It is important to know how to get a free annual credit report, especially if you want to take out a loan and wish to see what a lender sees when pulling up your credit. Access to a free credit report is needed to check errors or if you think you might be a victim of fraud.
Under federal law, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax, the major credit agencies, must provide consumers with a free credit report annually. Here are steps to get a free credit report and things to take into consideration along the way.
Getting a Copy of a Credit Report
Request credit files from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax by visiting the AnnualCreditReport.com website. You can view or order copies online or request copies to be mailed to you.
Security questions and personal information are required to verify your identity. Asking for a credit report does not harm your credit rating. It is recommended to print copies if you dispute any information on a report.
Before downloading a copy, be sure the computer has up-to-date malware protection and antivirus programs to prevent information from falling into the wrong hands. You can also call 1–877-322-8228 to order by phone or request your file through the mail.
The order form can be found online. The form asks for identifying information. The mailing address is:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P. O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
The report arrives within two to three weeks.
The necessary information needed to establish your identity when requesting a free credit report includes:
- Date of birth
- Current address
- Social security number
Your previous address is required if you have not resided at your current address for at least two years. Each of the three reporting agencies will question you about your credit history to verify you are the individual asking for the report.
Questions may include when credit accounts were opened, how much is owed, and previous addresses. There is no reason for concern if some information is not recognized. ‘None of the above’ is a typical answer to identity verification questions.
All reports can be viewed online. Registering an account with the reporting agencies may allow viewing up to 30 days. If not registered, only one view is allowed. In that case, it is important to save or print the reports.
Some people prefer not to use the Internet. They can request a report by phone or by at the number and address above. The verification is simple and straightforward. It is similar to online verification.
Do the Three Credit Bureau Reports Contain the Same Information?
The credit bureaus are private companies that do not share information. Your financial story may be told slightly differently by each agency. Information about mortgage companies, credit cards, and of lenders may not be the same.
Utility and telephone companies may send credit reports. Non-lending organizations tend to do so to report late payments. The three reporting credit agencies obtain information from different sources.
They also present the information in different manners. Before applying for credit for large purchases such as a house or car, it is recommended to get a report from all three companies to ensure the information is correct.
Equifax groups accounts in ‘open’ and ‘closed’ categories. This classification system makes reviewing current accounts easy. There is an 81-month credit history provided for each credit account. The report reflects timely or overdue payments for each month.
Experian’s most helpful feature tells when a negative report or account is scheduled to fall off the credit report. Experian also offers the 81-month payment history. It is the only agency that reports on-time rental payments instead of only those that are late.
The most current employment and previous address information tend to be found on TransUnion. Current employment information can be reported on their website when a report is received. That information does not change a credit score. TransUnion is the only credit company that reports monthly balances and payment as part of the credit history.
Some experts recommend staggering report requests so that there is a new report from one of the agencies every four months. The theory behind the practice is to keep track of credit information throughout the year.
Because the agencies do not share information staggering the requests may cause you to wait several months to catch a mistake and take steps to correct it. Those who want to check on updated credit reports regularly will likely have to subscribe to a service that provides credit monitoring for a recurring fee.
There are free resources that provide consumers with easy-to-understand snapshots of their credit and some of their credit scores. They include:
- Credit Karma
Of these, annualcreditreport.com is a website set up by Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax that allows consumers to request reports easily. The site is authorized to issue credit reports free of charge. The others are referred to as imposters, yet advertisements for them appear on the same resource web page that makes the claim.
Some situations may entitle you to more no-cost copies of your report. Fraud victims and unemployed people seeking work can often get additional copies without paying for them. Some state mandates require credit agencies to provide other opportunities for residents to request their credit files free of charge.
Errors on Credit Reports
One in five Americans find errors on credit reports. Mistakes on credit reports can disqualify a person for car loans, and mortgages, as well as cause, increased interest rates and insurance premiums.
Mistakes on credit reports have prevented people from getting jobs. While 79 percent of consumers who dispute credit report errors have them successfully removed, false credit report items are often not challenged. When individuals are unable to get the credit due to a low credit score, they are rudely awakened.
Information found on a credit report includes your address, all credit accounts you have, if your bills are paid on time, and if you filed bankruptcy or have been sued. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recommends checking credit reports at least once per year to make sure the information is correct and prevent identity theft.