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Do you  wish you could see your credit reports? You’re in luck! Under federal law, you can get free credit reports from national consumer reporting agencies once a year. The major credit reporting agencies that must provide these reports are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. In some cases, you can get more than one copy a year. And you can also get reports from agencies you probably haven’t heard of. We’ll tell you about those in a moment.

But don’t be surprised if you find your credit reports a bit confusing. That’s because, while they contain information about your accounts, they don’t explain what that information means. Is it good? Bad? Neutral? It can be hard to tell.

That’s where your credit scores come in. A credit score helps you understand how lenders and other companies are likely to view your credit. You can get a free credit score using a services such as Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card. After you check your score, take a careful look at the factors that affect it, such as your debt, the age of your credit history or the mix of accounts you carry.

Requesting Your Free Credit Reports

AnnualCreditReport.com is the website for ordering free credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Learn more about ordering your free credit reports. Some experts recommend “staggering” your reports so you get one from each of the three major agencies every four months. The problem with that approach is that the three main credit bureaus don’t share information with each other, so if there is a mistake on one of your reports, it could take you months to find out. For that reason, the first time you get your reports it is a good idea to get all three.

Besides the major agencies, there are additional consumer reporting agencies that, by law, must provide you with copies of your report once a year upon request. These include agencies that report bank and checking account information such as:

  • ChexSystems, Certegy, and TeleCheck for banking and checking reports;
  • Verisk A-Plus reports and LexisNexis C.L.U.E. for reports about insurance claims;
  • First Advantage and The Work Number for background check reports;
  • MIB, Milliman IntelliScript and Ingenix MedPoint for medical and prescription history reports;
  • First Advantage, CoreLogic SafeRent and Tenant Data Services for rental screening reports.

To learn how to order these reports, read our series on specialty consumer reports. Not all of them will have a report about you. If you haven’t bounced a check or had any problems with your financial institution, for example, then you aren’t likely to have a report with ChexSystems, Certegy or TeleCheck.

Even More Free Reports

You may be entitled to additional free credit reports in certain circumstances:

  • State law requires it in Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and Vermont.
  • If you are unemployed and seeking work.
  • If you have been turned down or charged more for credit or insurance.
  • If you are a victim of fraud.

Understanding Your Credit Report

Once you get your credit reports, the fun begins! Take your time going through them. It may seem overwhelming if you haven’t seen them before. If you can’t understand something in your reports, the credit reporting agency must provide you with an explanation. You can also get answers to questions about your credit reports at Credit.com.

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