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You’re entitled by law to get a free credit report under several circumstances. Here’s how to get a free credit report:
- You can request one free credit report per bureau, per year, period
- You can get a free credit report if you’ve been turned down for credit, a job or employment because of your report
- Your credit information is inaccurate because of identity theft or fraud
- You’re unemployed and plan to look for work within 60 days
You can request your report from all three major bureaus at once, or you can space out your requests during the year.
Free credit report? Just ask
Free credit reports are available for the asking. Just go to AnnualCreditReport.com and you can quickly download your report.
Is it really that easy? Yes and no. You can get free credit reports because the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) says you can. But – not surprisingly – since this is a federal law, there are some complications.
Even more surprising, many of the complications favor consumers. To get the most from your free credit report, it’s good to know how the system works. And how it can work for you.
But before going further you need to watch out for impostor sites. Some sites appear to offer “free credit reports,” “free credit scores,” or “free credit monitoring.” But if you’re not careful you might wind up with a costly surprise. “In some cases,” says the Federal Trade Commission, “the ‘free’ product comes with strings attached.
“For example, some sites sign you up for a supposedly ‘free’ service that converts to one you have to pay for after a trial period. If you don’t cancel during the trial period, you may be unwittingly agreeing to let the company start charging fees to your credit card.”
The bottom line: Stay safe, stick with AnnualCreditReport.com.
Free credit report: everyone gets one, no strings attached
You can request one free credit report per bureau, every 12 months, and you don’t need a reason.
The basic rule is this. You can get one free credit report from each of the three major national credit reporting agencies (CRAs) every 12 months. The three CRAs are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. By going through the AnnualCreditReport.com website, your credit report is free and you do not have to buy other services.
You can, if you like, get three free credit reports right now. However, an alternative approach is to use the system throughout the year. For instance, you might mark your calendar to get a report January 15th, May 15th, and September 15th. Now you’ve got a basic free credit monitoring system.
Two major review areas
When you access your report, there are two areas to review:
First, is the administrative information correct? Are you William Thomas in Tucson or do you see information relating to Thomas William? Are your address and other contact information correct? Does the report refer to “Trent B. Bozell” or “Trent D. Bozell?”
They may not be one and the same person – and they may not be you. Most importantly, if the administrative information is confusing, you can have a very different credit profile and a credit score which is much lower than you deserve. That can mean higher interest rates to get a mortgage or buy a car.
Second, take a look at your credit activities. Do you see items which are factually incorrect? Do you see out-of-date items?
Most entries can stay on a credit report for seven years. Big exceptions include Chapter 7 bankruptcies (10 years) and judgments (sometimes longer than 20 years!). Luckily, derogatory information loses its importance over time, and your new (hopefully improved) history takes precedence.
If you find a factual error or out-of-date report, contact the CRA and ask to have the information removed. Do this now so the item does not show up when lenders check your credit report. The CRA has 30 days to respond. The FTC has a model dispute letter for credit reporting agencies here.
“Real” reasons for additional free credit reports
You’re entitled to a free credit report if you’ve been turned down for credit, a job or employment because of your report.
It often happens that lenders and employers use credit reports when considering a job application. Can see your report if you don’t get a job because of credit report information. The better option is to check your credit report regularly to assure the information they contain is correct.
Identity theft or fraud
There are a lot of computer breaches these days, compromising millions and even billions of accounts. If you are the victim of identity theft or fraud, you can obtain a free credit report from a CRA.
You’re unemployed and plan to look for work within 60 days.
You want to put your best foot forward when applying for a job, and that means having an accurate credit report. Before you start job hunting, request a free credit report from a national credit reporting agency.