request one report at a time from a different company every four months.
- Once you’ve received your credit report, carefully check your personally identifiable information (PII), credit accounts, credit inquiries, as well as public records and collections, for errors or suspicious activity.
- Once you know how to request your credit report and what to check when reading it, be sure to repeat the process at regular intervals.
1. Determine How You Want to Request Your Report
You’re entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can request and analyze your credit report in one of the following ways:
Online: Complete the online request process at AnnualCreditReport.com, the official government site for requesting a credit report.
By telephone: call (877) 322-8228.
By mail: download and complete the annual credit report request form.The completed form should be sent to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
Courtesy of AnnualCreditReport.com.
Warning: Beware of suspicious sites offering free credit reports, especially those that imitate the name and design of AnnualCreditReport.com. Some sites will only give you a free report if you purchase their products or services, while others will give you a free report and then charge you for services that you’ll have to cancel. To make sure you’re accessing the right website, type www.AnnualCreditReport.com in your web browser’s address line, or visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website.If you find a link to AnnualCreditReport.com on an untrusted website or in an e-mail, do not click on it.
You are also entitled to additional free credit reports if any of the following situations apply to you:
- If you have received a notice of credit, insurance or employment denial or other adverse action based on a credit report, you are entitled to a free report from the credit reporting company identified in the notice. You must request this report within 60 days of receiving the notice.
- You believe your file is incorrect due to fraud.
- You have requested a credit report from a national credit reporting company as part of an initial fraud alert (you can request two free copies for an extended fraud alert).
- You are unemployed and intend to apply for a job within 60 days of the date of your application.
- You are a welfare recipient.
- Your state law provides for a free credit report.
2. Have Your Personal Information Ready
To request a credit report, you’ll need to provide a number of personal details, in particular your full name, date of birth, postal address, social security number (SSN) and (if you’ve moved within the last two years) your previous postal address.
Additional information may be required to process your request, in which case the consumer credit reporting company from which you requested the credit report will contact you by mail. As this information is used to identify you as part of the application process, omitting any information when applying by post may delay your application.
While most of this information should be familiar to you, some details (such as your social security number and previous mailing address) may be more difficult to remember. While you can simply take a break from filling out an application form by mail or online, not having all this information at hand when applying by phone can slow down the application process or force you to start over later.
When you request your credit report online, you’ll be asked a number of security questions about your finances, which only you should be able to answer (for example, when you took out a specific car loan, how much your mortgage payments are, etc.). As these questions vary from person to person, it can be difficult to prepare properly. Note that if you request your credit report by mail or telephone, you may not have to answer the security questions.
3. Make a Request for Your Credit Report
Once you’ve chosen how you’d like to request a credit report and prepared all your personal information, it’s time to make or send your request. You can request a report from all three companies at the same time, or request one at a time. In the latter case, by spacing your report requests with each company (for example, first Equifax, then Experian four months later, followed by TransUnion after another four months, and so on), you’ll be able to regularly monitor the health of your credit over time, at no cost to you. Once you’ve received your free annual credit report from one company, you can always request another from the same agency, although you may be charged up to $13.50 for each subsequent report until 12 months have passed since the previous request.
4. Read Your Credit Report Closely for Errors
Once you’ve received your credit report, it’s essential to read it carefully to verify that all the following information is correct:
- Personally identifiable information (PII): Your name, address, social security number, date of birth and business information.
- Credit accounts: type of account (credit card, auto loan, mortgage, etc.), date account(s) opened, credit limit or loan amount, balance of account(s) and payment history (i.e. whether you paid on time).
- Credit inquiries: list of all persons who have consulted your credit file in the last two years, including simple and complex inquiries. When you apply for a loan, you authorize the lender to request a copy of your credit file.
- Public records and collections: credit agencies may collect information from public records of state and municipal courts, including bankruptcies. In addition, if you have outstanding debts that have been turned over to a collection agency, this will also appear in your credit report.
If you find errors on your credit report, you can dispute them by contacting the credit reporting company concerned and the company that provided the incorrect information (also known as the seller). You must explain in writing what the error is, why it is wrong and include copies of the documents that prove your claim.
Please note that although your credit report is used to calculate your credit scores, the information contained in your report does not include the scores themselves.
Your credit scores are created by different companies or creditors, who may have different scoring systems. You can obtain your credit scores from different sources, for example by paying them to the three main credit bureaus.
5. Repeat the Process at Regular Intervals
Once you know how to request and read your credit report, it’s essential to repeat the above steps at regular intervals to continually monitor your credit situation. Not only will this help you keep track of your credit, it will also make you more alert to potential problems or errors. As we’ve already mentioned, you can easily do this by spacing out the mailing of your free annual credit report throughout the year from each of the three main credit information companies.
How Can You Get a Free Annual Credit Report?
There are three ways to request your free annual credit report:
- Online: you can request a copy directly from AnnualCreditReport.com.
- By phone: call (877) 322-8228
- By mail: Download and send the completed Annual Credit Report Request form to : Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
What Is the Best Website to Get a Credit Report?
AnnualCreditReport.com is the official government site for requesting your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (i.e. Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).
Does Requesting Your Free Annual Credit Report Result in a Hard Inquiry?
Requesting a copy of your credit report is an informal inquiry. Unlike hard inquiries, informal inquiries do not affect your credit rating and are not visible to potential creditors. They are visible only to you, and will remain on your credit file for 24 months.
The Bottom Line
Although it’s only a five-step procedure, there are enough rules, exceptions and bad-faith agents that, if you don’t know what to expect, applying for a free credit report can be confusing, to say the least. Nevertheless, by determining the method and timing of requesting your credit report that best suits your needs, you’ll find it much easier to monitor your credit history and, in so doing, protect your financial health.