More Than Annual Free Credit Reports

Keeping tabs on your credit reports can be a great tool for managing your overall financial health.  Not only can you see how you are doing, but you can check for erroneous information and also search for possible fraud or identity theft.  There are three major credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.  They all collect and distribute information about your credit information and history.

Every person is entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major agencies each year.  The only way to access this legitimately free credit report is via the Annual Credit Report Service.  They can be reached:

You can request all three credit reports at one time, to get a full view of your current financial situation, or stagger them throughout the year to keep tabs on your ongoing information.  Either way can provide a valuable benefit and which you choose depends on your current situation.

In addition to the free annual reports, there are other situations that allow you to obtain free copies of your credit file.  Most of these situations require that you submit proof of eligibility to the credit bureau from which you are requesting your information.  When can you do this?

  • If you are denied credit because of information in your credit report.  The creditor will tell you which credit report they used in making their decision.  You have sixty days to request your report from that agency.
  • If you have a reasonable belief that your credit report contains errors due to fraud, including but not limited to someone using your name, Social Security number, bank information or credit card information.  Include an explanation of why you believe this to be true.  You can use this option one time per 12 month period for each of the three agencies.
  • If you are unemployed and planning to seek work within sixty days, you may request a free copy of your credit report.  You must enclose a statement stating that you are unemployed and seeking work.  Also include any documentation to support your unemployment, such as a copy of an unemployment benefit statement or layoff notice.  You may utilize this benefit one time per credit bureau within every 12 month period.
  • If you are receiving public assistance benefits.  You must include an explanation and supporting documentation.  You may receive one free report each 12 months, from each of the three agencies.

There are two warnings here.  First, be sure that you are actual at the right website:   www.annualcreditreport.com.  There are many for-profit websites that have very similar names and claim to offer you a free credit report.  There are all different ways that they make money, usually offering you a free period after which you will be pay, or by collecting your personal information.  Make sure you are at the right website by typing the address directly into your address bar.  Second, when you go to the credit reporting sites via www.annualcreditreport.com, they do offer all sorts of other products in addition to your free credit report.  It is easy to be convinced to buy credit scores or credit monitoring or some other service you didn’t intend to buy.  There are times and places for these products, but not if you’ve just come to request your free credit report.  You can always come back and purchase these products later if you have a real need for them.

It is relatively important to check your credit report regularly and make sure it is accurate and complete.  There are very few times when you should have to pay for your credit report if you know all the ways and causes for obtaining free reports.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.