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Before applying for a mortgage, you’d probably like to know how to get a credit report. That’s smart because when you apply for a mortgage or other loan, it’s better to know ahead of time what lenders will see. There are many ways to get a credit report:
- Request your credit report for free from all three major bureaus every year at www.annualcreditreport.com, the federal government’s site. You can also get one any time if you meet other guidelines.
- Get a credit report from one of many sites that provide you with a score (usually a Vantage score) in exchange for you giving them information and allowing their partners to advertise to you
- Some sites offer “free” credit reports and scores — but only if you buy credit monitoring services.
The safest site is www.annualcreditreport.com. That’s because it doesn’t make money from your request. In other cases, when a product is “free,” you and your information are really the product.
How to get a credit report that’s free, instant and without hassle
“How do I get a credit report” was once a common question. For years credit reports were well-guarded secrets — information that was tough to find, if not impossible to get. Now things have changed. Credit reports are instantly available on computers, tablets and cell phones. No less interesting, a lot of credit reports are free.
Related: Where do free credit scores come from?
The reason to check credit reports is that if they contain inaccurate or out-of-date information it can knock down your credit score – and that means higher costs to borrow.
Go to AnnualCreditReport.com. You’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies (CRAs) every 12 months. That’s one free credit report apiece from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can get them all at once, or choose one every 4 months, three times a year.
Top 5 legal reasons: How to get a free credit report
Under government rules, there are a number of reasons that you may be entitled to a free credit report beyond the three available from AnnualCreditReport.com. Here are the big five reasons you can get a free credit report by contacting a credit reporting agency:
You didn’t get a loan, a job or insurance coverage. If a credit report was used in the qualification process, you are entitled to a free report from the lender, employer, or insurance company.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), “Anyone who uses a credit report or another type of consumer report to deny your application for credit, insurance, or employment — or to take another adverse action against you — must tell you, and must give you the name, address, and phone number of the agency that provided the information.”
2. Identity theft
The FTC says you’re entitled to a free report if you are the victim of identity theft or place a fraud alert in your file.
Massive data breaches are more common than anyone would like. Equifax, as one example, just reported to the SEC that a recent data breach had included information regarding drivers’ licenses, passports, Social Security numbers, military IDs, state-issued IDs and resident alien cards.
Not every breach results in identity theft, but because data losses are relatively common it makes sense to check credit reports regularly.
Along with identity theft, there is the problem of outright fraud. If your credit card shows a bill for a pizza, that’s fine. If the pizzeria is 1,200 miles away and the pizza cost $600, you need to contact the credit card company and check your credit report as well.
If you’re on public assistance, you can get free copies of your credit report. This makes sense because inaccurate credit information can raise costs and make it harder to get a job.
If you are now unemployed but expect to look for work within the next 60 days, you can get a free credit report. This is important because employers often look at credit reports before interviewing possible candidates.
Not all scores are the same
A number of different credit scores are available to both lenders and consumers. It is very possible that the free score you get online will not be the same as the score used by lenders, employers and insurers.
Also, you may not get the diversity of scores used by credit providers. Mortgage lenders, for instance, get credit scores from three sources and use the middle score.
Related: No credit score (Do I need a bad credit home loan?)
Ideally, you would like to get the same score from the same source but that may not be possible. Even so, a free credit report can have value. It can give you a good sense of your credit standing and alert you to mistakes and outdated items.
There’s free and not-so-free
Some sites which offer “free” credit reports do so on the condition that you also buy credit monitoring services. You don’t have to do this. Free credit reports — credit reports that don’t cost a dime — are widely available online.
Free report sites are often funded by ads or the sale of services and referrals. Site operators have to make a living, so such strategies are fine – you’re not obligated to buy anything. However, if a site asks for your credit card, you might want to move along.