Your Annual Credit Report: How To Get It For Free
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act is an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. FACTA gives you one free annual pull of each of your credit reports from the three main credit reporting bureaus: Equifax®, Experian™and TransUnion®. FACTA aims to help consumers fight back against identity theft by spotting and reporting fraud.
Look over your credit report once a year to help protect your identity, credit score and finances. We’ll show you how you can get your free annual credit report and how to review it.
Why You Should Get A Free Annual Credit Report
Credit reporting errors are more common than most people think. About one in every five Americans has a mistake on their credit report, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission. If you have a mistake on your credit report, your credit score might be lower than it should be. These errors can make it more difficult to buy a home, get a loan or rent an apartment. Reviewing your free annual credit report can help you spot errors and remove them before they influence your score.
Looking at your credit report can also help you identify fraud and identity theft on your account. Your credit report lists all the current loans and accounts you have open. If you see an account on your credit report that you don’t remember opening, there’s a good chance you’re a victim of identity theft. You can close these unauthorized accounts sooner if you’re paying attention. This helps you minimize the damage done to your credit score.
Annual Credit Report Vs. Credit Score
A credit report is a document that contains information about how you use credit. Credit reports come from companies called credit reporting bureaus. The three biggest credit reporting bureaus in the United States are Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Every month, these companies collect information from your creditors and add it to your report. Each bureau issues you a credit report and the information on each report can vary.
The items on your credit report make up your credit score. A credit score is a three-digit number that indicates how reliable you are as a borrower. If you have a long history of timely payments on your credit report, you’ll have a higher credit score. If your credit report contains multiple missed payments and high balances, your score will be lower. Your score might also be lower if you haven’t yet had the chance to start building credit. When your credit report doesn’t contain any information, you’re considered riskier and may have a lower score.
You might believe you can check your credit score by viewing your credit report – but your credit report doesn’t actually contain your score. There are a few ways to check your credit score:
- RocketHQSM gives you free access to your VantageScore® 3.0 credit score and allows you to monitor your credit for free.
- Many credit card companies now offer free credit scorecards. You may be able to view your credit score on your online account or on your credit card statements.
- There are many credit monitoring services you can use to check your credit score. Some of these services run on a paid subscription model, while others are free. Make sure you read and understand the company’s terms before you sign up.
3 Ways To Get Your Free Annual Credit Report
Now that you know what a credit report is, let’s go over how to get your free annual credit report. There are three ways to get a copy of your report – online, over the phone and by mail.
How To Get Your Free Annual Credit Report Online
You can access your annual credit report by filling out a credit report request form online at AnnualCreditReport.com. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only federally authorized source for free credit reports. You can use it to view all three of your credit reports for free once a year. Here’s how to use the site to access your annual credit reports:
- Visit AnnualCreditReport.com. Double-check the spelling of the website you’re on and ensure that you’re visiting the legitimate AnnualCreditReport.com. Scammers and identity thieves create fake credit report request sites to harvest data. If the URL isn't spelled correctly, don't enter any of your personal information.
- Request your free credit report. Click on the red button titled “Request your credit reports.”
- Enter your personal information. You’ll need to enter some personal information and answer a few security questions to confirm your identity. Double-check that all the information you entered is correct before you continue.
- Request your reports. Once you confirm your identity, you can choose which credit reports to view. You might want to look at all three at once or stagger your requests throughout the year.
Requesting your credit reports online is the only way to instantly view your reports. Phone and mail requests typically take 2 – 3 weeks to arrive.
How To Get Your Free Annual Credit Report By Phone
To request your credit report by phone, follow these instructions.
- Call the request line. Call (877) 322-8228 to request your free annual credit report. If you have hearing difficulties, you can request your credit reports by calling (800) 821-7232. If you’re visually impaired, you may call the main line and request an audio, large-print or Braille report.
- Answer security questions. You’ll need to verify your identity to a live representative or automated system. You might need to provide information on current accounts you have open, addresses you’ve lived at and your full Social Security number. Answer identity questions as prompted.
- Receive your credit reports. Once you verify your identity, a representative will process your credit report request. Expect to see a hard copy of your reports in the mail within 2 – 3 weeks.
How To Get Your Free Annual Credit Report By Mail
To request your credit report by mail, follow these instructions.
- Fill out a request form. You can fill out your annual credit report request form online. Complete the form, input your personal information and print it out.
- Mail your request form. Package your request form and mail it to the following address:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
- Wait for your reports. Your credit reports will arrive by mail in 2 – 3 weeks.
Credit Best Practices
Once you receive your credit reports, it’s time to use them. Follow these credit best practices to improve your score and keep your credit clean.
- Check for errors. Thoroughly read each of your credit reports and look for errors. Make sure you recognize every account you see listed and each balance is correct. Double-check that your reports contain the right Social Security number and that the bureau spelled your name correctly. If you notice an error, report it to the company that issued the report.
- Review your reports annually.You should request all three free yearly credit reports annually. Even if everything looks correct on a report, it’s possible that there are errors in another. You might want to check your reports more often if you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
- Check up on your credit score regularly. You’ll also want to stay up to date with your credit score. Use a free service like RocketHQ to track your score.
- Understand the difference between soft and hard inquiries. There are two types of credit request inquiries: soft inquiries and hard inquiries. Soft inquiries aren’t linked to an application for credit. Your annual free credit report request is an example of a soft inquiry. Soft inquiries don’t affect your credit score and you’re the only one who can view them.
Hard inquiries appear when you apply for a new line of credit. For example, if you apply for a mortgage loan, your lender will do a hard inquiry on your credit report. These inquiries temporarily lower your credit score. Limit your hard inquiries as much as possible to keep your score high.
- Improve your credit score. If you have a low credit score, create a plan to improve your credit usage. Make your payments on time every month, avoid maxing out your cards and work to pay down debt to see your score rise over time.
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