Get Your Free Credit Reports Online

Category: Finance

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.)

How to Get Free Credit Reports

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!

U.S. residents can request a free credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com online, by phone or by mail. If you request your annual credit report by phone or mail, it will be mailed within 15 days. However, you can receive a report immediately online. Click on this link to find information on how to request a free annual credit report online, by phone or mail.

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

TIP: Don't confuse your Credit REPORT with your Credit SCORE. Here's info on how to get a Free Credit Score, without getting ripped off.

Free Credit Report 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:

  • ... you've recently paid a bill more than 30 days late

  • ... you've had an account referred to collections

  • ... you have declared bankruptcy

  • ... the amount you owe on an account is close to the credit limit

  • ... you've applied for new credit recently

  • ... you have too many credit card accounts

  • ... you have loans from finance companies (not a bank or mortgage lender)

    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...

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    Most recent comments on "Get Your Free Credit Reports Online"

    (See all 21 comments for this article.)

    Posted by:

    Paul S
    26 Sep 2017

    Bob (or readers), there is a fourth Credit bureau, Innovis. Are they also required to provide a free report?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, I forgot to mention Innovis. They do not participate at the AnnualCreditReport.com site, but you can get a free credit report once yearly at https://www.innovis.com/personal/creditReport


    Posted by:

    RandiO
    26 Sep 2017

    I would rather NOT know my credit score and/or who asked for my credit report than allow the reporting agencies from knowing my latest and most current email address.
    What I really want to know is how to protect this information (both the score and the report) so that it is not shared, reported or divulged without prior authorization of the owner (=me).


    Posted by:

    hoophead
    26 Sep 2017

    We have our accounts frozen. Having said that, will we need to 'pay' to un-freeze to access them?


    Posted by:

    Ken Mitchell
    26 Sep 2017

    One thing you can do - shy of "freezing" your credit accounts - to protect yourself after the mega-ginormous Equifax hack is to request new credit cards with a different account number. Most credit card companies and banks are happy to do this for free.

    They will lock that account so that no further charges can be made, and send you a new card. Stagger your requests so that you still have at least one active credit card; don't request all new ones on the same day, or you'll find that none of your cards will work for a week or so.


    Posted by:

    hoophead
    26 Sep 2017

    P.S. Our accounts have been frozen for years, already.


    Posted by:

    SharonH
    26 Sep 2017

    I tried the Free Report site and ran up against problems. Apparently, they don't have the most current information or what they do have is just plain wrong. Such as--did I own a Subaru Legacy? No, it was another model, though still a Subaru. So that's counted as a wrong answer. Same with past addresses. Two of them applied--which one do they want? They must be basing their answers on information that is many years old. Just an observation....


    Posted by:

    Walter
    26 Sep 2017

    Just sign up for Credit Karma. They make their bucks by offering you credit cards and loans but their service is providing you with current copies of TransUnion and Equifax credit reports in a easily navigated fashion. They don't cost you a ding on your credit. They also alert you to changes. Now it's only two of the three, but generally things will show up on all three within a short span. I also froze my credit with all three agencies which costs $20 right now as equifax has to provide it for free.
    https://www.creditkarma.com/


    Posted by:

    Walter
    26 Sep 2017

    Yes, when you freeze your credit you have to pay for it (generally $10) and you have to pay to unfreeze it (also $10). You can usually unfreeze it completely or choose to unfreeze it for a period of time (also $10, but saves you having to pay to re-freeze it). Also if you are applying for something specific you can ask them what credit agency they use and only unfreeze that one.


    Posted by:

    Dan
    26 Sep 2017

    Just looked at the Request Yours Now site to get my credit score. It asks for my SS# and other pertinent information but it is not a secure site. This puts me in a position between a rock and a hard place. I would like to know the data transmitted is encrypted. Your thoughts.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Why do you say it's not a secure site?


    Posted by:

    David
    26 Sep 2017

    Dan, as has already been said, try Credit Karma. Several reputable consumer gurus recommend it, and I've used it for over a year.

    Also, the fees are different for the different bureaus. I think all of them waive fees if you can prove you're an ID theft victim, and some or all wave the fee for freezing and/or thawing if you're 65 or over. Check each site.


    Posted by:

    JP
    26 Sep 2017

    Here's a chart that lists the costs to freeze and unfreeze your credit, if any, for each state:

    https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/credit-freeze-information-by-state


    Posted by:

    Shelia
    26 Sep 2017

    What are the numbers to call to get your reports sent to you


    Posted by:

    Mark
    27 Sep 2017

    I live in Washington state and was able to freeze my credit with all 4 agencies for no
    charge. As I (and spouse) are retired with no debts, loans or mortgage we don't anticipate
    unfreezing. I still monitor our accounts on a daily basis.


    Posted by:

    olamoree
    27 Sep 2017

    Just tried all 3 agencies, individually, on AnnualCreditReport.com and ALL said that I had to apply via postal mail, including a LONG list of photocopies of documents with enlargements of small type! NONE would send me a report by eMail/OnLine. So much for that "However, you can receive a report immediately online." statement. Your experience may vary....


    Posted by:

    samg
    27 Sep 2017

    olamoree; Big E hacked my info. I wasn't able to get the free credit protection after applying and receiving and waiting the required time twice. Also they used a shady website to apply for the protection. So i consider they let me down twice. Like it or not they abused our accounts.
    Creditkarma, which i use, monitors accounts for change. So does my bank. That's about the only freebie the bank gives seniors. And freeze my accounts? A truck ran over my car's front end. It's been fixed but another car was what i was considering before the accident.


    Posted by:

    LadyLiberTEA
    27 Sep 2017

    Did I miss anything in my summary below?

    I. ID THEFT/ASSET FRAUD PREVENTION:
    1) Even if you don't use phone/internet banking, register all your accounts so someone else can't from stolen info if lacking your passwords (after keylogger almost stole IRA, we trust address book more than password apps)
    2) Maintain liftable SSN freezes at all credit bureaus (free to victims, and often to seniors)
    3) Online:
    a) 2-step log-in verification where offered
    b) change manual passwords quarterly
    c) Vanguard Investments/likely others block entry from IP addresses not recognized as clients--do yours know your IP, or are you on unsecured public wifi?
    d) set up maximum security on internet hardware and software firewalls/passwords/etc--Bob's archives
    e) check websites padlocked and not re-routed; open no unknown email/attachments/downloads; turn off device not x-out of malware
    4)Physical: Car contents/gloveboxes; Mailbox and Wastecans; Home interior traffic

    NOTIFICATION OF FINANCIAL FRAUD:
    1) Your email/voicemail Alert Settings with your institutions
    2) Your free or paid ID/Credit Monitoring Service alerts, and monthly report including no activity (mine free from AAA and now Equifax too since I was breached)
    3) Alternating your annual free credit reports from all the bureaus for your year-round checking


    Posted by:

    LadyLiberTEA
    27 Sep 2017

    Experian Tips: https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/after-the-equifax-breach-watch-out-for-phishing-scams/?ty=na&pc=crm_exp_0&cc=emm_c_m_pro_33580_mktftt_20170926_x_103


    Posted by:

    kevin
    28 Sep 2017

    At least a decade ago, I followed advice and froze my credit at all three major companies. Years later, I asked for my free credit report and ran into a strange problem: When I received the reports (one by one in the mail) two of the three had absolutely nothing about me at all, and the third mentioned just one thing that was extremely insignificant.

    I suppose one reason could be that I have had no credit-compromising slip-ups in my relatively simple life, and never needed to apply for loans. But even positive factors, like my long-term good standing and savings at several institutions, and my disciplined use of credit cards, did not appear on the reports either.

    Of course, I'm sure these agencies have plenty of data about me so I have to conclude that the freeze simply prevents anyone from even seeing it, including ME. As a rep at one of my local utilities put it (when I asked to change an account from an aging parent's name to mine), "Sorry, it appears like you don't even exist".

    But I'm wondering now whether this hidden info nevertheless became visible to hackers via the breach at Equifax. Anyone out there know what a freeze actually does for a person's EXISTING info, besides preventing new accounts from being opened?


    Posted by:

    GL
    29 Sep 2017

    Just recently, as in the last 3 or 4 years, EQUIFAX
    on annualcreditreport would NOT allow viewing of the report online-it would only send it by mail. Few years back I requested that but never received it. Whether it was never sent, or it got waylaid on the way, I dunno. Experian and Transunion both allowed online viewing and downloading/printing.


    Posted by:

    Michael
    06 Oct 2017

    I retired outside the USA..
    I have never had a mortgage, I think the last time I had/used a credit card was around 1985.
    I have a Debit card for withdrawing the foreign currency I need. My brokerage does not provide the credit agencies with my debit info, since it is my own cash.
    I am thinking of taking out a 15 year Mortgage. But I have not used credit in over 30 years.
    Do I exist?


    There's more reader feedback... See all 21 comments for this article.

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