HOWTO: Get Your Free Credit Report Online

Category: Finance

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month, so here are some tips on avoiding scams and identity theft. Readers often ask me about getting free credit reports online, concerned that they'll be scammed or tricked into paying a fee. So is it true that you can get a free credit REPORT once a year? YES! Read on to learn how it's done, how to avoid the potential pitfalls, and how it's different than your credit SCORE...

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.
How to Get Free Credit Reports

It's a good idea to 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.

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)

Credit monitoring services such as Lifelock 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, 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.

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 3 credit bureaus. So you can can actually get three reports per year. If you request your credit report from a different credit bureau every 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. Although you are entitled to one free credit report each year, you will probably have to pay a modest fee to obtain your credit score. Some banks and credit card companies provide this service for free, so check with your financial institutions before you pay someone else to see your 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 "HOWTO: Get Your Free Credit Report Online"

    Posted by:

    Wendyl
    06 Oct 2014

    Equifax does not provide your credit information online. You're asked to print out a form, fill it out, include several personal documents along with the form, and then mail it to them.

    Don't know about the other two.


    Posted by:

    intelligencia
    06 Oct 2014

    LifeLock has had negative publicity in the past. However, in 2008 the Company made me AWARE that the three credit bureaus (. . . and I understand there is a fourth one) got my credit report MIXED UP with another person. In this case, it was NOT an identity theft issue but one of a clerical ERROR!
    The other consumer and I had almost the same social security number but differed by one digit only!!! CAN YOU IMAGINE???
    (In fact, folks thought I was she. I had the woman's credit report . . . It indicated where she worked but I was never tempted to contact her). She lived in Buffalo (I have never stepped foot in that City) and she made car payments - - I have never owned a driver's license or a car in my life. Thank Goodness she had a pretty decent credit report where she made timely payments of all her bills.
    DEFINITELY, YES! Please make use of that website . . . www.AnnualCreditReport.com - - Check out your Credit Report 'cause it can save you a lot of potential heartache and pain down the road!!!
    Thanks for reading this.

    i


    Posted by:

    A.R.Duncan-Jones
    06 Oct 2014

    Dear Bob

    Useful article. Since not all your readers live in North America, you might like to add that for the UK there is no free report, but you can check with the 3 main agencies, I think for £2 a time and I believe it can be done on-line. The main agencies are: Experian, Equifax and Callcredit. A site at http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/loans/credit-rating-credit-score#eligibility
    offers some helpful hints including getting the reports free.

    Other readers might like to add how to do it round the rest of the world (for all those expatriate USAians, for instance)
    regards, Andrew


    Posted by:

    Dell Hill
    06 Oct 2014

    Far, far better to have your bank loan officer run these checks. Unless, of course, you can remember the name of the mortgage company and the amount of loans taken a dozen years ago. I've tried this method (online) three or four times over the past several years and have never succeeded in obtaining the report. My bank gets the job done in very short order.


    Posted by:

    Martin Boi
    06 Oct 2014

    Consumers can also elect to place a security freeze on their accounts with the three reporting agencies. A special password prevents unauthorized access minimizing identity theft.


    Posted by:

    CHRISCHROLLI
    06 Oct 2014

    For Discover credit card customers, free credit reports are available in their monthly statements already.


    Posted by:

    Lucy
    06 Oct 2014

    Another timely article Bob. There are so many *free* credit reports offered online, be sure to use ONLY the one in Bob's link, others will not be free.

    I have recently been offered 12 months of free identity protection services, including credit monitoring, by a couple of those large retailers who have been hacked, but I have chosen not to give any more of my info to them (think SS number) than they already have.

    Checking one of my credit reports every 4 months, coupled with a "fraud alert" placed with each bureau is my choice.


    Posted by:

    desta elliott
    06 Oct 2014

    I am mystified about 'credit reports.'
    My 89 year old mother, living in a nursing home, was recently offered at $15000 credit limit by Discover....mine was cancelled for non-use!
    My self-employed friend earns little and manages by keeping 6 or 7 credit cards going; however, she is religious about paying the minimum each month as soon as the bill comes in. She is in her sixties, and at some point she will have to default on those credit card loans. Her score is great.
    I, on the other hand, earn a good salary, but tend to miss the due dates. Shouldn't the credit cards love me? I pay all my debts, late fees and interest rates that would embarrass a loan shark. I finally got all my credit cards paid off and no longer use charge cards. I am richer but still have a poor credit rating!

    Good luck to the credit card companies getting money from either my friend or my mother.

    PS yes, we did call Discover and cancelled my mother's card.


    Posted by:

    Ron Dickerson
    06 Oct 2014

    The earlier post regarding Discover Card is inaccurate. Discover Card sends a FICO Score, not a credit report on their billings. Big difference. In my case the FICO credit score is never on my monthly bill I receive at my PO Box. After inquiring I was told I would have to go to their website and check my bill on line to receive the FICO score. I was told they are working to fix this glitch. Along with the FICO score is disclaimer (sort of) that the FICO score was derived from credit information from Transunion and could differ from other FICO score provided by others. I thought there was only one FICO score and that is the number provided Fair Isaac. Is this number legit?


    Posted by:

    Wes
    06 Oct 2014

    Great article Bob . However, I found out that it is possible to have a good credit record and a bad or non-existent credit score. In my case, I have no credit score because I don't use a credit card and I have no debt.


    Posted by:

    Lucy
    06 Oct 2014

    For Wendyl: the reports are available for download. You should contact the agencies and find out why you are unable to do so.

    For CHRISCHROLLI: I believe it is the FICO score Discover provide for their credit card customers, not a full credit report. Still a useful number to keep an eye on though.


    Posted by:

    RichF
    06 Oct 2014

    I'm pretty sure Discover card provides your credit score each month, not your credit report.


    Posted by:

    Bob
    06 Oct 2014

    Your credit score can also be negatively affected by canceling credit cards. Better to use the card once every few months. Credit card utilization can also impact your score. Your credit card utilization is the percentage of your credit limits that you're using. It's calculated by dividing your credit card balances by your credit limits. Generally, the higher your utilization (the more credit card debt you have), the lower your credit score. This is calculated each month so it doesn't matter if you pay off the balance each month.

    I have used CreditKarma.com for about 5 years and have had no problems with them. They will give you a FICO score based on the information you provide. I have found that it will run very close to that of the credit bureaus.


    Posted by:

    Mike
    07 Oct 2014

    We all have at least 3 FICO scores (if we have credit)- one for each of the 3 reporting agencies. If you're applying for a mortgage, depending on bank policy, a bank will pull all 3 and average them. Not sure what they do for smaller loans. Then there are insurance scores, medical scores, and other specialized scores. I also have signed up for two of the free credit monitoring services provided by two hacked retailers. They have been very accurate, and even alert me to things that I've done myself. I've also used CreditKarma for a year,and just wondered if anyone has had a problem with them. Thanks for the article, Bob!


    Posted by:

    C Mills
    31 Dec 2014

    Here in Florida I am paying nearly $1200 per year for auto insurance because I am a "credit risk." I owe not one red cent. Insurance companies use some weird credit union I never heard of before. I have sent letters to Hartford and to Travelers informing them of how insulting it is to be called a "credit risk" given my payment record and complete lack of accidents, injuries, and moving violations while driving. Truth of the matter? I'm old and they gig me for it because they can.


    Posted by:

    Ken Mitchell
    30 Jul 2015

    Wendyl notes that Equifax no longer provides online credit reports, and that is true. However, they USED to, and the one I got from them one year ago was available online. The other two (TransUnion and Experian) gave me online reports the last time I checked, 4 and 8 months ago respectively.


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