The Basics: Requesting Your (For Real!) Free Credit Reports

I’ll say it again: this is not a financial literacy or a repair-your-credit website. But since I was checking my Credit Reports, I figured I’d write about it.

You should really be checking your Credit Reports and Credit Scores, too. Say, once a year, at least. And, because of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) passed in 2003,  you can get your FREE Credit Reports from the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion at the site: AnnualCreditReport.com. This is not a gimmick; this is not a come on (although each agency will try to up-sell you in order to get your Credit Scores).

I check my Credit Reports and Credit Scores obsessively (at least once a week or more), but I still visit this site annually because I know these Credit Reports should represent the exact information that each agency  provides to lenders and other interested parties.

You may also call 1-877-322-8228. Or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA  30348-5281. This will take several weeks to process, whereas, the website will provide your information immediately.

When accessing the website, click on “Request yours now!” and you’ll see the following screen:

Screen Shot, AnnualCreditReport.com, Request Your Credit Reports. Image Credit: courtesy of annualcreditreport.com, Equifax, Experian, TransUnion.

Then fill out the form they provide for you. You will be providing very sensitive information, including your birthdate and Social Security Number, so make sure this is the correct site, eh? AnnualCreditReport.com.

Screen Shot, AnnualCreditReport.com, Fill Out Form. Image Credit: courtesy of annualcreditreport.com, Equifax, Experian, TransUnion.

You will then be asked which reports you want to view. You may select 1, 2, or 3 reports, but you can only view them FOR FREE once a year. Some people select all three reports to be reviewed at one time; some people may select only one and review one report every 4 months. The choice is yours.

Screen Shot, AnnualCreditReport.com, Pick Reports You Want. Image Credit: courtesy of annualcreditreport.com, Equifax, Experian, TransUnion.

Note: before you receive your report, each credit reporting agency will test you to make sure you are who you say you are. They will ask you questions about your financial transactions, the places you’ve lived, the people you’ve lived with, and the places you’ve worked.

Once you get past that, you’ll be provided one or more Credit Reports. You’ll have to review the information from each one, and save or print the document, before moving on to the next Credit Report. I highly recommend saving a .pdf document of your Credit Report(s) before exiting.

You’ll be looking to see if your information reported is accurate and complete. Pay attention especially to any reports of missing payments or credit accounts that you don’t recognize; pay attention to anything under a heading like, “Potentially Negative Items.” You have the opportunity to file a dispute directly with each credit reporting agency and they must investigate and make change, if applicable. If a credit reporting agency makes a correction, they’ll then report the change to the other agencies. Note: this is actually a very big hassle and can take some time and effort. Also note: because this information is often input by tellers or salespeople right at the point of sale (think of the time you applied for a Macy’s charge card), the information might not be 100% accurate; I wouldn’t necessarily sweat it if they combined your middle names or slightly misspelled your home address. But, up to you.

This is an example of a Credit Report from Experian.

Now, a Credit Report is not a Credit Score. But inaccurate information on your Reports can deeply affect your Scores. So make sure you’re on top of it.

 


Other posts in the series, The Basics:

 

2 Replies to “The Basics: Requesting Your (For Real!) Free Credit Reports”

  1. The last few times I tried to access my free credit reports from Annual Credit Report, I got error messages from two of the three credit bureaus. I don’t remember the exact error message, but I ended up just going straight to Equifax and Experian and paying for the credit report. Have you ever encountered an error? I think there was a number to call but I was too lazy to call.

    1. I did get an error this time. With Equifax. I think it had to do with the authentication software they were using. The company does give you an opportunity to request a hard copy of your Credit Report via phone or mail. But since I monitor my accounts so closely, I figured just moving on to the other agencies would be enough.

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