Get Your Free Credit Reports Online
In the wake of the massive Equifax data breach, many people are asking how to get free credit reports, so they can check for fraudulent entries. So is it true that you can get THREE credit reports every year for free? YES! Read on to learn how it's done, how to avoid the potential pitfalls, and pick up some tips on avoiding scams and identity theft...
What's The Deal on Free Credit Reports?
Yes, Virginia, there is a free credit report clause. Back in December 2003, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) was signed into law, which gives every U.S. consumer the right to receive a copy of their credit report free of charge once a year.
A credit report provides you with all of the information in your credit file, which is maintained by consumer reporting companies Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. This is the information that is provided by them in a consumer report requested by a third party, such as a lender, landlord or insurance company. This information includes mortgage, credit card and loan balances, along with your payment history. A credit report also includes a record of everyone who has received a consumer report about you within a certain period of time.
The new reality is that huge data breaches are occuring on a regular basis. Department stores, insurance companies, banks, and even the Equifax credit bureau have been hacked, exposing the personal information of untold millions of consumers to shadowy figures in the online underworld. (See my recent article Equifax Takes The Data Breach Cake.)
So the chances that your name, address, phone number, birth date, social security number, and even credit card information might be compromised are pretty high. Those pieces of information are all that's needed for criminals to open fraudulent accounts in your name. That's why I recommend that you look at your credit report at least once a year, to make sure the information contained there is correct. Errors in your credit file could affect your ability to get a mortgage, rent an apartment, or apply for a credit card.
And that's not the worst of it. If you have items appearing on your credit report that you do not recognize, such as consumer loans and store credit cards, it could indicate that identity theft is taking place. (See also: TEN TIPS: Identity Theft Protection)
Three for Free
Credit monitoring services will keep tabs on this for a fee and there are services that offer to supply your credit report for a fee. But really, there's no reason to pay for this information!
I should mention that there is one other credit reporting agency called Innovis. They do not participate at the AnnualCreditReport.com site, but you can get a free credit report once yearly from Innovis at https://www.innovis.com/personal/creditReport.
And here's a practical tip that was pointed out by several readers: Consumers in the USA are actually entitled to get one free report a year -- from each of the credit bureaus. So you can can actually get three or 4 reports per year. If you request your credit report from a different credit bureau every 3-4 months, you can monitor them more closely, rather than just once a year.
Singing, Dancing and Acting
AnnualCreditReport.com was created by the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, in accordance with the FACT Act, to provide consumers with the ability to get a free credit report once every 12 months. It's the ONLY service authorized by the credit bureaus for this purpose. (Canadians: click here for credit report info.)
So don't confuse this with other "free credit report" offers that are advertised on radio, TV or online. I'm not saying those companies are pulling a scam, but they DO want to sell you additional services, such as credit monitoring, or identity theft protection. They won't tell you that you can get those credit reports absolutely free, with no strings attached.
And if you're not careful about reading the fine print, you can learn later that you're on the hook for monthly charges you didn't expect. See this NY Times article on The High Cost of a 'Free Credit Report' for more on that.
Credit Report vs. Credit Score
Don't confuse your credit REPORT with your credit SCORE. A credit score (sometimes called a FICO score) is simply a number ranging from 375 to 900, which is derived from the many types of information in a credit file. A credit score is used by a lender to help determine whether a person qualifies for a particular credit card, loan, or service.
Most credit scores estimate the risk a company incurs by lending a person money or providing them with a service –– specifically, the likelihood that the person will make payments on time in the next two to three years. Generally, the higher the score, the less risk the person represents.
Your credit score may be negatively affected if:
Only time, and avoiding the things in the list above, will cause your credit score to increase. Some banks and credit card companies will provide your credit score for free, and there are also a few websites where you can get that information as well. See my article How to Get Your Free Credit Score.
Got something to say on the topic of free credit reports or related issues? Post your comment below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 26 Sep 2017
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Get Your Free Credit Reports Online (Posted: 26 Sep 2017)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved