Keeping tabs on your credit standing is important for your overall financial health. Knowing where you stand makes it easier to confidently apply for credit cards, loans, and other credit-related services. It also helps you strategically work to improve your credit.
While some companies charge fees for access to your credit information, you don't have to break the bank to check your credit regularly. In fact, there are a number of free ways to check your credit report and your credit score, as well as some ways to get free credit monitoring. However, you’ll want to watch out for scams before you sign up for anything.
Free Credit Reports
Federal law requires that credit reporting agencies provide a free credit report to consumers once per year. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are entitled to a free credit report each week from all three national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). To get your free credit report from the three major credit bureaus, you must visit AnnualCreditReport.com, the official website set up under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Rather than ordering all three of your free credit reports at once, it’s a good idea to stagger your credit reports by ordering one every four months, which lets you monitor your credit throughout the year. For instance, you might order your credit reports from Equifax in April, Experian in August, and TransUnion in December, then repeat the same order next year. In 2020, Equifax began offering an additional six free credit reports per year, so you can keep even closer tabs on your credit.
Under Federal law, you're also entitled to a free credit report directly from the credit bureaus in a few other situations:
- Your credit card, loan, or credit-based application was denied because of information in your credit report.
- You're currently unemployed and planning to look for a job within the next 60 days.
- You're on welfare or government assistance.
- You've been a victim of identity theft or fraud.
Free Credit Scores
You can access your free credit score from one or more of the credit bureaus using a number of online services, including Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, CreditWise, and Discover Scorecard. These tools don’t require you to register a credit card to view your free credit score, which is updated at least one each week.
Many free credit scoring services share your VantageScore, which might not match the credit score a lender sees when they check your credit. If you're planning to apply for a loan, it might be worth checking your FICO score as well so you have an idea of the score that lenders are more likely to use.
Some banks and credit card issuers offer free FICO scores, which are accessible via your online account or printed on your monthly statement.
Free Credit Monitoring
In addition to monitoring your own credit by pulling your credit reports three times each year, you can use a free credit monitoring service to keep a closer eye on your credit. These services can warn you of suspicious activity on your credit accounts, allowing you to take action to prevent your identity from being further compromised.
These free credit monitoring services all offer subscriptions with no credit card required.
Experian Free Credit Monitoring
Experian's free credit monitoring offers real-time alerts for new inquiries, new accounts, changes to personal information, and suspicious activity. The free credit monitoring subscription comes with an updated Experian credit report and FICO credit score every 30 days.
CreditWise from CapitalOne
You don't have to be a CapitalOne cardholder to use CreditWise, which gives you real-time updates from your Experian and TransUnion credit reports. It also offers dark web scanning and Social Security number tracking.
Active Duty Credit Monitoring from Equifax
Active-duty military members and members of the National Guard can sign up for free credit monitoring services from Equifax. Membership comes with free access to your Equifax credit report, plus alerts for key changes in your Equifax credit reports.
Most free credit monitoring services are limited. It may be worth paying for a credit monitoring service to closely monitor all three of your credit reports.
Beware of Free Credit Scams
As you're looking for free credit resources, make sure to watch out for scams. If a service requires you to enter your credit card number, there's a good chance you're enrolling in a trial subscription. Once the subscription ends, your credit card will be charged for the monthly or annual subscription price.
It's also important to be cautious about emails, phone calls, or text messages asking for personal information to view your credit report. Clicking a link or providing personal or financial information could put you at risk of fraud or identity theft. Report scams to the Federal Trade Commission and your state attorney general.