Looking to get a copy of your credit reports? Below, we outline how you can get your three-bureau credit reports for free and how to use it to improve your credit.
Here's Why You Can Get Your Credit Report For Free
According to the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act), you have the legal right to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) once a year. Along with the right to access your credit file, the FCRA gives you the right to correct any inaccuracies in your credit report, the right to seek damages against those who violate the law, and more.
FACTA (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act) is an amendment to the FCRA that was added in 2003 to protect consumers from identity theft and limits the ways consumers information can be shared.
The easiest way to get your credit reports is through the government-run site AnnualCreditReport.com, although you can request your reports from them by phone or mail.
You can receive additional free credit reports under specific circumstances:
- You get turned down for credit, insurance, or a job because of the information on your credit report, or you face less favorable terms on loans or lines of credit. If you've been denied credit, the lender must send you a later detailing what factors were taken into account, along with the contact information for the credit bureau used to take your data. You can then contact them to get a free credit report mailed to you.
- You place a fraud alert on your credit.
- You are unemployed and looking for a job within 60 days.
- You are on welfare.
- You are a victim of identity theft and have inaccurate information on your credit report.
A few states and US territories have laws that allow you to receive a free credit report (in addition to the free annual credit report guaranteed by the FCRA): Colorado, George, Main, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and Vermont.
Additionally, some states and US territories offer reduced prices for one copy of their credit reports: California ($8), Connecticut ($5), Minnesota ($3), Montana ($8.50), and the Virgin Islands ($1).
Why You Need A Credit Report
It's a good idea to get your credit reports if you've never looked at it before, if a year has passed since you last checked it, or if you are about to apply for a loan or line of credit.
Your credit report is crucial to your finances and contains a detailed history of your credit accounts such as the date it was opened, the current balance, and payment history.
Lenders, employers, landlords, and businesses use the information in your credit file to make important decisions but according to a study conducted by the FTC, 1 in 5 Americans had an error on their credit reports that could result in less favorable rates on loans. These errors can result in being denied for credit or being turned down for a job or apartment, and even higher interest rates on loans.
Checking your credit reports for errors can prevent a lot of headaches in the future. If you find any incorrect and unverifiable items on your credit report, you can dispute and remove them by repairing your credit.
How To Get Your Credit Reports For Free
Visit AnnualCreditReport.com. From there, you can order a copy of your credit report from each major bureau either online, by phone (877-322-8228), or by printing a request form and mailing it to the official address listed on the form:
Annual Credit Report Request Service P.O. Box 105281 Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Visually impaired consumers can also call AnnualCreditReport's number directly to request audio, large-print, or Braille reports.
You should receive your credit reports within 15 business days.
Note: Don't contact the bureaus directly for your credit report.
Step 1: Fill Out Your Personal Information
Your first step is to go to the registration page and fill out your personal information, which includes your name, Social Security number, address, and date of birth (along with other personal details).
Step 2: Decide How Many Credit Reports You Want
You can either request all of your credit reports from the three major bureaus or just one. You don't have to pull all of them at the same time, and requesting one every few months can help you look for any major changes.
However, if you plan on taking out a loan or making a large purchase, it's a good idea to pull all three of your reports and check them for inaccuracies before applying for loans.
Once you have made your decision, click on the "Next" button.
Step 3: Confirm Your Personal Information
You will then confirm more of your personal information (with the credit bureau you selected first) and some security questions.
If you can't remember these details, you can always request your credit reports by phone or mail (which doesn't require security questions).
Step 4: Get Your Credit Report
On the next page, you can view your credit report. Before closing out of this page, print it out and/or save your report as a PDF so you can view it anytime.
Step 5: Decide If You Want Another Credit Report
If you decide to get the next two or three credit reports, you can continue the process by confirming more personal information.
What's next when I receive my credit reports?
Now that you have your credit reports, you can put them to use. Your credit report will show detailed financial information.
Some items to be on the lookout for include:
- Accounts that are not yours
- Unauthorized accounts
- Incorrect and unverifiable negative information
- Negative items that have been expired -- most items (aside from some bankruptcies) fall off your credit report after seven years
These errors can negatively impact your credit and if you find any, you should dispute them with the bureaus. By law, credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate and remove incorrect and/or unverifiable items.
Each of your credit reports contains different information, so it's a good idea to look at all of them to find any discrepancies. Any unexpected items or unauthorized accounts signal an item you can dispute or something more serious identity theft.
What negative items may appear on my credit report?
Your credit reports can contain both positive and negative history. Items that negatively impact your credit include:
- Credit inquiries
- Late payments
- Loan defaults
- Past due payments
- Public records
- Tax liens
What are some steps I can take to improve my credit?
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