Reviewing your credit reports is a crucial part of avoiding errors and preventing identity theft. Those reports contain the raw information that goes into your credit scores, and bad information can lead to lower credit scores.
In the past, it was harder to get that information for free. You had to purchase reports or qualify based on certain activities based on the credit report (such as being denied for a loan based on your score). Some states required that residents periodically be entitled to a free report, but federal law makes it official nationwide.
How to Obtain Your Free Credit Reports
The three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S. teamed up to provide where you can order your free credit reports: www.annualcreditreport.com.
Once there, answer a series of questions to verify your identity, and select which reports to view. You can also call 877-322-8228 to request a copy of your credit reports by phone.
Timing Your Requests
You may not need all three reports at once, and a staggered approach helps you monitor your credit throughout the year.
You certainly can order all three reports at once, but it might make more sense to order one credit report at a time. Doing so allows you to order another report from a different credit agency every few months. If anything has changed over those months (an attempt at identity theft, for example), you can catch the problem without waiting a full year.
Each credit agency may have slightly different information about you, but the differences are generally small. For example, if somebody steals your identity by opening a credit card with a major carrier, there’s a good chance that the information is in more than one credit report.
Contacting the Credit Agencies Directly
If you prefer, you can call the major credit agencies directly and request a credit report at no charge. However, the FCRA-mandated “Annual Free Credit Reports” are only available through the website and phone number above. In other words, you might have to pay if you contact a credit agency directly.
The only way to get your annual free credit report is to use AnnualCreditReport.com or the phone number above. If you go any other route, you may have to pay or subscribe to a private service.
If you need additional credit reports (above and beyond your free reports), numerous companies try to sell subscription services or paid reports. That said, you might not need those services.
Contact the credit bureaus:
What Information Do You Need?
To request your free reports, you need to provide your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. You may also need to verify any prior addresses from the past few years. Finally, you’ll be asked to confirm something that only you are likely to know (like the amount of a given payment, for example) as a security measure.
What Else Should You Know About Free Credit Reports?
The regulations only entitle you to receive a free credit report—not a free score or any other service. As you order your reports, vendors will try to sell additional products that cost money.
For more details directly from the U.S. government, see:
What About Free Credit Scores?
There is no such thing as a free government credit score. Again, federal law currently provides free reports—but not the scores that scoring models generated from the information in your reports. You won't need to sign up for credit monitoring services to access the scores either.
While going through the process of getting your free reports, you can buy a credit score from each credit reporting agency if you want to—they will make it very easy to do so, and you’ll see several offers.
Credit Scores vs. Reports
A credit report contains raw data—the information that lenders and government bodies report to the credit bureaus, including the items below. A score is a number that summarizes the information in your reports:
- Any loans you’ve used in the past
- Any loans you’re currently using
- If you’ve ever paid late on loans
- Any public records relevant to your credit
To create a credit score, a computer program reads raw data from your reports, analyzes it, and generates a score. Lenders use credit scores so employees don’t need to manually read everything and evaluate credit reports.
Although you might not get a FICO score for free anytime you want it, there are several ways to find out if you have relatively good or bad credit. You can often find out what your credit score is when you apply for a loan or open a bank account (but you probably need to ask, and you might not receive information about your credit depending on who you’re working with). Several websites also offer report cards and “unofficial” credit scores that can be helpful. For more details, see how to get free credit scores.