Whether you believe you’ve been a victim of fraud, need to check errors, or are preparing to take out a loan and want to know what lenders will see when they pull your credit, it’s important to know how to access your free credit reports.
Credit.com provides consumers with an easy-to-understand snapshot of their credit, along with two of their credit scores, when they sign up for a free account. Frequently people have seen changes in either their credit scores or the information in their Credit.com account and want to learn more. In this situation, they should definitely take a look at their actual file. It’s their right, and it’s free.
Under federal law, the three major credit agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — are each required to provide consumers with one free copy of their credit report each year. Here are the steps to get yours and some things to consider along the way.
How Do You Get a Copy of Your Credit Report?
By visiting the website AnnualCreditReport.com, you can request your credit files from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can either order and view each copy online, or request that a copy be mailed to you. You’ll have to provide personal information and answer security questions to verify your identity when you order. (Getting your free credit report does not hurt your credit rating, nor does getting your credit score at Credit.com.)
It’s a good idea print a copy if you find you need to dispute information. (We explain how to dispute credit report errors here.) If you choose to download your copy, make sure your computer is protected by up-to-date antivirus and malware protection programs. You don’t want your information to fall into the wrong hands!
If you prefer not to order your copy online, you can order by phone by calling 1-877-322-8228. You can also request your file by mail, which will require you to print the order form online and mail it to the agencies with identifying information.
Do All Three Credit Bureaus Have the Same Information?
Because these private companies do not share information with each other, each one may tell a slightly different story about your finances. That includes information about your credit cards, banks, mortgage companies and other lenders. Telephone and utility companies, for instance, also send information to credit bureaus, which can wind up on your file. (In general, though, these non-lending organizations tend to only report late payments.)
Some experts recommend staggering requests for your reports so you get one from each agency every four months. But because these agencies don’t share information with each other, if there is a mistake on one of your files and you wait several months to order it, you might not catch it right away.
How to Get Extra Copies
In some situations, you may be entitled to even more copies of your report at no cost. If you are a victim of fraud, or you are unemployed and seeking work, for example, you can get copies more frequently without having to pay for them. In addition, some states’ laws provide residents additional opportunities to request free copies of their credit files.
If you’d like to regularly check your credit reports as they are updated, you will most likely have to subscribe to a credit monitoring service, for which there may be a recurring fee.