Getting a free credit report may sound too good to be true, but it’s not. In fact, it’s the law—and you’re entitled to not just one, but three. You may request a free credit report from each of the three main credit reporting agencies once every 12 months. And the process of ordering your free credit report is quite simple.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- How to order a free credit report
- Steps to order a free credit report online
- Should you order one, two or three credit reports?
- What to watch out for when ordering a free credit report
- What are credit bureaus? What are credit reporting agencies?
- Why are credit reports important?
- How to fix credit report errors
- Where’s my credit score?
- What is the FACT Act?
How to order a free credit report
There are three ways to request and review your free credit report:
- Online: www.annualcreditreport.com
- Phone: Call 877-322-8228
- Mail: Print and complete the Annual Credit Report Request form and mail it to the address on the form
Steps to order a free credit report online
The steps to ordering a free credit report are straightforward, particularly if you order your report online. It all starts at www.annualcreditreport.com.
- At the website, click on the button, “Request your free credit reports”
- Fill out the online form with the personal information requested
- Pick the reports you want—one, two or all three—from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion
- Answer the resulting questions, to verify your identity, for each credit report requested
Should you order one, two or three credit reports?
How many credit reports should you order? Federal law allows you to receive one credit report every 12 months from each of the three major consumer reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Are you planning a major purchase in the near future? If so, you may want to request all three credit reports now to ensure there aren’t any mistakes on them that you need to dispute or correct. Each credit reporting agency obtains information from different sources, so the content in each agency’s credit report may differ. Even if different, they may all still be accurate.
If you’re not planning a major purchase, it may make sense to order them over time, say, one every four months. That way, you may be able to spot changes—both expected and otherwise—over the course of the year.
Each time you order a credit report, mark your calendar for 12 months later, so you’ll know when it’s time to order a new one from that agency. In the meantime, you can monitor your monthly credit score using credit check websites to track your progress.
Credit report scams: What to watch out for when ordering a free credit report
Some companies want to sell you credit reports or have you sign up for a service when all you want is your free credit report. Don’t be fooled. Type “free credit report” in an online search tool, and you’ll see many links vying for your click. Some include such search-results language as, “free” or “official site.”
The best way to ensure you’re going to the correct site for the free credit reports to which the law entitles you is to type www.annualcreditreport.com into the address bar of your browser.
What are credit bureaus? What are credit reporting agencies?
Credit bureaus and credit reporting agencies are different terms for the same companies. In the U.S., there are three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Each collects information about you and how you use credit. They also keep track of whether you’ve filed for bankruptcy or if any business has turned your unpaid debt over to a collections agency. You can learn more about each of the companies at their websites:
Why are credit reports important?
Credit reports are important because they play a key role in important aspects of your life. Whether you’re applying for a job, looking to rent a house or apartment, or wanting to take out a loan or open a credit card, the decision-makers may look at your credit report to help determine whether you’re someone they can trust.
Credit reports, which include identifying information, such as your name and Social Security number, can also be used to monitor certain kinds of identity theft. By regularly reviewing your credit reports, you can ensure that the information found in them is accurate. If you spot unfamiliar activity on any of your reports, it could be a sign of identity theft—that a criminal has used your personal information to open a credit account or take out a loan in your name.
The negative information in a credit report covers a lot of ground. It can include tax liens, judgments, and bankruptcies obtained from public records. These can give lenders, prospective employers, and others a view of your financial status and obligations.
Generally speaking, a credit reporting agency can report negative information about you for seven years—but there are exceptions. For instance, information about a lawsuit or court judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer. Credit agencies can keep bankruptcies on your report for up to 10 years and unpaid tax liens for 15 years.
How to fix credit report errors
Given the importance of the information in your credit reports to so many aspects of your life, you want that information to be error-free. Once you receive your free credit reports, you’ll want to review them thoroughly, looking for any possible mistakes.
What kind of mistakes should you look for? They could include outdated information such as a late payment you made more than seven years ago, the period after which credit reporting agencies should remove such information from your credit report. You might also look out for any collections accounts that you paid off, but that still show as unpaid, or something as simple as an incorrect name.
If you find a mistake, you can take steps to fix it—through either the company with whom you did business that made the error or working directly with the credit reporting agencies. Disputing a credit report error isn’t necessarily difficult, but it can take a bit of effort. We spell out what’s involved in our article, “How to Dispute a Credit Report in 4 Easy Steps.”
Where’s my credit score?
If you’re looking for your credit score, you won’t find it on your credit report—even though credit scores are derived using information from your credit report. If you’re wondering where to find yours, there are four main ways, according to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau:
- Credit card or loan statement
Not all such statements include credit scores, but yours might.
- Nonprofit credit counselor or HUD-approved housing counselor
- Credit score service
Be careful with this one. Some sites may ask you to sign up and pay a monthly subscription fee after a possible “free” trial period.
- Buy a score
The credit report agencies, FICO, and other services will sell you a credit score, but don’t be tricked into purchasing other services the companies offer at the same time.
There are also companies that provide free credit scores if you sign up for their services. In return, they’ll send you such things as credit card and loan offers from which they benefit if you accept the offer. Just know that you’re providing them personal information that they use to identify offers to send you.
What is the FACT Act?
The FACT Act is shorthand for a federal law known as the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003. Among other things, this law gives you the right to a free credit report each year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. It also says you’re entitled to purchase—for a reasonable fee—a credit score along with information about how the agency calculates your score.
Want more information?
If you have additional questions or simply want more information about free credit reports, check out the Federal Trade Commission’s Credit Report FAQs.
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