If you wanted to get a copy of your credit report, would you know where to turn to? And did you know that you’re entitled to a free copy of your report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year?
That's right. You don’t have to spend a dime on obtaining the reports because a federal law known as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide you with free reports annually upon your request.
But what’s the big deal about knowing what’s in those reports, anyway? The information they contain has a big impact when it comes time to buy a home, a car, or open a credit card account. A solid credit report can translate into better interest rates on loans and more favorable consideration from credit card companies.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act is aimed at promoting the accuracy and privacy of information that’s on file with these credit reporting companies. The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces this law with respect to credit reporting companies.
Creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses use credit reports to evaluate applications for credit. They’re supplied with such information as how you pay your bills, whether you pay them on time, and whether you’ve filed for bankruptcy or have been sued.
It's important to review your reports from each of the agencies to ensure the information is accurate. Otherwise, incorrect information could be released that negatively impacts your credit worthiness. If you discover inaccurate information, report it immediately to the credit reporting company where you obtained the report.
For instance, you may have made on-time credit card payments to a company until the debt was paid in full, but one of the reports might incorrectly show that you were delinquent with payments several times. Under such circumstances, you would need to contact the credit reporting agency or agencies directly to correct the information.
Reviewing your reports annually will also help protect you from identity theft. Evidence that your identity is being used by someone else might include purchases you never made or credit card accounts you never opened.
Fortunately, there’s a straightforward way to order your free reports. Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax have a central website – www.annualreport.com – where you can place your order. Or you can call 1-877-322-8228. There is also a request form that you can fill out and mail to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Click on this link — Annual Credit Report Request Form – to access the document.
You can order your report from each of the credit reporting companies one at a time, or you can order reports from all three agencies at the same time. But remember, you can only do this for free once a year.
Reports ordered online should be accessible immediately on the website. For requests made by phone or by mail, the report should be mailed to you within 15 days.
Be aware that imposter websites are out there that claim to offer free credit reports, free credit monitoring, or free credit scores, but end up charging for those services after a trial period. These sites are not part of the legally required free annual credit report program.