Credit reports are important because they supply the raw data that go into your credit scores.
In the past, it was not as easy to get this information for free. Instead, consumers had to pay or qualify based on certain activity within the credit report. Some states required that residents periodically be entitled to a free credit report, but it is now nationwide.
How do I Get my Free Credit Report?
The nation’s credit reporting agencies have teamed up and built a website that you should use to get your free credit report. The site is www.annualcreditreport.com. Once there, you'll answer a series of questions, and you can choose which reports to view. You can also call them at 877-322-8228 and request a copy of your credit reports.
As you request credit reports, you can get all three at once, or just get one at a time. Either way, you only get one credit report per credit agency per year. Some people only order one credit report at a time so they can come back in a few months and order another report from a different credit agency. There are differences among the credit agencies, but the differences are generally not huge -- any one of the three should be able to show you if somebody steals your identity by opening a credit card with a major carrier.
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.
I cannot overemphasize that the only way to get your annual free credit report is by using the organization above. If you go any other route, you may have to pay or subscribe to a private service.
What Information do I Need?
You’ll need to be prepared with your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. You’ll also need any prior addresses from the past few years. Finally, you’ll be asked to disclose something that only you know (like the amount of a given payment, for example) as a security measure.
When Can I See my Free Credit Report?
In order to manage the process, availability is only available to certain regions at certain times. As of September 1st, 2005, the entire nation has access to a free credit report.
If your region is up and running, you can see your free credit report instantly online (at www.annualcreditreport.com). If you use the toll-free number, it may be 15 days or so until you receive the report.
What Else Should I Know About Free Credit Reports?
The regulations only entitle you to get a free credit report - not a free score or any other service. As you order your reports, watch out for sneaky attempts to sell additional items that cost money.
If you want the nitty-gritty details, try these resources: