The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, which amended the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970, entitles consumers to a free copy of their credit report once a year. Some state laws go beyond this and entitle consumers to a free copy of their credit report more frequently than once a year.
Unfortunately most people are unaware of this. So if they obtain their credit report at all, they often either pay for it, or they respond to “free” offers by for-profit companies (one in particular that advertises incessantly-and evidently successfully-on television) that turn out to have strings attached. Generally they require you to sign up for a “free” trial of their paid credit-related services, that you will then be charged for if you don’t remember to cancel in time.
But those places are easily bypassed. There are three main credit bureaus that compile reports, namely Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can either contact them directly individually, or go to AnnualCreditReport.com, which is the source authorized by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Once at the site, simply select your state and click on “Request Report.” This will take you to a form to fill out. You can then request to review the resulting reports-from all three credit bureaus-online, or receive them by phone or mail.
But why is it important to check your credit report each year, and why all three versions? Your credit report determines your credit score, which has a huge impact on your ability to get a mortgage, to get a credit card, to rent an apartment, even to get a job. By examining your credit report regularly, you can see what is helping and hurting your score, and you can make informed decisions of what actions you need to take to improve it.
One reason it’s a good idea to check your credit reports each year is that it is not at all uncommon for them to contain errors. Credit bureaus often receive ambiguous or incomplete information and just have to do the best they can with it. There might be damaging claims on your report, for instance, that in fact pertain to someone else with the same or a similar name as you. Or there might be negative entries still on your report that should have expired by now and been deleted. (Bankruptcies should drop off after 10 years; most other negative items should drop off after 7 years.)
And these errors may be on only one of the three reports, or multiple of them. That’s why you’ll want to check all three.
For any errors you find on one or more of your credit reports, you have the right to challenge these with the credit bureau. Inform them in writing of the error, enclosing copies (not your originals) of any relevant documentation you might have that shows the entry is inaccurate.
The law requires the credit bureau to then investigate the matter and inform you of their findings, generally within thirty days. If you do not receive satisfaction from them, you may also pursue the matter with the creditor. If the creditor agrees you don’t owe them any money, they must inform the credit bureau of this.
Obtaining your credit reports regularly is an important part of maintaining a good credit score, or repairing a weak one.
Tips on Obtaining Free Credit Reports
Before signing up to pay for on-demand credit reports, consider that the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, which is part of the broader Fair Credit Reporting Credit Act (FCRA), mandates that Equifax, Transunion, and Experian, three major credit-reporting companies for consumers, give each person requesting it one free credit report per year. And sometime this year, CoreLogic, another credit-reporting company, will begin offering free credit reports.
Your credit report has your name, address, date of birth, social security number, and employer. Also included are the types of credit accounts you have: credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, etc. Your credit limit and your payment history (whether you’ve paid on time or been late) are also included. Prospective lenders look at a report to decide whether to give you a loan, and some prospective employers look at it before making a decision to hire you. However, employers must have your written permission before looking at your credit report.
Authorized Website For Free Reports
When requesting a free credit report, visit the only website authorized by the federal government for truly free credit reports.You can request your credit report online, by phone, or by mail. The federal website will not send you an e-mail asking for personal information. Do not respond to websites that do. They may be phishing for personal information for fraudulent purposes. If you are unsure whether you are signed in to the authentic government website, the safest way to get your credit report is by phone or mail, states the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer rights organization based in San Diego.
Free Report Online
The fastest way to get your credit report is to go online. Sign in on the above-mentioned website to see your report immediately. After filling in some personal information, you can select whether you want to see all your credit reports or just one or two. If you’re going to make a major purchase such as a house or a car, perhaps you want to see all three credit reports at once. But if this is just a routine check of your credit, maybe you’ll want to look at just one report now.
Call 1-877-322-8228 and answer the prompts to order your credit reports from Equifax, Transunion , or Experian, which will be mailed to you within 15 days. CoreLogic’s phone is 877-532-8778.
You can print the form for ordering a free credit report by going to the website or by sending a letter with your full legal name, address, social security number, date of birth, and what reports you want to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P. O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5281
Circumstances To Qualify For a Free Credit Report
If you’re unemployed and will be job-hunting within 60 days, if you’re on welfare, or were a victim of identify theft or fraud, you are entitled to one free credit report in a 12-month period. If a company denies you a job, insurance, or a loan because of your credit report, it must give you a letter stating that you were denied because of your credit report and include the name, address, and phone number of the the credit-reporting company that supplied the information on which the rejection was based. Then you have 60 days from receiving notice of unfavorable action to request a free credit report.
States Offering Free Credit Reports
Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont offer residents one free credit report a year in addition to the ones available annually through the major credit-reporting companies. Georgia offers its residents two free reports a year. So, residents of these seven states can get free reports by contacting their respective states and by contacting the federal website.