How to Get Your Free Credit Report

Your financial reputation is very important when you decide to apply for loans, insurance and even a job. How you have been discharging your obligations is one way for others to determine whether or not you present some kind of risk to them when they loan you money, insure your vehicle or hire you to do a specific job. On top of that, you should know that identity theft can ruin your financial reputation, leaving you in a tough position.

In order to prevent some of the problems that can come with poor credit, or to fix problems that you know you have, you need to know what information is being used to make judgments about you. That information can be found in your credit report. Fortunately, you have a right to know what is in your credit report.

Getting Your Free Annual Credit Report

Information about your credit habits is reported to the three major credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. These agencies then compile credit reports using the information reported to them. Financial services providers, service providers, insurers, employers and others can then look at your credit report to see what habits you have. If your report shows missed payments and high levels of debt, you might be denied some opportunities, or have to pay higher rates for services in order to offset the risk you represent.

You have a right to see what others see when they look at your credit report. The Fair Credit Reporting Act specifies that you are entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the credit bureaus. To take advantage of this, you must go to www.annualcreditreport.com. This is the official site for your free credit report. Do not try to get your free credit report by visiting a credit bureau web site initially. Once you get to the web site, you will be asked to follow these steps:

  1. Select your state: Choose the state you currently live in and click on the red button to the right.
  2. Fill out the information form: This is identifying information used to pull up your free report. When you enter your Social Security number, know that it will be encrypted. You can also choose to have only the last four digits displayed on your report for security purposes. If you have lived at your current address for less than two years, you will be asked to provide a previous address.
  3. Choose which report you want: Next, you will be asked which report you want. When you are done reviewing one report, you can request the next report. When you choose which report you want to see, you will then be transferred to the appropriate credit bureau web site.
  4. Verify information: You will likely be asked to verify the information you answered, and also to answer questions about your credit history. You might be asked about a street you used to live on, or about a lender that you have a loan with. You might also be asked to provide a range of payments for a loan you have. Once your information is verified, you will be able to see your credit report, and print it out if you would like.
  5. If you are denied access: If you answer a question wrong, or if there is a fraud alert on your account, you will be unable to access your free credit report online. But you can still get a copy. You will receive instructions for sending in a paper request, along with instructions for the copies of identification you need to send in. The address to request your free annual credit report by mail is Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

Getting a Free Credit Report Another Way

This isn’t the only way to get your free credit report. If you are turned down for a loan, denied insurance or if you are not hired for a job because of what is in your credit file, you are entitled to a free copy from the credit bureau that provided the information. You can also get a free copy of your credit report if you do not get the best interest rate on a loan, or if you don’t get a lower insurance premium, because of information in your credit history.

First, you will need to find out from the lender, insurer or employer which credit bureau they got the information from. You should receive a letter stating the reason that your application was denied, and the postal address of the credit bureau that provided the information. For your reference, here are the addresses of the three major credit bureaus:

  • Equifax: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA, 30374
  • Experian: P.O. Box 2002, Allen, TX, 75013
  • TransUnion: P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022

You can send a letter requesting a free copy of your credit report. You should include your name and address, as well as why you are requesting the credit report. You should also include a copy of the rejection letter (not the original). You need to do this within 60 days of being denied, so make sure you send your letter immediately. Send it certified mail, with a return receipt, so that you can verify that the credit bureau actually received it. Note that being rejected does not entitle you to a free copy from every credit bureau. Only the credit bureau that was used in the decision is required to send you a free copy of your report.

Is That Credit Report Truly Free?

As you attempt to get a free credit report, you need to be wary of efforts to entice you into get a “free” credit report via non-official channels. There are a number of web sites that promise free access to your credit report. However, you need to be on the alert. Many of these web sites come with catches.

The most common catch is that you will have to agree to sign-up for a “free trial” of a credit monitoring service. Your free trial will usually last between seven days and an entire month. You are usually required to provide your credit card information when you sign up for your free trial. That way, if the free trial ends, and you haven’t gone through the cancelation process, your credit card can be automatically charged.

Another trick to watch out for is the negative item dispute. In the fine print, you might discover that any disputes made by the monitoring service cost extra. So, each negative item disputed might cost between $5 and $15. The big catch is that the credit monitoring service might dispute any item that is negative – even if it is accurate. Naturally, since the item is accurate, nothing will change in your credit report, but your credit card will still be charged because the credit monitoring service went through with the dispute.

Anytime you visit a site purporting to offer a “free” credit report, you need to be careful. The official web site, www.annualcreditreport.com, does not require a credit card number for you to see your truly free credit report. If you remember to cancel your free trial, and if you are able to specify that no items can be disputed without your expressed permission, you might be able to get a free credit report. In many cases, though, you are better off going through official channels for your free credit report.

Bottom Line

You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the major bureaus every year. You should take advantage of this, since it is a use-it-or-lose-it situation each year. “Unused” requests don’t roll over to another year. Check your credit report, and make sure you know what’s in it. That way, you can catch identity fraud early, correct inaccurate negative items, and see what financial areas need improvement.